This week on Live from the Dog Track, I had a chance to sit down with Champions League winner and AFC Richmond captain, the legend Roy Kent, to discuss Ted Lasso’s managerial skills as well as his future with the club. We even got into some gossip!
With the campaign officially done and dusted, now seems as good a time as any to look ahead and think about what life will be like for Richmond in the Championship.
PSYCH! It’s way too soon for that, and if I have my way I’ll keep pretending this is all a terrible dream. Like that time my girlfriend and I went to a charity benefit and she ended up engaged with a two percent stake in the newly-relegated club that I just so happen to work for. That wasn’t a dream so much as my f***ing nightmare of a reality, but I guess what I’m saying is maybe if we all collectively wish hard enough this will all just go away.
This is, in actuality, my favorite time of year, when we get to look back on everything that transpired over the past 9 months and hand out awards, both deserved and not. If the mayhem that was last season felt like it was ripped straight from the the 1989 American baseball classic Major League, then the year ahead is shaping up to play out like the 1988 American baseball classic Bull Durham. Why do I keep comparing Richmond seasons to baseball films from the ’80s? Mind your business, that’s why. Baseball is more boring than cricket, but it’s ripe for romanticism. You can’t script a Premier League campaign (though if you did it would look like 2015-16, *WINK*), but if you step back, it’s easy to see how it ebbs and flows like a movie or, say, a season of television… so to speak.
So with that in mind, let’s hand out AFC Richmond’s 1st Annual Year End Awards! The awards are titled for my favorite quotes from Bull Durham, are completely arbitrary, and are in no way representative of any voting system or consensus. It’s a stolen gimmick, but so is my ex-girlfriend.
Watch yourself, folks. My favorite club was relegated, I’ve been drinking since last Tuesday, and I just saw the love of my life on the front page of the Daily National caressing a gazillion-year-old man. I’m coming in hot!
“You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.”
The first award goes to, who else, Ted Lasso. Lasso always managed to get the most out of everyone, from his championship-winning time coaching American college football to training a bunch of adults to play a game he STILL doesn’t understand.
Unfortunately for Richmond, the one player he managed to get the most out of was Jamie f***ing Tartt, who, when presented with a chance to be a lone wolf hero, opted to pass it to the open man for a sure goal. That goal came at the expense of the Greyhounds in the final seconds of a game in which they literally had to get a point, but hey, now we’re heading to a different Championship of sorts, so that’s neat.
“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
To the ever-present Coach Beard, who was always there by Lasso’s side to explain the nuances of the game. By nuances, of course, I’m referring to the most basic of rules that any six-year-old knows. On the weekend, some lip readers actually caught him offering Ted Lasso an unusual crash course regarding the offside rule.
There are some who would suggest that Coach Beard is the real brains behind the whole operation. I am one of them. I mean, have you seen Lasso’s postgame interviews? There will almost certainly be a bunch of offside situations in the Championship, too, so I’m sure this will be really useful information.
“How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous? I mean, how come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmo?”
To our fearless owner, Rebecca Welton, who went to divorce hell and back and came out on the other side stronger, better, and improbably, the owner of a Premier League football club. She immediately made it a relegation side by hiring someone that doesn’t know anything about the sport and getting rid of Richmond’s best player, but something tells me her story isn’t finished being written. Besides, Mannion is an assssssss. Good riddance.
“Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.”
To Keeley Jones, who improbably went from pin-up WAG to Richmond’s promotional director this season. I don’t really have anything snarky to say here. She is always nice to me in the halls and seems to have a better grasp on what it means to be a professional than 99.9% of the jackholes walking around Richmond.
It’s hard to imagine she’ll stick around working for the club next season. There’s not a lot of demand for second tier players doing promotions in the Championship. With any luck, her friendship with the owner and obvious affection for Roy Kent will be enough to keep her on board. Assuming Roy Kent is still with the club next season. More on that in a bit.
