Interview with analyst and author Abdullah Abdullah
Saturday, 5 February 2022
We caught up with author and analyst Abdullah Abdullah to speak about his latest book 'The Evolution of Chelsea Under Emma Hayes' and his new series of tactical interviews with players and coaches on his website Pressing Matters.
On Her Side
Firstly, congratulations on your new book, Europe’s Next Power House: The Evolution of Chelsea Under Emma Hayes. Would you be able to tell us a little bit out the book and what readers can expect? First of all, thank you, and second of all, what can you expect from the book. Well, the general premise of the book essentially depicts the rise of Emma Hayes over the years, but also the evolution of Chelsea as a club from several years ago to now, their growth over time. Mostly on the pitch in terms of tactical ideas, but also off the pitch, what are the factors that contributed to them getting to where they are and what that means for the future of the club. We put that all together and you can get a decent overview of Chelsea from 5-7 years ago to now, and beyond, in terms of what they want to achieve, what they have achieved and what they’re doing on the pitch tactically and learn all about it. --- You mention the book is full of tactical insights, so for those of us who are perhaps not particularly tactically minded, is it written in a way that we can easily follow Chelsea’s journey on the pitch in this respect? Yes, I like to think, and pride myself on making sure that the way I write is both accessible to people who are tactically savvy and people who are just maybe getting into tactics or who just generally know about football. So both sets can understand without one feeling like it’s targeted too much the other way. I think it’s a good balance between being too technical and not very technical, so I’d like to think I’ve pleased both sets. It worked for the first one!
Speaking of your first book, that was written about Lyon. So, what was it that then drew you to Chelsea, why was Chelsea your second choice? I think, plain and simple, on the men’s side Chelsea are the team I’ve been supporting since the year 2000, they’re my childhood club. Whilst the men’s side was very saturated, I focus a lot on women’s football and I thought I’ve got to do something on Chelsea. For me, I’ve always said Lyon is the club I support on the women’s side, but I’m a very close second fan of Chelsea so it was an obvious choice. I wouldn’t have chosen anyone else, it had to be Chelsea because it’s so close to me. It was opportunistic as well, they were doing so well under Emma Hayes. Sam Kerr was just about to sign and the club was really going somewhere. I knew a lot about the club so it was a no-brainer. I thought, let’s do it. --- Obviously, we speak a lot about Emma Hayes and the focus of this book revolves around Chelsea’s growth under her leadership, have you managed to speak to her? You’re not the first person to ask me and unfortunately no, I have not been able to speak to her. It was unfortunate, she was covering the Euro’s in the summer when I wanted to try to speak to her but I got the next best thing which were journalists and people around her at the club. I am told she has received a copy of the book and I’ve no clue what she’s going to think so we’re going to have to see what happens!
As well as the book you have another exciting project happening, Pressing Matters: a series of tactical insights with players and coaches. Can you tell us where the idea for this project came from? I’m not going to lie to you, I was just sitting around thinking ‘what can I do to take Pressing Matters to the next level? I’m loving the analysis that I’m doing but I need to take it a step further.’ I will give Mia Eriksson some credit here! She’s doing a podcast called ‘Their Pitch’ (podcast in which Mia and co-host Amanda Zaza speak to players, coaches and other football personnel about their history and professional development, as well as their tactical take on the game). It’s a fantastic idea and people should go and listen to it (interviewer seconds this!). So, I used that as inspiration and thought about how I could do something that’s equally as innovative and different. It was just one of those things, I was sitting around doing nothing and it just popped – tactical interviews with players! And I’ll make it a written thing rather than a podcast. I asked a couple of people what they thought and they said ‘yeah, not a bad idea’ and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. From there the journey began and I started sending out a gazillion emails. --- The first entry is out, an interview with former Everton manager Willie Kirk, and from this it’s clear that this series will provide analysis from coaches and players, which, aside from Mia’s podcast, has not really been done in the women’s game. Looking at that first article, it feels as if your guests have an awful lot to say about the tactical side of the game. Have you been surprised at the level of insight and the volume of information that they have given? Yeah, really I have. Willie was great, it was really insightful. He gave me a lot of insight into the way he was working with Everton and the decisions that he made. I guess it was a little bit easier for him to explain simply because he’s left the club so he can give me more detail than others could’ve. But I think with the players I’ve already spoken to, some of them have really surprised me in terms of their level of insight and their knowledge. When I start some of them [interviews], it starts off with a good answer. But the minute it goes to questions 2, 3, and 4, they really start getting into it and they put time and energy into their answers. You can actually see them sitting there and actively thinking ‘oh wait, no hold on’ – they think about one thing then suddenly they’ll change it and go ‘oh you know what, actually I can add this’. Every single player in their own way has surprised me with their level of understanding and knowledge, not just their own game and what they’re supposed to be doing, but the deeper meaning of that and they ask a lot of questions which has surprised me. So I think it’s really going to surprise people and will be quite enjoyable.
Going off of that, do you think players have enjoyed speaking about tactics and the more technical aspects of their game? It’s not something they generally have the opportunity to do, so what’s the response been in that respect, would you say it’s something they have been crying out for? Maybe not crying out for, but certainly, I’ve got about six or seven interviews recorded so far and every single one of them has said ‘really happy to do it because it’s not something we usually get to do and it’s totally different. We play football, we play the game so why can’t we talk about what we do on the pitch?’ Some of them have a lot to say about roles, positions, how they think they should be playing and how to improve. Sometimes the feeling I get is that they get a little carried away with some of the things and I just have to sit there, listen and indulge, which is great! I really get a full insight into it. So I think so far they’ve all really liked it. --- That’s amazing. Could I be cheeky and ask if you could give us a couple of names we might see popping up in the future? Alright, you know what, I’ll give you a couple of names that haven’t been posted anywhere else. I have spoken to Elin Landström of Inter Milan who is a left back, hopefully that will come out sooner rather than later. I think I’m safe to say that Rachel Daly might be another one that will be coming some point in the future. There you go, I can give you those two for now. --- Abdullah's books are available to buy on Amazon.