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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why Italian Coaches Continue To Excel

If there is a big difference in the mentality of Italian coaches from that of the rest of Europe (especially non-Latin countries), it emerges from a quick search about why Italian managers are so sought after.  One of the top results in that search leads to a thesis that discusses what is to be learned from being dismissed from a job. 

Whereas in England a manager's dismissal is seen as a failure on the manager's part (and a burden that he will have to carry for throughout the rest of his career) in Italy there is a different attitude.  Instead, given that the sporting director who wieds most of the power, whenever a manager is sacked it is the whole project that is considered as having failed.  In other words it isn't the individual who is seen as being 'a bad manager' but rather that he was 'a bad manager for that particular job'.

Whilst this might seem like a detail, the distinction is quite significant.  It provides managers with greater freedom to fail without risking their reputation to any huge extent.   Naturally opportunities are not unlimited and someone who is constantly failing will find himself running out of options.  In general, however, if a manager gains a good enough reputation they will keep getting  opportunities.

Carlo Ancelotti, for instance, was sacked by Juventus before going on to achieve incredible success with AC Milan.  Massimiliano Allegri made the opposite journey when Milan decided that he no longer fit what they wanted to achieve.  Could you imagine a top English side doing likewise?

In fact if you look at the history of top Italian managers you will see that most of them will have experienced at least one dismissal in their career.  Every manager knows to expect this and as a result their actions aren't bound by the conservative and fearful attitude that is typical of those who work under the pressure that losing a job could effectively kill their career.

In his book “The Italian Job”, former Italy and Juventus striker (as well as an ex-Chelsea manager) Gianluca Vialli talks about this difference in mentality.  “Italian clubs are much more willing to recycle managers.  This is a positive and, I think, intelligent approach.  In football a good manager learns from his mistakes just as a good leader anywhere, in any profession”.


The fact that Italian clubs still trust Italian managers above all else is an obvious, important and crucial distinction.  Last season there were only three foreign managers (Rudi Garcia, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Paolo Sousa).  All other clubs were coached by Italians.  Indeed, by the end of the season only one of that trio (Sousa) was still in the job.  
In England the situation was completely different.  Excluding the very brief caretaker spells of Alan Curtis, David Unsworth and Joe Royle, there were only six English manager throughout the whole season (Eddie Howe, Sam Allardyce, Tim Sherwood, Gary Monk, Alan Pardew and Steve McLaren) plus a further five from the British Isles (Brendan Rodgers, Eric Black, Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes and Alex Neil).  

Given that over the course of the season there were twenty seven managers at Premier League clubs, this translates to sixty percent of coaches being foreign compared to the mere eight percent in Italy (in total there were thirty six managers in the Serie A throughout the season).  It is easy to laugh off Allardyce’s claim that there could be no English managers in the Premier League "very shortly" but in all probability he is right.

The English case might be a rather extreme one yet it is also reflective of the absolute faith that Italians have of their coaches.  So much that it isn’t too unlikely to see a top club go for a manager who did well with a significantly smaller outfit.

Massimiliano Allegri, for instance, was at Cagliari before he joined AC Milan.  Mauricio Sarri who has done so well at Napoli had previously been in charge of minnows Empoli.  In fact most managers go through what is known as the “gavetta” meaning that they started in the lower leagues before gaining experience and moving up. 

It might be a dying idea even in England but in Italy the notion of having a player-manager is a wholly alien.  One does not simply move from playing to managing.  Instead they need to prove that they have their own ideas and way of doing things.  Their reputation as a player helps but to a very limited extent.



All of this breeds a managerial class that is not only extremely comfortable with the tactical side of things but who are also supremely confident in their abilities.  Any manager who has been through the sieve so many times will inevitably grow in their belief that they know what they’re doing.  They are also not unwilling to look back to any experience and what they should have done differently.  This allows them to develop what is known as a Growth Mindset; a way of thinking that allows one to take the positive out of any situation that they experience.

This is also reflected by the increasing desire of Italian coaches to travel abroad to work.  The language barrier might be tough on them but once they settle their value inevitably shines through.  And as more managers seek their fortunes overseas – and go on to achieve the kind of success that Luciano Spalletti, Claudio Ranieri and Carlo Ancelotti have achieved – then more will be encouraged to do so.