“No, Meat, don’t think, just give him the gas.”
To Sam Obisanya, who spent the better part of the season overthinking everything. It’s possible he just had too much on his plate as a right back tasked with so much offensive creation. Like so many other players on this squad, Lasso figured out how to get the most out of Sam as well, moving him to left wing in a pivotal match against Watford. There were plenty in the media calling for him to move back to defense, but with the way he finished the season Richmond will be lucky if they can hang onto him heading into the Championship.
“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.”
To Dani Rojas because, I mean, look at this guy.
He’s like that off the pitch, too. It’s very strange.
“Come on, ‘rook, show us that million-dollar arm. ‘Cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours.”
To Jamie f***ing Tartt. The less said, the better.
“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes.”
To Colin Hughes, who is so close to breaking through and becoming a big time player but simply hasn’t put all the pieces together yet. He was snubbed by Wales in the latest round of qualifiers – which has to sting considering it’s, you know, WALES – and now he’s packing his bags for the Championship. But hey, maybe that will afford him more opportunities to play in Wales.
Shit. I said Wales too many times. Now it looks funny on the page.
“Don’t think. You can only hurt the ball club.”
To Isaac McAdoo, who was so vacant of mind that he became Richmond’s captain in the most important match of the season.
Unfortunately, he was also vacant as Richmond’s center back, and it was his spot on the pitch where we last saw Jamie Tartt galloping directly into the box as he was blasting us into the championship. But he was a leader when his club needed him to be, and that’s what counts. Or something.
“You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!” “Lollygaggers.”
To the newly minted Nate the Great. When the team needed to be set straight, it took now-assistant coach, then-kit man, Nate to lay down the law and scare these kids to take the game more seriously. The result was only the greatest win in the history of the club – away to Everton for the first time in more than half a century.
It was as a glorious win, diminished only slightly by the fact that they left me behind to do busy work with f***ing Higgins, of all people. Speaking of…
“Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.”
To Leslie Higgins, Jr. – a “feminine junior” but always masculine in our heart. LOL. Ever the humble problem solver, Higgins has been hovering around the Richmond hierarchy for decades, but this season he took on a greater role under Ms. Welton when she promoted him to Director of Football Operations. Since then he has taken on a STAGGERING amount of duties; seriously, there are only, like, eight of us that work here. It’s a PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB. Was. Shit. Now I’m sad again. Say something mean… the new kid in the boot room is an idiot. Much better.
“I’m just happy to be here and I hope I can help the ball club. You know, I just wanna give it my best shot and good lord willing things will work out. You know you gotta play em one day at a time though.”
To Trent Crimm, who is a COLOSSAL prick (always has been). Reporters like him are the reason people give out asinine and mundane quotes like this one. Hopefully, the Championship is so far beneath him we won’t see his face for a while. He’ll be the death of the media, mark my words.
“You’re in the wrong business, Jack. You’re Sears and Roebuck material.”
To Ol’ George What’s-his-name, for making haste with his exit from Richmond. You sucked as a manager and you’ll probably never work again. Not that you cared as long as Rupert was picking up the check. Dick. Which brings us to…
“He’s just your father, man… he’s as full of shit as anybody.”
To Rupert Mannion, because presumably somebody needs to tell Bex that he’s older than her own father, though maybe that’s what’s so appealing to her. Since you’re no longer the boss, I can safely say that while you have heaps of money and good looks, you, sir, are a bad person.
“Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once – the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.“
Last but certainly not least, this one goes to Roy Kent. He’s been an icon in this league for longer than Colin has had pubes, but his injury against Man City might be the final nail in his career coffin. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a career coffin, but I’m struggling to find the right words at the moment.
