Football Misconceptions: Hussien Isa And What People Don't Understand About Specialists


While I was researching my series about Ball-Striker (part 1,part 2, and part 3], I came across an interesting fact about Arsenal hiring a final third coach, here's an excerpt

Earlier this year, Arsenal hired Hussein Isa, also known as "Tekkers Guru" on social media, to serve as an attacking phase specialist. He will be responsible for coaching the attacking players of the first team as well as the academy players. Isa's focus will be on teaching essential skills such as shooting and the correct spinning techniques that will prove helpful while playing under pressure or when opponents are pressuring the players.

During that time, I got into a mini-debate regarding whether or not he was a free-kick specialist or not. I quickly withdrew from the conversation as I wasn't interested in dealing with semantics in a conversation that will be unrewarding even if it ended with me "winning". After all, it was one person so it wasn't worth the conversation. However, later on, I found out that it was way more than one person who think that way.

What I mean by "that way" is people who believe Arsenal hired a free-kick specialist to be a technical assistant to Mikel Arteta when it comes to final-third play with the first team and academy players. That's simply wrong, but let's slowly go through why that is, and why it's important to recognize the difference.

A Specialist is a specialist

Sounds obvious enough. After all, specialists, coaches, technical assistants, and managers are completely different words with different applications. It's the same reason you don't refer to receptionists, janitors, or nurses as doctors even if they work at a hospital. By definition, a specialist is a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field.

For example, in the posts mentioned above, Bartek Sylwestrzak is called a ball-striking specialist because that is all he does. If he was also teaching skill moves, then he wouldn't be a specialist in either as they are completely different tasks.

The same thing about Hussien Isa. He did impress people with his free kicks videos and did teach some people. However, it's not something he studied extensively at an academic level. Sylwestrzak studied physics at a major university and specialized in a very specific aspect of physics, ball striking.

There's a difference between dedicating 22 years of your life to one aspect of football, as is the case with Bartek Sylwestrzak and the ball striking, creating a whole input system with complex machinery and algorithms, and just doing things semi-professionally and impressing 14-year-olds on Youtube.

You can be an expert on more than one thing, but to be a specialist, only one thing can take your entire attention. In fact, if Arsenal hired Isa solely based on his presumed "speciality", it would be the dumbest thing they could do because hiring someone to be in charge of the attacking process in a team aiming to compete for top titles just because he is very good at teaching free kicks is like hiring someone to run Microsoft's operations in South America just because they're fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

Another aspect that would make Hussein Isa's acquisition dumb for Arsenal even if he was brought in specifically for free kicks is the fact that he's far from being the best at this field. We're talking about specialists like Dan Edwards, the aforementioned Bartek Sylwestrzak, and many more who could turn unknown players into Juninho-ish level free kick takers within weeks using deeply analytical science.

In fact, the reason Isa was hired had little to do with free kicks as Arsenal's biggest problem this season has been handling teams like Everton, Brentford, and other teams who park the bus or know how to defend expertly, Manchester City, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Manchester United are also great examples. So, Isa was brought to solve the efficiency issue Arsenal, and any team aiming to win top titles would face, breaking down the defence. So, you could see why hiring a free-kick specialist for that complex issue would be a dumb idea.

Specialist vs Expert

My only explanation for this confusion is that people don't know the difference between specialists and experts.

Managers and coaches are basically the ultimate experts as they have something to say in each aspect of the game, managers specifically as they also have a say in what happens in the transfer window. That's why we could call Pep Guardiola a manager at Manchester City, but Tuchel a coach at Chelsea. A more direct example is Graham Potter being a manager at Chelsea but Tuchel is only a manager, that's actually the main reason behind Tuchel's departure as he didn't want the responsibilities associated with being a manager which works great with Abramovich's Chelsea, but not Boehly's.

An expert could accumulate a lot of knowledge on a particular area but wouldn't be limited to it, unlike a specialist. So, Isa can be a free-kick, skill moves, and utilise space expert, but can't be a specialist as it literally goes against the definition of the terms.

In Conclusion

It's really not a big deal for the average fan to differentiate between those titles as it is mainly a club's job to do so. However, it matters to those who seek further knowledge or claim to already have that knowledge, the latter are actively partaking in ignorance by just being stubborn to facts just for the sake of looking good or feeling better about themselves.

Finally, it matters because we're entering a phase of football where analysts, experts, and specialists are in more demand than ever that despite the few clubs seeking specialists at the moment, there seems to be more demand than supply, especially with specialists. Learning the distinction is the difference between knowing what you're talking and just opening your mouth.