For a thorough examination of Italian football, Gianluca Vialli’s the Italian Job is probably the best read.  It provides an insight into the Italian way of thinking and why it is so unique (particularly when compared to English football).

Italians Do It Better
Italian football has lost some of the aura that surrounded it in the eighties and nineties yet Italian coaches are still highly sought after by foreign clubs.  Here are some who have excelled away from Il Bel Paese

Giovanni Trapattoni
The grand old man of Italian football may be nearing his eightieth birthday but he has lost none of his passion for the game.  Earlier this year he was on the verge of taking over as manager of the Ivory Coast before a terrorist attack there changed his mind.  A pity, not only because of the senseless deaths but also because it deprived the African nation from putting one of the game’s greatest strategists in charge.  Apart from his successes at Juventus and Inter, Trapattoni has won the league title in three countries outside of Italy (Germany with Bayern Munich, Portugal with Benfica and Austria with Salzburg).  Arguably his finest achievement, however, was with the Republic of Ireland who he led to the European championships of 2012.

Luciano Spalletti
A managerial career of constant progression reached its pinnacle between 2005 and 2009 when he was in charge of AS Roma.  Despite failing to win the league title during his time there (although he did win two Italian cups) he was still highly regarded for his tactical insight which saw him develop a system that could operate without a recognised striker.  When his time at Roma came to an end, he moved to Zenit St Petersburg in Russia where he won two league titles (2010 and 2012) as well as a Russian Cup (2011).



Carlo Ancelotti
One of the most successful managers in the history of the game, Ancelotti has proven that he can win in any country and, when Pep Guardiola announced that he was moving to Manchester City, Ancelotti was the obvious choice to replace him at Bayern Munich.  For all of that, he had a tough start to his managerial career.  Promotion to the Serie A wasn’t enough for Reggiana who replaced him after a season whilst Parma sacked him in spite of promotion to the Europa League.  His time at Juventus was equally disappointing – Juventus failed to win the league title – but he then get another opportunity at AC Milan which proved to be the making of him.  Two Champions League titles won there provided the launch pad for him to move to England (league and cup double with Chelsea), France (league title with Paris St. Germain) and Spain (Champions League with Real Madrid).

Claudio Ranieri
Another of the old school of Italian football managers, Ranieri has always been a tactically capable, charismatic and intelligent manager.  Now he can add the word ‘winning’ to the adjectives that apply to him after the dramatic and wholly unexpected Premier League title win with Leicester last season.  For years it will be remembered as one of the unlikeliest triumphs in the modern history of the game.  In the aftermath of that success a number of factors have been identified as the reasons for Leicester’s win – excellent identification of players, the explosion of the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, lack of injuries – but the biggest factor has to be the manager who helped show the team a manner of playing that suited their abilities to perfection.

Gianni De Biasi
Undoubtedly the less known of those in this list, De Biasi rose to prominence in the first decade of this century first by getting Modena from the Serie C1 to the Serie A in two consecutive seasons and then by guiding Torino to the Serie A following their bankruptcy.  Nevertheless, his subsequent appointments all ended prematurely and he was forced to turn to punditry until Albania appointed him as their manager in 2011.  There he managed to transform the fortunes of the nation, guiding them to an unprecedented qualification to the European Championships.

If you enjoyed this piece then you might like Il Re Calcio, a short e-book published by the same author and which contains ten stories from Italian Football.  This can be found in e-book here (for US readers, go here).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Essential Qualities of a Football Coach: Passion

Anyone who is involved in jobs with a heavy vocational calling need to be constantly questioning themselves over the reason for which they are doing such work.  If you’re a nurse or a doctor, for instance, then caring for people has to be your main priority.  Same goes for teachers who must put the education of those placed in their charge as the reason for which they go to work every day.

That is not to say that money shouldn’t be important to these people or that they don’t deserve high salaries.  Indeed, the experience of the Finnish education system – one that regularly ranks as the world’s best - where teaching jobs are both highly valued and well remunerated proves that this isn’t the case.  But these are jobs that need individuals for whom money isn’t the main motivator.

Clearly, the same applies to football coaches in particular those who are involved with the development of children.  There is no doubt that they should be paid well in professional environments but it is worrying when coaches take up roles purely because of the money that is on offer.  Not because they will necessarily do a bad job of it but as eventually their output will start to suffer.

People are naturally inclined more towards others who are passionate about the work they’re doing.  They’re influenced by how people act and if they see someone who is clearly enjoying what they’re doing then it will show in how they respond.