It’s really hard to imagine Roy Kent playing in the Championship considering the guy won the Champions League. Admittedly, though, he’s been on the decline for a while now. His impact as of late was almost exclusively personality driven, which really says something about how far he’s come as a person. The other day he actually grunted at me outside the training room, I shit you not. Had Richmond managed to survive relegation, we’d be adding his incredible chase-down tackle of Tartt to his already legendary resume, but instead we might remember it as the last gasp of a dying career.
Like Keeley, there’s hope that his ties to the organization are strong enough to keep him around the club a bit longer, if only as a presence in the locker room. No one would begrudge him hanging up his boots though. He’s earned that.
So let’s sing it loud tonight, hopefully not for the last time.
AFC Richmond played their final match of the season on Sunday against Manchester City, a devastating loss at Nelson Road that ushered the Greyhounds out of the Premier League and into the Championship. Though they only needed a draw after Palace’s shock 6-0 scoreline, Ted Lasso and his men played for the win and likely wouldn’t have done too much differently. Ultimately, Manchester City were just the better side.
Ted Lasso arrived as a manager who knew quite literally nothing about the game of football. The past few months were a crash course in the massive ups and downs of the strongest league in the world. If the season were to begin again today, with all that Lasso has learned, it’s not hard to imagine this Richmond squad competing for a place in the top half of the table (or top five, lol). But alas, it was not to be, and now the club are looking at a very long, very important summer before the Championship kicks off in the fall.
Despite the brutal reality of relegation, Ted Lasso’s impact on AFC Richmond as a club is undeniable. His player-focused approach to coaching and development falls squarely in the lineage of the great personality managers in sporting history like John Wooden. And so today, in honor of the “Ted Lasso Effect,” I thought we’d use a few Woodenisms to reflect on the Greyhounds’ final game in the Premier League for a while.
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
As I discovered after painstakingly analyzing the match up between Richmond and Manchester City last week, um, City is way better. I mean, they won the League, and that seems pretty hard to do, so duh I guess, but it’s important to show your work. Richmond struggled to generate offense for most of the season, but this fixture was always going to be an especially terrible time. City have spent outrageously on their back four, and their defensive midfielder and captain Billy Brimblecom moonlights as a center back when the occasion calls for it. Here’s his heat map, for old time’s sake.
One thing the Greyhounds should be proud of, though, is the way they approached set pieces. Too often teams let free kicks go to waste, when in reality they are among the most valuable events over the course of a game. Possession is a lucrative stat, and City are famous for owning most of it. It’s extremely important to remember that a set piece is the referee basically saying, “Here, this ball is yours and the other team can’t come within ten meters until you decide what you would like to do with it.”
So when Richmond drew their first corner kick in the 31st minute, I was thrilled to see they had actually designed and rehearsed an elaborate set piece action. According to fans near the pitch, the Greyhounds called for “Sandman” when Rojas lined up over the corner. I would have argued for a different player to take the corner considering Rojas is their most potent finisher, but misdirection is a powerful thing and Dixon struck the ball really well, forcing a huge save out of Ireland’s number one, Timothy Hamelen.
As for the bizarre – albeit highly effective – play that Richmond ran in stoppage time to drum up an equalizer, my hat is off to Ted Lasso. I’m a fan of the quick restart when it’s used to catch an opponent off guard, especially if you have the talent and speed to exploit such a mistake. Short on those qualities, though, Richmond made the risky decision to take their time as the clock was ticking on their Premier League hopes. Using ingenuity, misdirection and a heaping dose of Mighty Ducks-style flare, they managed to capitalize on a fairly innocuous restart position and generate a goal scoring opportunity, which, ohbytheway, they scored.
That Jamie Tartt created one last nail for Richmond’s coffin out of thin air is, quite frankly, beside the point. The Greyhounds entered with and executed a brilliant game plan against a superior opponent. They turned weaknesses into strengths and did everything they could do to survive relegation.
“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
By the sheer force of Ted Lasso’s will, AFC Richmond have all the character in the world, but they don’t have the ability to get to (or stay in range of) the top. At least not yet.
