A favourite cliché of football pundits is that the game is played 90% with your head. While I do not fully subscribe to this, there is little doubt in my mind that the determination, passion, adaptability, flair, persistence, patience, leadership and selflessness shown by this group of players played a major role in our on- and off-the-pitch successes on tour. From a coaches point of view my job was made so much easier by the fact that the group of players we had out in Egypt, Palestine and Jordan displayed all these attributes in abundance.
While on tour there is a delicate balance between showing passion and disrespecting your hosts. At times I think we got this wrong, and as Coach I take responsibility for this. I should have led by example and made an example of players who took their passion too far. However, once we learned to control our passion and channel it into determination, it was an invaluable asset. When you're playing 4 or 5 games in a week, passion and drive is what gets you through games. In players like Sam and Alex we had characters that would do anything to win and in any situation inspire the team forward with their drive.
Team morale is vital to a successful tour, so dropping people is always nerve-wracking. Thankfully having people like Lucas, Nick and Omar who will take being dropped on the chin and come back and work even harder in training made my life so much easier. A player that was never dropped, mainly due to his own version of selflessness, was Taurean. Part of the reason our team was successful in the Middle East was because we had some fantastic players with great flair and creativity like Juan, Erhan and Alex Skinner, but with players like this you need someone to fill in the gaps left by these players, and Taurean would always do this. He would listen to every instruction and carry it out to the minutest detail, and it is a testament to this that he has played every minute of every Football Beyond Borders tour.
As a coach I like to play around with formations and styles and because of this players sometimes have to play out of position. In the 4-1 win against Al Quds University, both Mesh and Timmy played out of position. However neither complained and both players put in individual performances up there with the very best of the tour. This not only shows tremendous skill, but also great adaptability. Dillon played out of position for most of the tour. He was clearly not happy playing left wing (rather than his favoured position of striker) but in usual Dill fashion showed great persistence and patience, never once complaining, while always looking to improve and do his all for the team.
While a coach can work hard off-the-pitch, every team needs a leader on it to lead by example, pass on instructions, organise and encourage. In Joseph we had the perfect person for this. Joe is a player that the team takes its lead from - if he plays well then the team plays well - and in the big games on tour he performed, and the team followed suit. Not only did Joe lead by his performances, he also had the respect of all the players, which allowed him to organise on the pitch - it really helps having someone with such football intelligence leading on the pitch. However, Joe was not the only leader and at times we had 5 or 6 players who would be excellent candidates to be captain. Jasper in particular is a player who through his work rate, desire and experience is able to lead people in both games and training.
Someone who I think deserves a special mention for his contribution to the team is Tom Pez. His enthusiasm and energy, while often affably mocked by the team, really helped me as a coach. After a 3 hour training session if I ever was in doubt about a drill or instruction Tom Pez would always be their eagerly nodding and then carrying out whatever asked of him to the exact instruction, and this really does give you a lift as a coach.
I will always be indebted to these players for being the best possible team to manage, and I am sure I will never get to coach such an incredible bunch of people again. They allowed me to play around with formations, have long hard training sessions, rotate the team and still they would put in 100% every time they stepped over the white line. Once they were on the pitch I had full trust that they would be able to perform in all situations due to their strong character.
I think all the attributes you need for a successful tour off-the-pitch are taken from those on-the-pitch. From Alex’s passion, to Taurean’s selflessness, to Joe’s leadership and Tom Pez’s energy - without these characteristics the tour both on and off the pitch would not have achieved all that it did.