The crucial thing is that passion cannot be faked.  It filters into the way that one delivers a session, in how deeply they care about people’s improvement and how far they’re willing to go in order to ensure that the players they’re coaching deliver on their potential.

Importantly, passion is also a critical factor in how a coach goes about ensuring that they improve themselves.  Regardless of their line of work, a passionate individual will typically be more interested to look out for anything that might be of help on their job.  A passionate individual won’t simply go through the motions but will understand why every aspect of their job is carried out and think about ways of improving on each one of these facets.

This does not mean that anyone who is passionate about coaching is capable of doing so.  Indeed, some of the worst excesses seen on pitches the world over are carried out by people who are undoubtedly passionate.  

Even so, that little bit of fire in your belly – to go with a cliché – is necessary to push you ever harder so that you improve yourself and deliver ever better results.  Frankly you cannot be involved in a role that can determine people’s future without that little bit of passion.

Join Blueprint for Football Extra to ensure that  you don't miss future articles and get the full transcript of the interview plus a free e-book in the process.  Other Blueprint for Football e-books available here (international version here).

Monday, May 30, 2016

Essential Qualities of a Football Coach: Psychology

An examination of the abilities that distinguished the game’s most legendary managers from the rest will reveal a number of similarities.  To a man they were visionaries; capable of transforming the way that football is viewed and played.  They managed to build their teams around the abilities of their players and also shaped the talents of their players to fit into the way they wanted their team to play.  And they always ensured that their players were willing to do whatever they demanded of them.

That latter ability used to be described as the capacity to motivate players.  What those managers did, however, was more than that: they could understand what drove their players and acted in a way that built up that drive.  For most of them, all of this either came instinctively or else had been shaped by their life experiences.  


Today’s managers and coaches, however, do not have to rely on fate or fortune.  There is now a whole discipline – sports psychology – that is devoted to helping coaches deal with players and their mentalities.  That is not to say that to be a good coach you need to know whatever a sports psychologist knows but it is essential that one is at least aware of how to deal with different issues.

This was best explained by Dan Abrahams, a sports psychologist and the author of the book Soccer Tough.  “I believe that a coach must be creative and to do so they must seek as much information as possible in the four major areas; technical ability, tactical ability, physical conditioning, and psychological strength,” he said in an interview with Blueprint for Football.

A coach must understand the physical talent but what is often overlooked is mental talent.  The kids that are naturally gifted in terms of concentration, discipline and dedication; that is something important that is often ignored.

The other thing is being a 1 percenter: I want them to leave no stone un-turned.  Find all the 1% shifts you can to help your players excel.

Quite frankly, it isn’t good enough for a coach to simply give up when a player seems to hit a mental barrier.

Too many coaches say that they have players that have lots of physical talent but 'he doesn't want it' and there's nothing that can be done.  That is rubbish.  Of course something can be done.  This is where I get back to seeking that no stone is left un-turned.  Going to FA modules, reading books like mine can help you get a better understanding.  But don't just stop there, put into practice what you read.

And Abrahams agrees that the ability to leverage psychology is what distinguishes the great from the good.  

All managers do psychology within their role and some are better than other.  A key factor is the culture they develop within their club.  If you look at the leading managers - Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger - they've developed different cultures but also sound cultures that help develop their team and their commitment.  They've built a culture of success and achievement.

Join Blueprint for Football Extra to ensure that  you don't miss future articles and get the full transcript of the interview plus a free e-book in the process.  Other Blueprint for Football e-books available here (international version here).

Monday, May 9, 2016

Essential Qualities of a Football Coach: Curiosity

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Football is a highly conservative game so it is hardly surprising that those who work in it tend to be conservative as well.  None more so than experienced managers who hold on to ingrained opinions on how to achieve success and who refuse to look at ideas that challenge those opinions.

It is for this reason that there are managers who still do not fully trust the benefits of a healthy nutrition regime, of proper training or of the use of statistics to help shape tactics.  

There is little doubt that the majority of these managers possess a huge wealth of knowledge about the game of football.  Most of them have spent their whole adult life working within the game and in all probability know little else apart from football.


And therein lies the problem; there is a point at which the laser focus on the game at the exclusion of everything else hinders rather than helps.  Their lack of curiosity about anything other than football leaves them with a poor frame of reference with which to look at any new idea that they come across.  Or, to put it another way, they aren’t equipped to absorb and learn new ideas.

