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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best Coaching Links This Week: Competition in Spain, Organising Excellence, Zidane's Charisma & More

The issue of the importance of winning in youth football is a hot topic and the consensus seems to be that too much focus on winning can be harmful.  There are those, however, who do not fully agree and point to Spain to show a different attitude.

It might not be on par with being asked to play for your favourite team but getting a job on the technical staff of ‘their’ team will rank as a dream for many.  Doug Kors got to do just that although the biggest takeaway from the story should be the value of always being prepared and ready to spot an opportunity.

How to Organise & Manage for the Emergence of Excellence in Sport?

Regardless of what happened in the classico (and this was written before), Zinedine Zidane has proven a lot of people wrong (including myself) by doing a great job so far with Real Madrid.  A lot of that is down to his charisma.

AND FINALLY...
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  -  Maya Angelou

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Best of Coaching Links Last Week: Scouting for Leicester, Talent Identification, the EPPP & more

The biggest story of the week in coaching circles, sadly, involved the coming out of individuals who were abused by Barry Bennell.  It has been very hard to read but Daniel Taylor has done an excellent job covering it.  Let’s hope that some real steps are taken to ensure that such a tragedy isn’t allowed to happen again in the future.

This conversation with Leicester City scout Andy Palmer offers quite a bit of insight into the thinking process that goes into scouting a player.

Talent identification is a big thing at the moment and this talks about it (and the stupidity conclusions some come up with)

Given the Bennell issue, this isn’t as big a matter yet the problems being caused by EPPP should still be highlighted.

AND FINALLY…
“Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” Johan Cruyff

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Best of Coaching Links Last Week: Barca's Philosophy, Ego in Coaching & More

Barcelona have been so succesful at academy level because they have an established philosophy that is not only reflected in the players that they develop but also in the mentality of their coaches.  Albert Capellas may no longer be the youth co-ordinator at La Masia but he certainly remains very much influenced by his time there.

If you're a coach then you should be aware that what you're doing isn't about yourself but, rather, about improving those who have been placed in your charge.  There is no place for ego in coaching.

What do assistant coaches actually do?  If you've ever wondered that - as I have, then this is for you.

This should be pretty obvious but here's why parents should not coach from the sidelines.

AND FINALLY...
"The ego is not master in its own house." Sigmund Freud

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Best Coaching Links of the Week: Lyon's Search for Character, Dealing with Pressure & more

For those running the Lyon academy, character is even more important than talent when it comes to deciding who gets an opportunity at their academy.  Given that they have an academy that everyone in Europe - bar Barcelona - should envy perhaps more people should start following their lead. 

The more you progress as a coach and the greater the stakes for the team you're coaching then the more pressure you will be under.  How you deal with it will probably end up defining you.

For a long time I hated a short corner, considering it a lost opportunity to put the opposing defence under pressure.  Yet there seems to be quite clear statistics which show that this is not the case.

If you want to know what a head of analytics does, read this.

AND FINALLY...
You can measure a man's character by the choices he makes under pressure. - Winston Churchill

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

"I Never Look For Players Who Take Advantage Of Their Physical Power At Young Ages"

Born in the small village of Avinyó just outside of Barcelona, Albert Capellas took his first steps as a coach with regional side CF Gava before moving to FC Barcelona where he rose through the ranks until he became the youth coordinator at their famous La Masia academy. 

In 2010 he opted to open his footballing horizons by moving to Holland where he was assistant-coach at Vitesse Arnhem.  After spending four years there he joined Brøndby IF and then, after two years, moved to Israel where he is the assistant coach at Maccabi Tel Aviv.



Blueprint for Football: You've worked in Spain, Holland, Denmark and now Israel.  How have these experiences helped you grow as a coach?
Albert Capellas:  I originate from Spain and FC Barcelona which means that all my background is based from that footballing philosophy. But after moving to the Netherlands and working outside Spain with a different mentality, I had to leave my comfort zone, open my mind, expand my horizons and to adapt both my knowledge and experience to different football styles. 

When working abroad, what you really learn is to listen and try understand the local football culture and try and adapt yourself and knowledge in order to grow and improve. For that, one has to first and foremost improve myself. Working in both the Netherlands and in Denmark helped me progress and improve my skills. 

Now I am in Israel, working for Maccabi Tel Aviv FC where Jordi Cruyff is the Sports Director, Shota Arveladze is the head coach and at a club where Oscar Garcia and Peter Boss used to work – they were close to my way of thinking and the football philosophy I was raised on. This is one of the main reasons I accepted this offer.