After getting completely destroyed by the speed of Manchester City’s attack for the entirety of the first half, Richmond’s only move was to answer with character. One character in particular – Roy Kent. In one of the most incredible moments you will ever see in the Premier League, Roy Kent chased down Jamie Tartt – an athletic specimen more than a decade his junior – in the open field for a goal-saving slide tackle. It may have cost Roy Kent his career, but it was truly chill-inducing.
Don’t let this magnificent, chant-resurrecting tackle blind you to the gaping talent gap between these two sides. Jamie Tartt spent the entire night galloping through the center of this Richmond side almost entirely unabated. At the very least, Ted Lasso should have a player that he can throw at Tartt just to make his life hell for a while. Instead, all we saw was a whole lot of this:
We’ll get into this more in the coming weeks, but Lasso’s squad needs a few upgrades over the summer to ensure they don’t get stuck in the morass of the Championship year after year. Clubs get parachute payments upon relegation, and Ms. Welton needs to use every penny to make sure this spell in the lower division is brief. Richmond can have all the character in the world, but without an upgrade in ability they risk a prolonged absence from the Premier League.
“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
As painful as it was to sit and watch former Richmond star Jamie Tartt run roughshod on Sunday and relegate the Greyhounds in the process, it’s really important to remember that this team didn’t fully take off until he was sent packing back to Manchester. His stardom was on full display, but he didn’t score any goals; his greatest contribution to City’s win came in a moment of selflessness.
During his loan spell, this Richmond side was never fully behind Tartt, as evidenced by the dust up between him and Roy Kent in the Watford match. As a result, neither Tartt nor his teammates reached their full potential. It’s debatable whether or not Lasso wished for Tartt’s departure, but the aftermath was clearly positive for both parties (yes, even in spite of relegation).
Players like Obisanya, McAdoo, Rojas, and even Roy Kent thrived in Tartt’s absence. It’s unclear how many of these players will stick with a relegated club, but as teammates they believed in and elevated each other. And on the other side of the pitch, Jamie Tartt elevated to true stardom at the expense of his old teammates by passing up the shot for the game-winning assist, subsequently becoming a part of a League-winning team.
Bonus Woodenism: “Today is the only day. Yesterday is gone.”
Or, to put that another way, “Let’s be sad now. Let’s be sad together. And then we can be a gosh darn goldfish. Onward. Forward.”
Hard to believe it’s only been a few months since Richmond plunged head first into the adventures of big handsome guy and his little friend, as supporters not-so-affectionately call the tenure of Ted Lasso and his assistant, Coach Beard. So much has changed for the Grey Hounds since their arrival, both on and off the pitch. I wish I could say for the better, but staring down the barrel of relegation heading into the final match of the campaign (against Manchester City, no less) is a continuum no club wants to live on. Quite frankly, it’s going to take a happening of monumental proportions for Richmond to survive on Sunday.
And yet, there is hope. First and foremost, Richmond are in control of their destiny, which is more than the two teams below them can say. When the day is done, a result against Man City takes the Dogs clear of the drop zone and keeps them in the promised land for another year. No matter what the gaffer says about the development of his players as humans, fostering a sense of community, and so on, winning does matter, in this case to the tune of about £50m. The club has done well to become a mid-table mainstay, but few clubs can survive a trip to the Championship, and once you go down it can be a long time coming back. Just ask Leeds.
Another reason to believe in the Grey Hounds’ survival is, well, they have a genuine chance of survival. The general numbers paint a rather disastrous picture of the difference in quality between the two sides (hang on, we’ll get to the maps!). But if you dig deeper – like really, really far down into the abyss – you can almost make out a Richmond side whose style is problematic for Manchester City. Almost. Maybe.
There’s an old Dutch saying about football that every disadvantage has its advantage. So I thought today, rather than whinge about the mockpocalypse, we’d have a look at how AFC Richmond can take down this legendary Manchester City team by turning their perceived weaknesses into strengths through a combination of extreme discipline and controlled chaos in defence (seriously, so many maps).
