Google+ Blueprint for Football: Exporting the Barca Method

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Exporting the Barca Method

Throughout the history of the game of football, there have always been teams that have helped shape the way that the game was perceived and played; from Herbert Champan's Arsenal to Arrigo Sacchi's Milan going through the mighty Hungarian national team, Helenio Herrera's catenaccio driven Inter and Ajax's total football.  Yet the influence that every one of those great teams could exert was limited for the simple reason that very few could get to watch them with the frequency needed to be influenced by them.

It is in this that the current Barcelona team is truly unique because they are perhaps the first team to have come up with a different philosophy for playing the game and who have been watched regularly by a global audience.  Barcelona's football hasn't simply shaped how their national rivals play but is shaping how the whole world plays the game; everyone is looking to reproduce to some extent what Barcelona have done.

Wanting to copy Barcelona and actually doing that, however, are two very different things.  Because the road that led to Barcelona's current way of playing didn't start three years ago with the appointment of Pep Guardiola and much less six years ago when Frank Rijkaard was put in charge.  Instead, the seed of this team was planted twenty five years ago when Johann Cruyff began reshaping how football was played at all levels of the club.

That the seed planted by Cruyff was allowed to grow in an industry as obsessed with short term results as football is astounding.  Because the real secret of Barcelona's success is that: time.  It isn't about putting in place a way of doing things but all about giving the system time to mature so that the whole club thinks, breathes and moves in the same way.

That certainly is one of the main messages to come out of an interview with Enrique Duran Diaz.  Having spent almost a decade absorbing the Barcelona philosophy at their FCB Escola, last year Duran was asked whether he was willing to take on the challenge of trying to do what Crujff did at Barca by planting the seed of a distinctive playing style at the South African club Mamelodi Sundown.

He is therefore one of the few individuals who can talk with authority about what it takes to replicate Barcelona's way of doing things and what he says provides real insight as to whether that philosophy can be transplanted elsewhere.

How did you start at Barcelona?
Ever since I was very young I've had a great passion for football and seeing that I wasn't exceptionally good at it I decided to start coaching when I was 14.  After a number of years coaching neighborhood teams I got the opportunity to collaborate in an FC Summer Camp in Barcelona in 2003.  At the end of that activity the person responsible for it offered me a contract to become coach at FC Barcelona.

What was your role there?
My duties were always related to FCB Escola, Barcelona's football school for children between 6 and 12 years. There I stayed for seven years, occupying different positions. For the first three seasons I worked as a coach before being offered the chance of heading the school that FC Barcelona wanted to open in Saudi Arabia - Rhiad - and was there for two seasons as head coach of the project.

On my return I went back to being the co-ordinator FCBEscola for young players (11 to 12), and took part in various international campuses in countries like South Korea, England, China, Bangladesh and Singapore among others.

Why have Barcelona been so successful in developing players?
The key to success lies in that FC Barcelona is committed to a policy of getting young players through, where the players get to create that dream of one day getting to play at the Camp Nou. This philosophy was implanted in the club for over 25 years and in recent seasons we have seen that great players have emerged from the grassroots to the first team.

It is a complicated process that requires patience, besides having great professionals to help identify, train and educate the young players who come to the facilities of FC Barcelona.

Can the Barça method be copied?
Barca's style is unique and to be successful you must believe in it. All youth football teams play one system and from when the players are very young concepts are introduced to help bring them closer to someday becoming first team players. To create this structure takes time and many seasons without success. Clubs seeking to copy the Barca method look for short-term results and it is very difficult to reach them. A good set-up, a good program to identify talented players and good coaches can help create a good structure but it is hardly possible to achieve the same results as FC Barcelona in recent years.

How did you get the job at Mamelodi Sundowns?
During 2009/10 I was able to do a Master in the Johan Cruyff Institute, and at the end I was offered the opportunity of working with them on this sports project that had emerged in South Africa.

