Google+ Blueprint for Football: February 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Model To Develop Young Players

Whilst it is always easy to appreciate when a club gets something right, it is not as simple to understand what they did to get it right.  This is particularly the case as far as the development of players is concerned where changes that are carried out today will take years to be proven correct (or otherwise).

It takes an equal amount of foresight, conviction and experience to lay down the foundations of any long term project.  Such a balance is very difficult to achieve which is why many often prefer to look at what others have been successfully doing in order to base their own work.  It is a sensible decision but it is also a risky one because what seems to be the accepted wisdom today might be proven to be the wrong view in a few years’ time.

Fifteen years ago, everyone was looking at developing big, strong midfielders to act as a shield in front of their defence.  Nearly every team felt that such a player was essential and consequently everyone worked to identify those who had the raw abilities to become such a player.  It was a desire fuelled by the tactical opinions of the era rather than a vision of where the game was going.

Today, people argue over the importance of allowing younger children the time to develop their skills above anything else.  It is a view that is in line with what Barcelona have done in developing a generation of players with fantastic technical ability; one that has won all that there is to win in world football.

The problem with this way of operating is that it is reactionary and, whilst it might result in some upside, those who adopt it will never be the exceptional ones.  Again, that might be acceptable for some but certainly not for those who want their youth system to be the fuel that keeps the fire of their success burning.

Those who want to be in this latter group will actively look for new ideas that challenge the way things are done by most other clubs, searching ways to improve.  It is such clubs who have been in touch with Dr Jon Oliver, a lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology at Cardiff Metropolitan University in order to develop a practical model of the Youth Physical Development Model which he has developed along with Dr. Rhodri S. Lloyd - Senior Lecturer in Physiology and Health at the Cardiff Metropolitan University – and which is outlined in a paper issued in 2012 called “The Youth Physical Development Model: A New Approach to Long-Term Athletic Development”.

Trying to map a way to maximise potential is one of the areas that sports scientists handle and the model on which most plans are based is one known as the Long Term Athlete Development.  There are a number of variations to this but the most underlying concept is that there are certain key stages in a young person’s life during which the effect of training can be maximised.  

Given that different people mature at different rates, these key stages aren’t measured by age but rather on one’s development.  Significantly, the identification of these stages has proven to be vital as it allows training to be modelled in a way that fits in with that individual’s state of development. 

Yet, despite its widespread acceptance, there was still too much that is theoretical about it which was something that bothered Dr. Oliver.  As a result he embarked on a project to identify whether the theory could be backed up with research and statistical results.

What he and his colleagues came to realise, however, was that there were gaps in the reasoning behind the LTAD so they set up working on their own model for athlete development.

The result was the Youth Physical Development model.

“When working on my doctorate, I did a lot of reading regarding athlete development and started to realise that there was no research to support what was being suggested in the LTAD,” he explains, talking about the origin of this model.  “It got me interested in taking a more informed approach to athlete development.  I was lucky enough to get more research and that helped in putting a solid foundation to the whole process.”

The result of that work is bound to get people talking.

Indeed, that which most probably is the most significant departure from what is seen as the currently prevalent view in football is the emphasis that the Youth Physical Development Model makes on the importance of strength training even at a young age.

“That is one of the things we were most keen to emphasise,” Dr Oliver admits before going on to explain that the reason for this is that “by improving strength we can assist movement skills.”

“In a nutshell the movement skills are seen as the basis of all athletic activity.  There is what is termed as a proficiency barrier and if they don't develop certain movement they won't be able to execute that sport.  If they don't develop an over arm throw they won't be able to throw a ball properly, for instance.  It prohibits their development so movement skills are essential.”  

“In children the neural systems [note: the nervous system that co-ordinates the voluntary and involuntary actions in a body] are developing very rapidly and by the time they are seven it will be almost fully developed.”

“(Yet), in the LTAD, the work on strength would appear at a very late stage, around the time the person is 15 years old because this is the age where strength seems to develop more.  However we think that this might be based on hypertrophy [note: this is the increase in muscle size] which happens for physiological reasons.”  

“Strength training isn't about increasing muscle size and with the younger age groups you can work on the neural aspect of strength.”  

This, then, isn’t about looking for the strongest kids as used to happen in the past but rather providing them with the basic requirements to prevent them from suffering injuries as they grow up.  To quote directly from the paper “in 2011, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association suggested that approximately 50% of overuse injuries within youth sports could be preventable in part with appropriate preparatory conditioning.”

“There has actually research carried out by others that backs this up,” Dr. Oliver continues.  “One author, Dr. Michael Behringer, undertook two systematic reviews in strength training in children.  In their first review it showed that the gains in strength were related to maturation, meaning that more mature children experienced more pronounced training gains.”  