BfF: Who has had the biggest impact on your career as a coach?
AC: Johan Cruyyf, Pep Guardiola, Arigo Sacchi, Juanma Lillo and Paco Seirullo had influenced me a lot and of course all the coaches I was privileged enough to work. I am a type of coach who likes to learn from everybody, coaches in particular but other professionals who specialize in their field like Simon Sinek or John Wooden.


BfF: What should clubs look for when they try to identify young talent?
AC: First one should look for players who are living close to the club – as they can stay with their families and parents which is important for their education. If they are successful, than they, on most occasions give you something extra as they are home grown players. 

One must look for players with high technical ability, but also players with something exceptional which make them stick out from the rest. For example; a player who is very intelligent with a good understanding of the game, a great dribbler, a player with an eye for a goal or even someone who is very quick – one unique characteristic while the rest could even be average. Players with good coordination skills and are agile with an elegant move. 

Finally, I never look for players who take advantage of their physical power at young ages. I tend to skip those players. 



BfF: How important is physical strength in young players?
AC: As discussed it is not important at all until the ages of 15-16. Nature has to take its course.

BfF: Speed (of thought as well as pace) and intelligence are essential in the modern game: do you agree?  Can these be coached or are players just born with those skills?
AC: Player who could think fast and take the right decisions is always something which was always important – not only in the modern game but also in the past. 

For me, Gurdiola was a very slow player, but he was the fastest player on the field. He was always in the right position, always knew what to do, had the skills to perform at the highest level and every time when he received the ball the rhythm of the game changed immediately, for me, Guardiola was the fastest. This kind of players are found on the street. 

The difficult task is to find them and the more difficult task is to protect them. Not to try make them better, and if we don’t make them any worse then we did our job well. When you watch Iniesta, Guardiola, Xavi, Messi… they were doing the same things on the field when they were young! You can’t teach them. All coaches want to improve players but I like to help the talented players to learn how to play simple and learn when, how, where they can use their special skills. This is what a fast player is.
  
BfF: How does a club ensure that young players can progress to the first team? What must be in place?
AC: Clubs must have a very clear vision, values and mission in their youth academy in the same methods of training and playing which means that all must pull in the same direction. You are not the coach of the U-15’s but a coach who is there to help the talents reach the first team. You don’t work as a coach for your team, but you work as a coach for your club. You must be sure that everyone at the club respects that. Recruiting the right coaches is even more difficult than scouting for talented players.

BfF: In the past you said that you like your teams to play offensive football and many will feel the same.  However, how does a coach ensure that there is a balance in his team between defence and attack?
AC: We can’t split between attack and defense. They are both connected with each other. In attack, one has to think about defense (in the event that we lose the ball) and when we defend one must always think about attack (for the moment when we win the ball) and go on the attack. 

But obviously for me, offensive football begins with being very good at winning the ball back and to do so, one must be very organized defensively. I like to have the ball and play positioning game, then, when we lose the ball, we want to win it back as soon as possible and not wait until the opponents lose the ball. I will attack the opponent. I will press high and aggressive, and force a mistake which will earn me the ball back. 



BfF: Given that for the first part of your career you were a youth team coach, what is the most important skill of a coach who works with youths?
AC: The most important characteristic of a youth team coach is to teach the players to work as a team whilst respecting the football style. The strongest guideline is not to change in the event of a defeat but to remain strong in keeping your values and guidelines. Believe in what you are doing. The player, or any individual is never more important than the team. 

Even if you have an exceptional talent amongst your team, help him learn how to work for the team and not the opposite.

BfF:  When a coach does make the move from youths to first team, what is the biggest change they have to be ready for?
AC: The first thing should be ego – as young players are at the beginning of their careers and don’t think they are the finished article just yet. In first team football, as opposed to youth team football – results influence your day-to-day routine. 

First team football is on most occasions under the spotlight of media, board members and other powers in the game. In youth football it is all about and around the game: learning improving etc’. In professional football, these are only 30%-40% as one should be prepared to be aware of the influence of everything else around the game.

BfF: What do you want to achieve in the coming years to consider yourself happy with your career?
AC: I came to Maccabi to win things, titles and this is where I look for the immediate future. In the long run, I would love to have the possibility to coach in the Premier League, Bundesliga and at the end of my career I would love to go back and coach young coaches to share my knowledge, experiences, thoughts and believes with them. 

