He led the England football team to the semi-finals of the European Championships last year and unlike Gareth Southgate, it wasn't even his full time job.
Most of us play small sided football for a bit of fitness and to have a bit of fun with our mates, but what you might not know is that England have an official 6-a-side team and they’re actually pretty good. We spoke to former England 6-a-side manager, Lee Currie about his experience of managing the national side.
He also talked us through what makes a great a small sided football player and the selection process for the England team. A must read for anyone still harbouring dreams of one day playing for England 😉.
Lee Currie comes from a strong footballing family, his uncle is a director at Sheffield United having played for QPR and Leeds in his younger years. Whilst his brother Darren Currie represented the likes of Brighton, Ipswich and Luton Town in his playing days and is currently manager of Barnet, overseeing an F.A. Cup giant killing away to Sheffield United earlier this season.
With this footballing heritage, it’s perhaps inevitable that Lee would be involved in the game, but he took a different route and it was small sided football that took his attention from the outset;
“I’ve been playing small sided football for over 19 years now, I grew up in Wembley and Goals opened a centre down the road and my love for the game grew from there. I worked round the corner, I was the first through the door and as soon as I walked in I just loved 5-a-side and 6-a-side football, I was taken.”
Getting the Job
At that point Lee could never have imagined where his journey with small sided football would take him…to manager of the England Men’s 6-a-side team and leading his country to the European Championships to pit his wits against some of the best 6-a-side teams in the world.
So what was Lee’s journey and how did he go from just someone who loves small sided football to manager of the England 6-a-side team;
“Over the years, I got to know and meet a lot of people on the circuit. Playing in all of the biggest events. I was also part of a team called West 13, we were the most successful 5-a-side team in the country.
Through winning and recognition, I got to know people and then Mark Staines who is manager of GB mini football approached me and asked me would I be interested in taking charge and I snapped his hand off.”
Once Lee had accepted the role, the hard work really began, and he set about pulling together a squad to take on the best teams in the world.
“Last year I held some trials across London and people came down from across the country. I selected the best players and invited them back for second trial. I know a lot of the players on the circuit anyway, so a lot of the players that did attend – I knew their background. It was just a case of picking the right ones that fit together the best in a 12-man squad.”
The team isn’t open to professional players, so Lee was able to select from semi professional level and amateurs and he ended up with a great mix of a handful of semi-pros and players specialise in small sided football.
Luckily for Lee some of the world’s most successful small sided teams hail from the UK, including Lee’s former team West 13, who have won tournaments all over the world and represented England in international tournaments in Brazil, Spain and South Africa. So, it’s fair to say the quality within the team that Lee selected was pretty high.
The Journey Begins
Although quality wasn’t an issue, Lee’s England team were newly formed and had very little experience of playing together as a squad. This put them at a huge disadvantage compared to many of the teams they were competing against, who had been together for many years. With this in mind and with the European Championship looming Lee decided to take the squad over to Czech Republic (the reigning World and European Champions) last April for back to back friendlies.
The trip proved a successful one, England lost the first match but came back and beat The Czech Republic in the second, which gave them a huge confidence going into the European Championships. Then in August last year, Lee selected his squad of 12 players and headed off to the Ukraine for the Euros. Lee recalls that one of the hardest parts of his job was juggling the squad around;
“It’s quite hard to manage a bunch of men, with a 12-man squad and only being able to pick 6 each time. Juggling it around and keeping everyone happy and trying to be successful at the same time, was tricky. However, the players were all great, they were all very professional and it proved a huge success for us.”
The Euros Challenge
It did indeed prove to be a huge success as in Lee’s first tournament in charge and with a new squad of players, the 6-a-side team emulated Gareth Southgate team last summer and reached the semi-finals.
They sailed through the group, which included the likes of Spain and Romania and were drawn against the hosts Ukraine in the quarter finals. After a tight match England made in through on penalties and faced the daunting task of a semi-final against The Czech Republic. Unfortunately, the reigning champions proved a step too far for Lee’s team and England were eliminated. However, by reaching the last four, England qualified for the 6-a-side World Cup in Australia next year and there are high hopes for the team that will have had much longer to gel by the time the competition come around. Good luck to the lads.
Lee is clearly an authority on small sided football so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask him what advice he’d give to teams taking part in this year’s Corporates 5’s Cup. Particularly in terms of their structure and formations, as it’s often something which 5-a-side teams don’t think about:
“In 5- a-side I like to play a 1-2-1 diamond formation and for 6-a-side it’s 2-1-2. Obviously, it depends who you’re playing against and we tweak things slightly depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
Whatever formation you play, definitely have a structure in place. I like to play with a front man and have a solid defence. Then have players feeding the front man and running off in different directions, so that it confuses the opponents.”
But perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s team work that Lee credits as the number one key to success;
“Be a team player. The one way in 5 or 6 a side that you score goals is passing the ball and using your team mates to create that space. It’s all well and good being an individual at times but if you play a one-two you can create space a lot easier than you would from a one on one situation.
You can be the best player out there, if you don’t form part of a team and can’t fit into a team structure, you’re not good enough. You have to be a team player without a doubt.”
If you’d like to put Lee’s advice into practice on the pitch, why not get a team of your colleagues together and enter a team in the Corporate 5’s Cup 2019. A unique series of industry 5-a-side football tournaments providing you with the opportunity to compete against and network with your industry rivals.