As we grow older we tend to become less active explorers of our mental environment, relying on what we’ve learned so far to see us through the rest of the journey.”  So writes Ian Leslie in Curious, a book that deals about curiosity and the role this plays in our lives.

“If you allow yourself to become incurious, your life will be drained of colour, interest and pleasure.  You will be less likely to achieve your potential.

Sound familiar?  It should especially if you’ve heard ‘traditional’ managers talk dismissively about the value of statistics in football or negatively on the notion of rotation in managing the squad’s fitness levels.

That is not to argue that coaches should be curious for curiosity’s sake. Indeed that kind of curiosity – diversive curiosity – often results in wasted effort.  What people should be trying to foster is what Leslie terms as epistemic curiosity, which is a more structured and deeper form of curiosity that can ignite the desire to learn and attempt to do things that one would not normally consider.

There is much that coaches can learn by being curious at what is happening in other sport, to come up with one obvious example.  There is much to admire and think about if you spend some time looking at the ideas that underpin the success of the All Black rugby side, for instance.  The same can be said of other team sports like basketball or hockey.  

Will all that can be found in such examinations be immediately useful for coaches?  Probably not, but they will sow seeds that will blossom when their time comes.

Steve Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From” calls this the slow hunch.  “Rather than coming out of the blue…the best ideas are the result of hours, days, sometimes even years, of digging into a subject and pursuing the hunches that slowly emerge as a result,” he says. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Essential Qualities of a Football Coach: Communication

Think back to when you were at school and the teachers who most left a lasting impression on you.  What made them stand out?  Why were they better than other teachers?  Was it because they knew the subject more than others?

Probably not.  What made them different was the ability to make you interested enough to get excited about and understand - possibly even love - a tough subject.  They explained it in a way that resonated with you.  For some coming across such teachers is a life changing moment.

As a coach you have to be like that kind of teacher.   You have to get players excited about learning the game.  This might seem like an easy enough task until you look into the detail of it.

For most people football, like any other skill, requires a lot of practice and repetition.  Take the teaching of a simple ability like passing the ball.  Sure, you can (and need) to be inventive in the drills that you have the players practice but ultimately it is all about how you explain it to them.  You have to make them understand what you want from them and why.  If they do it wrongly you have to explain what they have done wrong and how to correct it.  And do all this in a manner that doesn't put them off.

It is the same at every stage of a players’ development regardless of the complexity of what it is that you want them to do.

A manager’s ability to communicate clearly is never as tested as it is during a match.  The message has to get across despite the player trying to focus on what is going on around him.  Complex instructions have to reach players without putting them under any additional pressure (and, above all, without senseless ranting or shouting). That too, is built on the work that a coach does on the training pitch.  It is there that the basis of his method of communicating has to be instilled in his team.

The importance of communication is best reflected in a phrase which Sandro Salvioni – a journeyman Italian coach – told me during an interview.

I was at Parma when Arrigo Sacchi arrived as manager,” he said. “At the time I was 32 and I would say that it was only then that I truly learned to play the game of football.

I wouldn’t say that I took nothing from my previous managers but Sacchi was something else; his approach to the game, the pressing high up the pitch, his offensive outlook, everything.

Imagine being a veteran player with more than three hundred professional appearances in your career and probably thinking that there wasn’t anything in the game that you didn’t know only to suddenly coming across a manager who can teach you a completely different way of viewing football.

That is the power that a manager who can properly communicate his thoughts can hold over his players.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

What A Goalkeeper Needs

Join Blueprint for Football Extra to ensure that  you don't miss future articles and get the full transcript of the interview plus a free e-book in the process.  Other Blueprint for Football e-books available here (international version here).

What do you need to be a top goalkeeper?  Obviously talent is a necessity as is physical presence but what else?  We spoke to Ruud Hesp, formerly a goalkeeper with Barcelona and currently the goalkeeper’s coach at PSV Eindhoven, about the various facets of the art of goalkeeping.

The Most Important Ability A Goalkeeper Needs
The thing that you need to have is to be stable in your head; to be able to get along with pressure.  For me, for example, when I played for Barcelona I didn’t feel the pressure from the public and the press because I didn’t read the papers, I didn’t see the television and I was only thinking about my own pressure.  I was only thinking about playing well and if I didn’t do that then people could only be disappointed but not angry because I knew that I was doing everything to perform well.  



