How to prepare for Gareth Bale and Aiden McGeady
Whenever a player is producing excellent individual performances, a common question asked of any future opponent is: "How do you stop him?"
At this moment, every right full-back about to face the considerable talents of Gareth Bale (pictured) is being probed for an answer to such a predicament, but where do they, and every other player keen to get the better of their direct opponent, get the solutions?
Is it correct to assume that the responsibility for informing players of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition should rest solely with the management, or should, and do, players do their own homework, thus improving the possibilities of them producing a good performance?
In my experience, the increased employment of video analysts and consequent production of match DVDs at clubs has given managers a huge help in terms of the manner in which they are able to pass information on to players.
This development is supported by the distribution of scouting reports that will contain information on your upcoming opponent with emphasis on their playing style and set-piece routines alongside detailed analysis of each individual player's attributes.
It would therefore appear that the modern-day player has little excuse for not being properly informed of what difficulties they may encounter from an opponent during a match.
There are, of course, no guarantees that simply being aware of what a player may do will automatically mean that you can stop them doing it as different factors in a match, such as fatigue, lack of concentration, being caught out of position, etc., can all contribute to a player being exploited.
During my own career, I have had to face very different wide players, from those with great pace to those who are fantastic at taking players on and I therefore have had to use a combination of managers' instruction and my own insight into knowing how best to adapt my game to suit.
One of my most difficult opponents, and one I played against on many occasions, was Aiden McGeady - and, in his case, my gameplan was to prevent Aiden getting on the ball with time to turn and run at me as if this was allowed to happen then he was very dangerous.
Such a strategy is just one example and I should point out that it should not just be viewed in a negative sense as Aiden McGeady and others, such as Shunsuke Nakamura, loved to go infield and join in with their central midfielders. Therefore, I was fully aware of this and always keen to try to exploit this by using their absence on the wide areas to get forward and try to create opportunities.
Similarly, it is not just defenders who will study strikers with the aim of preventing them scoring or creating. Attacking players will do exactly the same and thus look to get in behind those players they believe lack pace, or apply pressure quickly to those who they feel are not very comfortable in possession.
Football is always about seeking advantages and, as I mentioned at the beginning, managers will seek tactics to ensure them for their side, but players being students of the game only makes this more likely and success a more realistic possibility.
Finally, if absorbing information is a form of preparation for players then it is natural to expect the other parts of the game to be equally as well prepared. In this respect, I am making reference to Dunfermline's game on Saturday, when an injury to an assistant referee meant a member of the crowd having to take his place.
In a match that attracted a fantastic crowd of more than 7,000 and featured two good teams aiming for a place in the Scottish Premier League, should a fourth official not be seen as essential? I understand the financial restrictions that may inhibit this extra official being employed, but is there scope for it being at the discretion of the home team or for a supervisor watching the officials to be capable of replacing a referee or assistant in such circumstances?
This is not meant as a slight on the gentleman who took the flag as I thought he did well in what turned out to a very entertaining derby match and a terrific advert for First Division football.