“In the second review, which was carried out 2011, it showed that less mature children could transfer the benefits of strength training to running, jumping and throwing better than more mature children.”

Indeed, in an interview with Reuters Health, Dr Behringer said that “since resistance training in children and adolescents is known to be safe and to be associated with several health benefits, children and adolescents should be generally encouraged to participate in a resistance-training program.” 

What Dr. Oliver and Dr. Lloyd are suggesting is that training for pre-pubescent children should focus on resistance training in order to build strength with hypertrophy training – to increase muscle size – taking place after adolescence. 

Such training will also help in the development of a core ability for any top sportsperson: power.  Explosive power, the ability to generate high levels of power is essential for sporting success yet had been omitted in the current LTAD models.  

Power is typically seen as an innate ability, the god given gift that distinguishes athletes like Sir Chris Hoy from other mere mortals.  Yet the YPD model is based on research that shows that muscular power can be improved through training.  And whilst the most significant improvement happens after the onset of adolescence, some training that focuses on power can be carried out beforehand.

“One of the reasons we included that is that power is seen as being one of the distinguishing characteristics,” Oliver explains.  “The better footballers would be seen to be better in certain power exercises.  In terms of children developing power, we're of the view that it is something that it is something that can be developed.  If you specifically focus on power you can get players to jump higher.”

In spite of all the recommendations, the main difficulty for anyone involved in football is that of personalising preparation – something that the paper insists on – when you’re involved with a group of individuals.  

“That is a difficult one.  When we were writing the model we were thinking of team sports as they have the higher participation rates.  However, there are always some logistical issues.”  

“I would personally recommend that there should be some grouping.  You may find that there is a sub-set of players who have lower movement skills then another group.  I'd probably be breaking these up into groups so that each gets the appropriate training for them.”

“In football there is the tendency to train in age groups but it might more be the case that coaches should be less worried about children in a year group and group them according to their development stage.  Some aspects of training should be across all levels and strength in movement skills linking to injury prevention.   We want to prepare them for a career in physical activity and sports.  Injury is a real risk so we have to provide them with the right movement skills and fatigue resistance.”

Within that comment there is the over-riding principle that anyone involved in youth sports should live by: that the aim has to be that of preparing them so that they can keep participating in sport rather than for the specific (and relatively short) period when they are in your care.

“The difficulty is what the targets of those in youth sports are.  The challenge in trying to make a team is that it will create a selection bias.  You pick the most mature players into the team and that would provide them an advantage because they are physically stronger.”  

“If you watch how children develop over time, those who mature later on will catch up and often outperform the others.   If you focus on the competitive outcome you end up with a system that favours early mature-rs.  Others don't get selected and they don't get the training which makes it difficult to get back.  Clubs need to develop distance and targets should be that players should be progressing; targets that are placed on individual development.”

This helps brings it all together.  It dispels any suspicion that the argument for the early introduction of some form of strength training is aimed at favouring a more physical approach.  Pushing for more individualised targets – rather than looking at team results which can be artificially inflated - is what the best academies already do, something that should be augmented by the individualisation of the training schedule.

It is a holistic approach, one that covers all bases that any long term plan to develop football players should be looking into.  The theory, and the reasons supporting it, are all there and it would be a huge opportunity missed not to build on it.

This is not a critical evaluation of the paper and there is no analysis of the findings held within.  The aim of this piece is to look at the Youth Development Model and raise awareness to the possibilities held within. The paper and the model can be found here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Never Too Late To Change

When Luis Aragones was appointed as manager of the Spanish national team, it was something of an awkward choice.  Here was a man whose philosophy revolved around a strong defence and a reliance on counter attack who was suddenly being put in charge of one of the finest group of attacking players in the history of the game.

On top of that, Aragones was 66 years old when he was put in charge; surely too old an age for him to change his ways.  Even if, in truth, age was not the determining factor here: pride would also have prevented many younger men from making that change.

Change he did, however, slowly adopting the short passing and high pressing game that was bringing Barcelona so much success.   He was still very much his own man, dropping a legend like Raul – previously considered an untouchable - in favour of Fernando Torres, who knew what he wanted.  But he was intelligent enough to realise that his way wasn’t necessarily the only way.

There is sometimes the misplaced belief that a coach changing his mind is a sign of weakness.  People are expected to have a view of how the game should be played and stick to it throughout their whole career.  It is, however, a flawed way of seeing things because there is no such thing as a universal truth.

A coach will, for sure, have a favoured way of playing but like any view that should be allowed room to evolve and grow based on what he sees and experiences.  It is what Luis Aragones did and it is what set Spain up for a decade of unprecedented domination of world football.  

