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Football: Combinations are the key for Luton Town boss John Still

By Bedfordshire On Sunday  |  Posted: March 04, 2013

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When John Still goes into detail about his football philosophy, there is one recurring theme which crops up time and time again, and that is his insistence on the importance of combinations.

It has been just under a week since the 62-year-old left Dagenham & Redbridge to take over from Paul Buckle in the Kenilworth Road hot seat, and he already has a clear idea of what needs to be done if the Hatters are to regain their place in the Football League.

For Still, the basis of any successful side is getting the pairings right. For example, the two centre halves might be a good pair, but one of them isn’t a pair with the full back.

He believes it is a bit easier if you can make the two central midfielders a pair because they do not get over-affected by it, but two forwards do. The full backs have got to be able to play with their winger in his system as well.

All of the squad will get their chance to show they can adapt to the manager's way of thinking, and the same applies when it comes to making moves in the transfer market.

"If I’ve got a centre forward coming in who scored 40 goals at his last club and 35 of those were from crosses but I don’t play with wingers, then he’s not going to get 35 goals," says Still.

"That takes longer and, for me, that’s the key. Someone can be playing in your side and you know where you want to get to, and people think he’s not very good, but when you get the right partner for him people with think he’s a good player.

“It’s easy to sign player and anyone can do that, but can you sign the right player?”

Still's view on how football should be played is strikingly reminiscent of Arrigo Sacchi, who was the mastermind behind the great AC Milan side of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

No doubt having players like the Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit was a big help, but Sacchi has always maintained the collective is more important than the individual.

"It is not a question of 4-4-2 or 4-2-1-3, it is a question of having a team which is ordered, in which the players are connected to one another, which moves together, as if it was a single player," said Sacchi in an interview with The Guardian in 2011.

"Today few teams know how to do this. Few teams work as a unit – few, really few teams. They are all made up of little groups. There is no great connection, nor a good distribution of players around the pitch.

"You just need players who know how to read the game,"

There are some parallels to be drawn between the careers of Sacchi and Still. Neither had much of a playing career to speak of - Sacchi was a shoe salesman before managing his local team, Baracca Lugo, at 26, while Still made one solitary appearance for Leyton Orient before drifting into non-league football and having his career cut short by injury.

Although his managerial career has not hit the highs of Sacchi’s, the Londoner has proven to be an adept manager, steering Maidstone United and Dagenham to Conference titles and enjoying a successful stint in charge of Barnet.

He is now aiming to do the same with Luton and help them earn promotion to League Two, with the first step being to get the side playing his way of football.

Still has also dipped into the transfer market, bringing in promising striker Alex Wall from Blue Square Bet South side Maidenhead United after scoring 13 goals for them this season.

Still is keen to bring in players he believes are capable of progressing not just at this level, but the level above, and will scour all leagues to do so. He recalls an example given to him by legendary West Ham United boss John Lyall.

"One boy is the best young player at a club and one was the worst when they came," said Still. "They definitely took the first and weren’t sure about the second, but took him because his mum is nice.

"After three years, the gap might be smaller and that tells me his progress is greater. He’s still not as good, but in a year he will be because his progress is good.

"That’s the key to a lot of these things, and sometimes one can look like they’re the best player, but when you need him is he still going to be the best player?

"People improve dramatically but some people stand still, and you’ve got to try and identify who is standing still and who is not."

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