What is your role there?
My role is technical director of football at Mamelodi Sundowns' youth system. My main task is to assist the development of coaches and players at the club. The coaches receive the programme of coaching that is to be followed, as well as courses that help them to form and understand the philosophy I want to introduce. On the other hand, players must learn to be professional both on and off the pitch because we believe that training should be complete so that they can achieve their dream of being footballers.

What is the difference you've found to work with Europe?
The lack of structure at clubs to develop players is what struck me when I arrived. Players do not begin to be introduced to the technical and tactical concepts until they are 16 or 17, something that children in Europe have mastered by the time they are 8 or 9. For the future of South African football it is key to create programs for youth players that will help them grow athletically because with the current system much talent is wasted.

How are the players compared to players from Barça?
I have met players who are as skilled with the ball and possess excellent physical conditions for this sport but with large gaps in their knowledge of tactics.

The South African player spends many hours playing in the streets on pitches that are in very poor condition. This helps them improve their technique but can sometimes be harmful as they tend to pick up skills that will not be beneficial in the professional game. At a physical level there is no need for specific work for players with very good inborn qualities. However at a tactical level the scope for improvement is large because as I said, players don't receive any training in this area and sign with a club when they get to 17.

Finally, an aspect that needs to improve a lot is mental because due to lifestyle full of difficulties we encounter players with disciplinary problems.  Sometimes they are not aware that they must make a huge effort to achieve the goal of become professional footballers.

At Barcelona a lot of attention is devoted to the technique of players. Is it the same in South Africa or is physical strength given more importance?
I've been in the country for a year and half now and have observed how teams always try to prevail due to their physical strength.  I've seen crazy games where long balls and counterattacks were constant. Players just do what they have confidence in and in South Africa that trust is in their physical qualities. Once we analysed this we got to work to introduce a philosophy where you can try to win a game without having to run all the time with the ball. Therefore, we focus our work so that technically and tactically players get better thanks to exercises where everything revolves around the ball. At first it was not easy for the players as they had to adapt to new training.  However, with the passing of the weeks they have become aware of the importance of these exercises to improve their qualities.

At Barcelona there is a clear philosophy of how to do things. How important is this?
At grassroots level it makes sense to trust and believe in young players who train with the sole aim of becoming professional team players someday. Patience is key here, where the players have to be aware that there are easier ways to get short term results but the longer, harder way may make you the best resource for the team.

Was it difficult to work in a club where there is this philosophy? And how to go about this?
It's complicated, having to introduce a philosophy is never easy. Every day you come across many problems you did not expect to find you and hinder your work. Also people are not accustomed to a situation where results are not immediate so it adds significant pressure on you with which you should be able to coexist. Nevertheless, there comes a time when despite all the difficulties you have to find the ability to change your mind for the benefit of the young players that you train. I've learned to focus on those things that I can have direct responsibility and forget about everything that does not help me improve or keep me from doing my job 100%.

How long does it take to establish a system and philosophy that provides the talent regularly?
It would be wrong to set a specific number of years since I'd probably be mistaken. In my opinion to create a grassroots structure can be relatively simple but getting results isn't. There are many elements that are important for the youth structure to makes sense. One of the most important for me is to know the policy of the first team, because if the club decides to sign new players each season without taking a look at the youngest we have a problem because the project probably never be consolidated, while if each year the Club seeks younger talent among those coming to join the professional team and we will be giving them more opportunities to consolidate the structure's reputation. Clearly, time will be a necessary, but if the team does not believe and there isn't commitment to the project it will not reach the objectives established at the outset.

What you want to do at Mamelodi for you to consider your time there a success?
The most important thing would be that the work can continue until the end of my contract (June 2014). I would feel that my time in South Africa has served some purpose if coaches continue to be good professionals, club scouts continue to seek talent and especially following the guidelines that players will continue to receive excellent training both on and off the field. Now there are months of hard work to try to consolidate the concepts introduced and those I consider to be key to the club so that it can be a leader in the African continent in the development of young talent.

Enrique Duran Diaz is currently technical director of football of Mamelodi Sundown's youth system and can be followed on Twitter

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