Thank you, and sorry in advance.
Richmond and City are polar opposites in nearly every way, and the bridge to victory for the Grey Hounds is long and narrow and in desperate need of retrofitting. The past year at Nelson Road has been an odd one, to say the least, marked by the departure of a crusty managerial veteran in favor of peppy upstart Ted Lasso. Expected goals is a tricky way to track changes in management, but it’s useful in this instance for highlighting the way the team has trended over the course of the season.
(All data visualizations courtesy of StatsBomb.)
There was an obvious uproar when Ms. Welton sacked Mannion’s longtime manager and pal, though that was more about the incoming appointment than any misconceptions about the team’s quality. Richmond was poor defensively and getting even worse in attack when the change was made. As you can see, those trends have been reversing under Ted Lasso and flipped completely in recent weeks. Results don’t always mirror the data, and in this case Lasso’s side appear to have been hard done by the actual run of play.
Manchester City, on the other hand:
Green is good, I think? So these snapshots are a particularly brutal sight for Richmond fans.
Stylistically, though, this is not going to be as much of a cakewalk for Manchester City as it seems at first glance. Sides like the Grey Hounds have historically created a lot of problems for City, who prefer a possession-based approach that allows them to find their rhythm in attack while making their opponent work. The goal for City is to have the ball as much as possible, which requires them to win the ball back as soon as they lose it. Opposing teams possess the ball at their own peril, as City are terrific at winning the ball and countering quickly.
But Richmond are surprisingly confident in who they are under Ted Lasso and play more of a direct old-school style in attack. That’s an extremely useful quality for any team facing Manchester City, especially, who is the second best team in the league at getting high press shots. Richmond don’t try anything risky in the back. They get the ball forward immediately, rather than faff about with it in their own half, as demonstrated by this really intense arrow graph. Most notably, they don’t even consider lateral passes until they’re well into the attacking half of the pitch.
By contrast, Manchester City will do almost anything NOT to play a long pass. Below, the sonar shard map (!!) on the left shows the length, direction and quality of the passes Man City make in each zone. It should come as no surprise that they have no qualms playing the ball in any direction from any spot on the field, a tactic that makes them especially tough to defend. The map on the right shows their distribution from the keeper position. His job is essentially to get the ball into play as quickly as possible, with no mandate to move the ball forward.
By design, this sort of distribution welcomes the high press. Teams that park the bus can be hard to break down in the final third. Manchester City hopes that opposing teams will take the bait and press these short lateral passes in their own third, trusting that the talent in their squad will allow them to comfortably play through stretched opposition. Please remember that I’m only the messenger when I tell you that it pretty much always works.
And I would have expected the same fate for Richmond, as well, until rumours started bubbling out of the dressing room that Roy Kent may have lost the faith of his manager. Early indications are that Kent’s bad run of form (33 turnovers in 9 games!) has finally caught up with him. You can be great and give up an own goal or quietly poor for long stretches without scoring against your own team, but you can’t be both. I’m sure in America he’d dominate and they’d be like “Is this football then?” Not in the Premier League, though.
For this specific match up, moving Roy Kent to the bench should have a more profound impact on the Grey Hounds than simply swapping an unfit snail of a player for someone who’s in form. For everything they lose in sitting their captain, they gain another young, fast midfielder that can cover a lot of ground and defend. They can’t sit deep, try to counter, and expect to win this one. Everyone counts out there on Sunday, and their only hope is a coordinated, swarming bit of chaos. City’s not infallible; they make mistakes in possession, and they have a tendency to be too casual at times. The closer to the goal Richmond can be when they force a mistake, the better their chances are of capitalizing on and converting from those mistakes.
