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by Peter Prickett - Follow Peter https://twitter.com/PeterPrickett

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Federico Macheda.

In 2008/9 Manchester United had Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez but it was the impact of Federico Macheda that most people will remember most. Macheda came off the bench to score late winners against Aston Villa and Sunderland, turning one point into three. Manchester United would win the title by four points to complete a run of three consecutive Premier League triumphs.

For Macheda this would be his moment of success, though still playing professionally he has not reached such peaks again.

This was the last time that a team retained the Premier League.

2008/9  1st Manchester United

2009/10 1st Chelsea (Manchester United 2nd)

2010/11 1st Manchester United (Chelsea 2nd)

2011/12 1st Manchester City (Manchester United (2nd)

2012/13 1st Manchester United (Manchester City 2nd)

2013/14 1st Manchester City (Manchester United 7th)

2014/15 1st Chelsea (Manchester City 2nd)

2015/16 1st Leicester City (Chelsea 10th)

2016/17 1st Chelsea (Leicester City 16th) – After 24 games. Chelsea are 9 points clear of 2nd place. Leicester are 1 point clear of the relegation places.

We appear to be entering an era where responding to success with more success is increasingly difficult. It is often quoted that no team has retained the Champions League since it’s inception in 1992/93. In actuality no team has retained the European Cup/Champions League since the fabled AC Milan of Gullit, Rijkaard and van Basten won in 1989 and 1990. It is an increasing phenomena across sports. In the NBA no team has defended their title since the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013. In the NFL the Vince Lombardy trophy has not been successfully defended since the New England Patriots in 2005. The World Series was last defended by the New York Yankee’s in 2000. The NHL’s Stanley Cup was last won back to back by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.

Without context success is unmeasurable. At the highest level success in itself is not enough. The level following winning competitions is success, but once that has been achieved it is not enough. Success becomes trophy piled upon trophy upon trophy. Finding a way to maintain the fire that drove you to the initial success but at the same time fend off the fire that your success stoked in others. Take your time to enjoy the success, as it may never come again, but don’t enjoy it too much for then you will almost certainly never taste it again.

Two weeks ago my group of grassroots under 16s sat top of their division, unbeaten, staring a trophy in the face. Since then they have lost consecutive games and are now second, one point from the top spot and that trophy. With three games to go, they may win, they may not, who knows? They are almost certain to end the season with their best ever record. Success?

The trophy would not be success. The boys would consider it a success and within their sphere of thought that is quite right. For me it would not be success. I have already told them that I don’t need to win the league. I want them to win a trophy as reward for their years of effort but I don’t need a trophy. I would be delighted for them but I have already achieved my success with this group. A trophy is not the validation I desire.

in January we sat down at the club house. Rain pounded on the window as Harry Kane and Dele Alli found the net on the screen above the bar. Our first meeting of a new era. The question I asked my fellow coaches was –

“What is our job? Is it to win matches?”

My age group is the oldest at the club. The range is under 8 to under 16. We have one real job with multiple facets. Our overall context is the same. Keep the players in the game. That is the target. Help them to be all that they can be. In an ideal world every player leaves the club. They leave because they have reached the stage where they are in with a chance to become a professional footballer. Everyone knows the statistics, this is an impossible dream and not one that we sell, but we have to be hopeful. After all, no one knows do they? Which fresh 7 year old has a future carved in granite, unflinching, unchanging, pre determined? Our job is to give them the best possible chance. If they don’t get there, that is fine as long as they stay in love with the game and want to carry on. The club has a senior team, playing at a semi professional level, if it was to happen that some of our youngsters go on to play for that team, we would have to consider that a success too.

Success is contextual. Success is nuanced. It could be nurturing a player from the age of 8 and a rank beginner through to academy level and a pro contract. It could be taking over a new squad of youngsters and seeing a struggling player flourish into a bright spark. Or it might be seeing a player rejected by the game of football turn into a futsal star.

In order to achieve a grasp on what success is we need to understand what failure is too. To never see a child smile would constitute failure. Setting a bad example. Winning at all costs. Not providing a skill set that allows boys to continue. Discouraging adventure and creating fearful players. Seeing a group of players drop out on mass. These would all be failure.

The coach who never wins a trophy but develops a dozen players who are in the game post 18 is a success. The coach who wins everything but has no players left in football at 16 has failed.

The number of divisions decreases as the players get older. Drop outs coming thick and fast as life starts to get in the way. One of the aims when I arrived at the club was for someone to get a team through to under 16. At the time I had the under 15s. They collapsed in on themselves. Half way through that season I started to work with the under 12s as well as the under 15s. I did not imagine that it would be this group who would make it through. There were no trophies. No winning to lure them on to the next step. What they have is a group of friends who enjoy playing football with each other.

Each player has experienced improvements to greater or lesser degrees. I have seen a boy who struggled leap forward. I have seen a boy arrive as miserable former full back and become a slightly grumpy goalscoring forward. Players who were not allowed to dribble at their previous club turn into exciting dribblers. I have not taught them any of these things, merely provided an environment for them to find themselves. There are still a few who are in denial of who they are, harbouring childhood dreams of being a great goalscorer and who am I to squash those dreams? All things are possible.

A handful of these players can see the professional game. The opportunity is there but it would need a big decision just to get a closer look. Just to be that close is more than the majority get. Beyond that, they seem to be a group of decent human beings. A few of whom make the type of questionable life decisions that teenagers are prone to make, but if they didn’t what would they ever learn? It can’t just be about what happens between the lines.

It may be possibility that this group enjoys trophy success but it seems to be a certainty that they will stay together and play under 17s football.

That is success enough for me.

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