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Enjoy Blueprint for Football? Now You Can Help

Blueprint for Football was set up in February of 2011 around the desire to really understand what drives a successful football development programme. The focus of the site was to analyse as many approaches as possible in as many countries as possible in order to unearth different ideas that does running football academies could look at and think about.

Five years plus down the line and I’ve interviewed dozens of both people within football and those from outside with interesting ideas to share. The site has been read by thousands of people whilst a successful mailing list has grown alongside it. On top of all that three e-books in the “Blueprint According To…” series have been published to further assist coaches with ideas.

All this has been achieved without any real revenue being generated and, whilst Blueprint for Football will always be a project of love, in order to drive it forward we would appreciate some reader support that will help the site move to another level.

That is why I’ve set up a Patreon page.  If you haven’t already heard about it, this is a service where people can commit to pay creators a monthly sum in return for exclusive content.  If this picks up then I will have a monthly revenue source that will go back into the site to help it grow further.

So if you’ve been enjoying the articles on Blueprint for Football, it would be of great help if you could sign up as a Patron.  The monthly pledges start from $2 (although there are higher tiers) which is, in my view, quite a good deal.

The main site will always remain for free so if you’re not comfortable committing to a monthly fee or if you’re not in a position to do so then you need not worry.  That said, those who do pledge will not only receive the bonus features of their tier, they will also have my eternal gratitude.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Quietly, Lyon Have Built An Academy To Be Envied

When Olympic Lyonnais wrapped up the French title in the spring of 2008, celebrations were muted.  This was their seventh consecutive title and a season where their dominance of French football was confirmed when they also won the Coupe de France.  There were few reasons to doubt that this success was about to end.

Ultimately it was ambition that got them.  For years Lyon had excelled domestically by matching their ability to snap up upcoming French talent with the willingness to sell their best players once a financially enticing offer came from overseas.   This served them well but in time it became restrictive.  Winning loses its attraction when it becomes too easy and that is what Lyon eventually starting experiencing.  They wanted something more; they wanted the Champions League.

As with so many other clubs they stretched themselves to try gain success in Europe by spending huge amounts on players who they hoped could help take them to the next level.  The purchase of Yoann Gourcuff, Lisandro Lopez, Aly Cissokho, Michel Bastos and Bafetimbi Gomis brought to an end their buy low, sell high policy.



Of course, it wouldn’t have been too bad if these players had succeeded in keeping their previous results.  Instead they were, to varying degrees, disappointments and this hit Lyon hard.  Their financial structure was delicately poised on the twin points of selling of players and Champions League qualification.  Suddenly they found themselves struggling to qualify to the latter whilst seeing their big investments fail from appreciating in value.

Inevitably they went down the path of others who over-stretched themselves in search of European glory.  Any players that were of interest got sold to plug the gap in their balance sheet and with them went their ambition.

Fortunately for them, they had a backup.

Even during the years of plenty, Lyon had always had the capacity to produce players.  Steed Malbranque, Sydney Govou and Karim Benzema had risen from Lyon’s own academy to the first team where they achieved success before going on to star elsewhere.  Now that the finances weren’t what they once were they just had to rely on their academy more heavily than before.

The result was a young side where up to nine players had come through Lyon’s academy.  They weren’t always the most consistent of challengers – as teams filled with young players invariably are - but theirs was invariably the most exciting French team.

This wasn’t a fluke.  Success at youth level never is.  Instead it was all part of Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon’s long-standing president, plan.  Ever since 2008 Lyon have been trying to move to a new stadium which would give them a solid enough financial platform to really push on.  Due to a number of administrative and political stumbling blocks, this new stadium is still to get lift off.

In the meantime, Lyon’s investments have been going into their Tola Vologe centre where both the first and youth teams train.  This centre should be spoken of in the same reverential manner that is typically reserved for La Masia, such is the thinking that has gone into it.  More than €24 million has been spent to improve those facilities but more important than that is the whole structure that has been developed around their youth programme.



Lyon’s stronghold remains the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region where the club is based.  That is where they look for talent through the team headed by Gerard Bonneau.

Bonneau is one of the few people within Lyon’s whole system who not only did not play professionally with the club but was never a professional player anywhere.  Even so, he had been involved in the game for all of his working life and has been doing the job of heading Lyon’s academy’s youth scouting system since 2003 when he took over from the late Alain Thiry, himself a former Lyon player, for whom he had been an understudy for three years.

Those years working under Thiry were critical because Lyon is very much a club that believes in doing things on their own terms.  That is why the bulk of the people at the club are also former players with the majority having also come through the system.  They don’t talk about ‘the Lyon way’ but there is very much a distinct philosophy in place and the belief is that having people whose professional career was built on a foundation laid by that philosophy will be better placed to pass it on to others.