I trained well during the whole week.  For me every training (session) was an opportunity to improve.  So when I started the game I had the confidence of being prepared for the game.   And then you need some luck also apart from the qualities you have.  You have to be free in your head.

Reaction After A Mistake
What I try to give our goalkeepers at PSV is that you have to think about what happens.  Briefly, but you have to think about it.  What kind of mistake did I make?  And it sounds very stupid but ask yourself: did I do it on purpose?  No, I didn’t do it on purpose.   So, people cannot be angry at me, they can only be disappointed.  Then what you have to do is to analyse your mistake.  Is it a goalkeeping mistake?  Is it a positioning mistake, did you place yourself in the wrong spot?  Did you come out when you shouldn’t have?  Is it something with your feet that you did wrong?  

I can give you an example.  When I played for Barcelona against Chelsea in 1998, we lost at Chelsea 3-1 so needed to win 2-0.  We were leading 2-0 and I received a ball that I played badly.  I wanted to kick it long but instead gave to the Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo and he scored; 2-1.  In the end we won and went through but at that moment we still had to play 15 minutes to score another goal.  After that mistake, in the next minute Frank Lampard shot on goal because maybe he thought that I was insecure or my confidence had gone.  And it was a ball that was swerving in the air.  The ball came just to the right side of me, I got it and I held it.  That was the first moment after the mistake.  
Afterwards I was trying to analyse what happened and I realised that I had been able to analyse the mistake as one with my kicking, not a mistake of catching the ball.  So I instinctively realised that a mistake of my passing should not influence my goalkeeping (shot stopping).  And that is what I try to explain to our goalkeepers, even our youth goalkeepers.  One mistake does not have to influence other parts of your goalkeeping.  But that comes with experience.  That’s difficult in the beginning.       

Training For Handling Mistakes
You don’t know in advance but you can train.  You can train it by putting the goalkeeper in those situations.  In training you can play bad balls and if he makes a mistake then the next ball has to be good.  And if you try to get the goalkeeper in a lot of bad situations then he has to react to that and do the good thing.  So you have to bring him in bad situations to get him in a positive situation.  In the beginning that is very difficult because they get frustrated but if that happens a lot of time then it gets natural and automatic reaction after they do a mistake.  But that also needs a lot of experience.  

That is also why they say that a goalkeeper is at his peak after twenty seven years because by then he has played a lot of games, he’s had a lot of situations, so he knows what to do.



Ability With Feet And Hands
Goalkeeping has changed and playing with your feet is important.  But still what is most important is the goalkeeping with your hands, choosing position and things like that.  So, what we try to do is to train the goalkeepers in playing with ball – passing and kicking – in exercises that involve goalkeeping.  That means they have to shoot a lot, they have to play in position games and when the outfield players do passing exercises goalkeepers join them.  

It is also important for the players to know the capabilities of the goalkeeper in playing with his feet.  So many times our warming ups include a lot of football actions because about ten years ago when it all changed everybody began to train the football things and not as much the goalkeeping things.  And, in my opinion, that went too far.  The most important is the goal.  The goalkeeper is the only one who can use his hands so that has to be a hundred percent.  He is also allowed to use his feet but that is secondary.  So most important is training the hands and then the feet.
On Commanding The Penalty Area
It is difficult and that also needs experience. But if you start training that aspect from a young age then you can develop it.  

Also, it depends on character.  If you’re a quite person it is difficult for you to be dominant during the game.   But if you want to succeed you have to.  So it is important that they start getting that feeling from a young age.

What we try to do at PSV is to give them some words that they have to use according to the situation.  That way if they grow up or get to another team then they know what to do.  At the same time the players know that they mean when they state those words.  If you train that from a young age they get used to it.  It becomes a habit.



When I started out as a goalkeeper professionally I was a quite boy but then I came into a team that was made up of very opinionated men so if I wanted to survive I had to do the same.  So in order to integrate I had to do the same.

I had to train myself because in those days, whilst there was a goalkeeping coach, he was only shooting balls to the goal.  They were not working with a philosophy about how to improve the goalkeepers.  Nowadays we have a lot of plans and we do a lot of logical things.  

In the old days we used to shoot balls.  It was nice but now we try to be a bit more specific.  What does a goalkeeper need to play well?  We constantly ask ourselves that.