It would be naive to think Richmond can keep City out of the final third for the entire match, though, so unfortunately we’re going to have to address the elephant in the room, the shit in the locker, the swiveling hips in Roy Kent’s nightmares: Jamie fucking Tartt.
Since moving back to Manchester City, Tartt has been on an impressive run. I don’t think anyone expected him to find his way into the starting XI so quickly, but admittedly the lad’s been undeniable. Against West Ham a few weeks back, he completed the match with 10 touches, 2 completed dribbles and a free kick goal in the 89th minute, and he had another brilliant day last weekend. Fine showings for anyone, but it’s particularly telling that he’s already taking free kicks for this Manchester City side.
Richmond can’t expect to stop him, but they can hope to slow him down. For as much as they know about him, Tartt also knows his former Richmond teammates inside out, and he’ll be extra motivated to show them what they gave up on.
Ted Lasso and his staff do know one thing about Tartt that they could try to use to gain an edge, though. For all of Tartt’s gifts – and he’d be the first one to tell you this – he has a famously bad left foot cross. On most teams that wouldn’t be an issue, but Manchester City utilizes a really specific tactical approach in the final third. Let’s go back to that dope ass shard map one more time.
City’s entire attack revolves around getting their forwards and playmakers into the highlighted spaces inside the 18, just outside the six yard box on the end line. The ball is then cut back to the penalty spot or slipped across the box and bang, goal. It’s devastating and really difficult to defend due to the danger of giving up a penalty to one of City’s crafty ball handlers. They’re like a race car with a custom-built engine, and Jamie Tartt happens to fit seamlessly into the rotary girder. Or pistons? Shockers. Whatever, look, I’m not a “car guy,” I just do the X’s and O’s around here, and what I do know is this:
This is every attacking action since Tartt went to Manchester City. As you can see, he’s been quite a busy little boy. He fills that channel I was just talking about on the right side of the box about as well as they could have dreamed, plus he’s contributing around the top of the box in ways they couldn’t have.
But there’s a comically sad blip on the other side of the six, in the left channel, a little peach guy that Tartt (and City) would rather we didn’t notice or discuss. In all of the attacking action, only once did Tartt find himself running into and receiving the ball on the left side of the goal. Rather than stick to the plan and cut the ball back across the box, Tartt opted to take an off-balance shot that trickled into the keeper’s arms. Or maybe it was just a hilariously errant cross because his left foot cross is shit? Either way, it should come as no surprise that he was benched moments later.
Richmond’s plan on Sunday needs to limit these spaces for Tartt. Overload the side, if that’s what it takes, force him to wander to the left side of the pitch in search of more space. It’s imperfect, but the numbers don’t lie with him, at least not as he fits into this City team. If the Grey Hounds can drive him to make a few mistakes and start venturing outside City’s system, Tartt will disrupt what his team is trying to accomplish and possibly even get himself benched in the process. For Richmond, that would be a checkmate, mate.
Oh, one more thing: Don’t foul him around the box because he’ll almost certainly score.
This campaign has been a rollercoaster ride for both the club and the supporters. Now we find out what Ted Lasso and his team are made of. If they can stay disciplined and aggressive in defence, coordinated chaos, they’ll have a real shot to survive relegation. But there’s no more time to procrastinate. The Grey Hounds need to leave it all out on the field if they want to go out like Willie Nelson – on a high. Hopefully, Lasso has something more potent up his sleeve than barbecue sauce. Still, with that being said, just in case it actually works…
There was some suggestion on the Nelson Road twitter account (go on and mash that follow button) that this week’s #TacticalThursday piece was going to assess AFC Richmond’s best hopes for shutting down Jamie Tartt against Manchester City in the last match of the season. But as I dug deeper into the numbers I began to notice a startling trend. As much as it absolutely destroys me to say this — I mean really, truly, I’m sick to my stomach because he’s such a colossal prick — Trent Crimm is right.Continue reading “We Need to Talk about Roy Kent”