That is why Bonneau had to spend that apprenticeship so that he can tell his team of around twenty scouts – a quarter of whom are employed full time – what to look for.

Those criteria depend largely on what age of players they are looking for.  Size, however, is rarely an issue and what they look at is players’ technique, intelligence and athleticism.  The only exceptions is when it comes to bringing in central defenders and defensive midfielders for the older age groups where taller players remain the norm.

Indeed, Lyon have quite a history for producing players who aren’t the tallest.  In the 1970s, the Lyon strikers Bernard Lacombe, Serge Chiesa and Fleury Di Nallo were nicknamed "the three elves". Forty years on, their main offensive players – Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, Jordan Ferri – who have come through the youths system also all measure less than 1.80 m.

"Once the Xavi-Iniesta double pivot in midfield became the reference, the whole world has been trying to learn how to work like the Spanish team. But at Lyon, we have long been smaller than our opponents in most youth matches,” Bonneau said when this was pointed out to him.

This might not seem significant but is in fact quite countercultural.  French academies have often been accused of preferring the muscular players in the heart of midfield rather than those who favour flair.  At Lyon that isn’t the case.

Indeed, having smaller players coming up against bigger ones during academy games is often looked upon favourably. “They compensate for their lack of size with an iron will" U19 coach Joël Fréchet (again, another former Lyon player) has said in the past.

Mental strength along with character are the other big thing at Lyon.  No cost is spared in this respect, with Aulas having argued that "Lyon must become leader also in this type of research."

As such, psychologists monitor the players individually to determine how they are progressing whilst researchers from the University of Lyon test the collective and social openness of the youth teams.  Everything is logged, monitored and adjusted to ensure that there is a cohesive spirit where individual talent – whilst encouraged – does not come at the expense of team spirit.

This means a readiness to let go of players who do not show that they have the mental attitude that they require.  “"We have had too many disappointments,” Aulas has lamented, referring to players like Hatem Ben Arfa and Herold Goulon. “To avoid this, we have redefined the profile that we look for so that we exclude selfish behaviour. Today, the first concern is over ethical potential."

Bonneau echoes this.  “We are very careful about the mindset, their attitude in school, the general behaviour with the authority and ability to work, to put in an effort".

“Talent is not enough, the mind makes the difference."




What they look for are players like Anthony Martial who moved to Lyon from Paris.   Initially he struggled to adapt to Lyon’s disciplined approach that requires that players do their homework after training finishes after five in the evening and that lights are switched off at ten. It is such discipline that helps make men and dedicated professionals.

Lyon’s attention to detail is such that they have now invested in the use of NeuroTracker, a tool that is also used by Manchester United, which measures and improves the cognitive skills of its users.  Essentially, this helps players’ perceptions of how the game is flowing around them and allows them to improve their ability to think faster during matches.  Given how essential speed of thought and match intelligence are becoming in modern football, the importance of such tools is significant.

They do not rely exclusively on such tools, however.  Indeed, that is why they insist on former players to coach their youths.  Stephane Roche – who played for Lyon before embarking on a coaching career that eventually saw him take over as the head of their academy when Remi Garde joined the senior side – explains that “it is essential for these young people to be less guided by former players."   It is such coaches who have the big game experience needed to show them how to act during games.




For all the experience and success that they have built up over the years, Lyon’s task is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Bonneau explains that “the important thing is not to destabilize lives”, which is why their focus is predominantly on the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.  They don’t even have people looking at players overseas, where the only pointers they get are from Florian Maurice (again, another former Lyon player) who works predominantly for the first team but keeps an eye out for any interesting young players that he might notice.

That however might have to change in the future given that there are always others – such as the big English clubs – who are always ready to pay big sums money to attract youth players whilst the shadow of Paris St Germain also looms large at this level: they are increasingly going into Lyon’s territory to attract youth players.

Despite all the changes, their strength remains in their philosophy.  "We are very sensitive to the human aspect,” Bonneau details.  “Our setting is familiar and we will strive to keep our identity.  We have a recognised approach.  The aim is to consolidate our values and export this model.”

“We have to stay true to our convictions."

Interested in football coaching?  Check out the Blueprint According To... e-book series where coaches are interviewed about their ideas on the game.

Editorial Note: An earlier version erroneously stated that Maxwell Cornet was a product of the Lyon academy.  In fact, he was signed from Metz.