Preparing For Big Games
For me, if we show them pictures of opponents then we are not doing so to worry them but to remind them of the opportunity that they have.  Wow, you’re going to face Messi!

We show them their qualities and they have to be prepared for that.  But we present it to them as a chance to do well, not a reason to worry.  They get videos sent home so that they can be prepared but again it is for the opportunity to stop people from scoring.  If you present it like that then the goalkeepers gets into the game with another feeling.  You should never give the impression that the opponent is too good for you.
Special thanks to Thijs Slegers, the press officer at PSV Eindhoven, for his assistance in the setting up of this interview.

Other snippets from the interview with Ruud Hesp are available here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

“Being A Goalkeeper Is The Greatest Thing In The World”

Goalkeepers, it is often said, are different.  You have to be when in a game where the ultimate aim is to put the ball between the goalposts you dedicate yourself to stop it from doing so.  There is often little glory to be had and the expectation that you are willing to do anything – including throwing yourself into trashing boots – to get hold of the ball.  It is a tough, unglamorous and thanklessness job.  So why would anyone decide to become a goalkeeper?

“I wasn’t good enough to play outfield!” 

Ruud Hesp laughs as he recalls how it was that he picked up goalkeepers’ gloves for the first time.  “I was always big.  I started as a striker, moved to midfield and in the end I was a central defender because I was the biggest player and I could head the ball well so they moved me over there.”

It is there that he would have stayed if fate hadn’t intervened.  “When I was twelve years old I played at an amateur club and the goalkeeper was sick, the second goalkeeper had to play a table tennis game so they said ‘Ruud will you go in goal?’ because I was playing goalkeeper at my school.  I played very well in that first game and they said ‘you stay in goal’.  And I liked it.  So it was a coincidence that I became a goalkeeper.”

This seems to be the conventional path for most goalkeepers.  The main difference for Hesp was that he was good enough at it to make a career out of goalkeeping.  Most of this career was spent playing for mid-size clubs who often lagged behind the three giants of Dutch football.  He was good enough to catch the attention of Dutch national coaches but call-ups never turned into appearances.

Then, at the age of thirty two, he received a surprise call: Barcelona wanted to sign him.


Louis Van Gaal had just been re-appointed manager and it was on his recommendation that Hesp was approached.  Barcelona had signed Vitor Baia the previous summer but whilst the Portuguese was at the time considered among the world’s finest goalkeepers not everyone was convinced.

“Van Gaal had already tried to sign me for Ajax but there was Edwin Van Der Saar there and I knew that he was better than me.  I didn’t fancy going to Ajax to be a reserve so I turned him down.  Clearly, he must have thought highly enough of me that he mentioned me when he moved to Spain.”

“After a couple of weeks, Baia got injured and I stepped into his place.”

Hesp retained his place even when the Portuguese goalkeeper recovered – indeed, Baia was loaned back to Porto midway through the season - and he eventually went on to win two league titles, a European Super Cup and a Copa Del Rey in his three years with the Catalan giants.   “Barcelona are the biggest club in the world and playing for them was amazing,” he says.

After Barcelona he went into coaching and was the goalkeepers’ coach of the Dutch national side that reached the World Cup final in 2010.  “When Edwin Van der Saar played his first national game I was the second goalkeeper,” he recalls.  “When he played his last national game I was there as the national team’s goalkeeping coach.”

By that stage, Hesp had started to put the experience that he had garnered to the benefit of others as a goalkeeper’s coach and the main current beneficiaries are the PSV goalkeepers, where Hesp works.    
“When I arrived Jeroen Zoet was already at the club although at the time he was on loan at a smaller club to get experience.  We put him at a smaller club where he could play a lot of games, develop himself and get back.”  

“When he started to play no one expected anything of him.  The next year people started having expectations.  He was expected to play better than the previous year, he had to be important for the team, to win points for the team.  And then the pressure starts to come.”

“So it is very important that you have played a lot of games to be able to put the pressure less for yourself.  If you are young it is more difficult - and I experienced the same - but if you are older it is easier for yourself.  You get more stable in your head.  You don’t panic that fast.”

This importance of experience might sound like a cliché but Hesp can point at particular moments in his career that support this.

“When I played for Barcelona, I always enjoyed playing in Nou Camp but also in other stadia.  For Barcelona, the best club in Europe; the world maybe.  It gave me a lot of confidence.  When I started playing for Barcelona I was already 31 years old so that was an advantage for me as I had already played a lot of games.  Not at the highest level because in Holland I had played for smaller teams, but I had played a lot of games.”  

“I had the experience of recognising situations in a game.  And then it doesn’t matter if it is at the highest level or at the lowest level, if you recognise situations then you can perform well.  That was, for me, an advantage.”



There is a particular moment where the benefit of this experience stuck out.  “I can give you an example.  When I played for Barcelona against Chelsea in 1998, we lost at Chelsea 3-1 so needed to win 2-0.  We were leading 2-0 and I received a ball that I played badly.  I wanted to kick it long but instead gave to the Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo and he scored; 2-1.”  

“In the end we won and went through but at that moment we still had to play 15 minutes to score another goal.  After that mistake, in the next minute, Frank Lampard shot at goal because maybe he thought that I was insecure or my confidence had gone.  And it was a ball that was swerving in the air.  The ball came just to the right side of me, I got it and I held it.  That was the first moment after the mistake.” 

“Afterwards I was trying to analyse what happened and I realised that I had been able to analyse the mistake as one with my kicking, not a mistake of catching the ball.”  

“So I instinctively realised that a mistake of my passing should not influence my goalkeeping (shot stopping).  And that is what I try to explain to our goalkeepers, even our youth goalkeepers.  One mistake does not have to influence other parts of your goalkeeping.  But that comes with experience.  That’s difficult in the beginning.”

The benefit of his experience played out even off the pitch.  “Before Barcelona I played in Roda and we had a lot of foreign guys who couldn’t speak the language.”  

“They walked past supporters who wanted to speak to them but they couldn’t talk back.  I always thought to myself that if I ever moved to another country I wanted to know the language because I wanted to speak to the people.   And it is easier on the pitch.” 
“So there was a translator who was always helping the new foreign players with the press conferences.  He started doing the same with me for one month but afterwards I started doing them in Spanish.”  

“I made a lot of mistakes but afterwards the journalists came to me to tell me that it was great that I was doing so after one month.  They appreciated it and they gave me tips of what to say in certain situations.  So I started talking Spanish really quickly.  And I also asked people.  Speaking the language is very important.”

Hesp is clearly passionate about his job and loves what he does but there he admits that being a coach is second best to actually playing.

“As a goalkeeper you think you have control of the situation and you can influence the situation.  As a goalkeeper trainer your influence lasts until the players get on to the pitch.  Then it stops.  That is the big difference.”  

“As a goalkeeper coach you cannot make corrections on the pitch.  Then it stops.  That is the big difference.”

“When I started as a goalkeeper coach I was more nervous than when I was a player.”



“Being a goalkeeper is the most beautiful thing to do and being a goalkeeper’s coach is the second most beautiful thing to do.  I enjoy coaching young players because they’re hungry to learn about the game and eager to hear what you have to say.  I really enjoy what I’m doing at a very beautiful club.”

At PSV he is tasked with coaching not only the first team players but also those players coming through the ranks meaning that he is tasked with continuing the rich Dutch tradition for great goalkeepers.

“I think that it is because in Holland we spend a lot of time training goalkeepers.  Even in the old days.  In Holland everyone had his goalkeeper’s coach and that has been the case for a lot of years.  Before other countries started having a goalkeeper trainer in Holland we already had that,” he says of this tradition. 

“We always thought in Holland that goalkeepers were very important and that they are the foundation of the team.  You can have good players but if the goalkeeper isn’t good enough then you have a problem.  A house is built on a good foundation. It is the same with goalkeepers.”  

“That is why in Holland we spend a lot of time on goalkeeper training.  When I started my career in professional football it was only shooting at the goal but I got the attention.”  

“I’ve had a lot of goalkeeper trainers myself and now I’m doing it.  It is good to have a goalkeeper coach because he sees and feels the thing you feel.  For me (as a coach) it is much easier to see into the head of a goalie.  A goalie can come to me and ask me things on why it happened and I can talk to him about it.”
“These days games are decided by details and having a good goalkeeping coach can be a very important detail.”

“Today all players are very fit, they have power, and they are well conditioned.  So in those cases you look for the details and it can help make you champions.”

Special thanks to Thijs Slegers, the press officer at PSV Eindhoven, for his assistance in the setting up of this interview.

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