Taken from the most recent issue of Blueprint for Football Extra.  To read more articles like this one, subscribe here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Planning For Success

This is part of the Blueprint for Football Extra series which you can subscribe to for free.

Perhaps due to his failure to win the league with Liverpool, or because because of his time at Aston Villa, but Gerard Houllier’s managerial reputation in England isn’t a particularly elevated one.  He is far too often remembered for the dour and defensive way that he set up his teams than for anything else.

Yet there was much more to him than that; Houllier was a true football visionary.  He was one of the people who dreamt up and then oversaw the development of the Clairfontaine academy where France laid the foundations of their eventual success.  It was in Clairfontaine that the generation of players that would win a World Cup and a European Championship for France got most of their formation.

Often less heralded, he also helped nurture and develop the talents of Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard – three of the finest English players of their generation - ensuring that they got the opportunities needed for their maturation as well as providing them with the guidance that they needed.

His whole philosophy is contained in a comment that he made whilst manager of Liverpool: “you can’t programme success, you can only prepare and plan for it”.

That is, for me, the essence of what good management is all about, regardless of what level you’re working in. 

Just as with Houllier, there are many who discount Clive Woodward as someone who lives on the memory of one moment of success.  Yet it is impossible to deny that what he achieved was phenomenal.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect isn’t what he achieved but how he went about achieving it.  Woodward looked into every aspect of his team’s preparation and studied every possibility in order to try to find things that could be done better.

It is the same thing with British cycling where every little detail is analysed in order to find ways of perfecting the preparation.  So much that there is a whole team dedicated to bringing about changes that will result in a number infinitesimal gains that, when grouped together, enable the British cyclist to dominate.

Most coaches don’t have access to the resources with which British cycling or English rugby are blessed.  Yet practically all have access to the vast resources that can be found on the internet where there are plenty of different ideas, thoughts and research that will give you all the inside that you need.   

 It is up to the coaches to dedicate the time needed to sift through all this information and learn from it; identifying that which is of most use for them.  Because it is those who do so, those who prepare well who will succeed in the long run.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Blueprint According To...Pedro Mendonca

Ambition.  There are still some people who see that as a dirty word, particularly for coaches involved in youth football.  These should be content with the age category they are assigned to look after and not aim to achieve anything more than that.

For some that works and there are indeed coaches who feel most comfortable coaching particular age groups and whose effectiveness would suffer were they to be moved to a different group.  Many others aren’t like that, however, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just as any player should have a target to work towards, so too should coaches.  Unless they have an ambition that drives them forward they cannot progress.  And, for some, that ambition might be of working at a higher level than the one they’re currently in.

Pedro Mendonca is one such coach.  At the moment he is working with the Real Madrid foundation but he is aiming to achieve much, much more than that.  Here’s a look at his blueprint…

Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long was that?
Since a young age – around 8 years - I played football for FC Porto first and then SC Salgueiros.  Then, when I enrolled in the Physical Education and Sports University, I specialized in football whilst becoming a Physical Education Teacher as well. In 2007 I got the opportunity to be coach of FC Avintes a woman’s team in the he 2nd Division of the Portuguese league. That was a very good experience especially as it allowed me to realise that I liked coaching and had the ability to coach. 

After that I’ve trained boys from U13 to senior teams at a number of clubs like CD Candal; Lusitano FC; Algarve United and the Real Madrid Foundation.

Have you had any mentors in your career?
I have had the good fortune of working with some excellent persons and very good coaches.  However, the people who have most influenced me were Professor Vitor Frade and Professor Juan Jose Gonzalez Badillo. 

Professor Vitor Frade is the creator of the Tactical Periodization, a training methodology for football concerned with the tactical aspects of the game and the creation of a Game Idea that fits the Players and the Club. In one word: Specificity. This is a methodology that is actually utilized by José Mourinho. 

The other main influence is Juan Jose Gonzalez Badillo, my professor in Master of Physical and Sport Performance, at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville because he opened my eyes as to how Sports Science could be applied to football and the physical needs to play football. 

I think this contrast of Ideas is very important for my coaching philosophy.     

What is your coaching philosophy?
At a senior level I believe that we have to work on the tactical aspects of the game. Everything has to be done in relation with the game that we want to play. However, it is a game that the players like to play and fans likes to watch. 

As for the physical aspects, this would be more centred around injury prevention and recovery.  With respect to playing style I believe in an offensive team, capable of scoring many goals and gives a good time to the spectators.

Is winning important for you?
At a senior level it is very important but playing good, attractive football is very important as well. 

In young age groups it is not as important. Indeed, at an early age it is more important to develop the players. 

That said, in the most of clubs, the importance is on winning. For me that is an error because this way the coaches will be more concerned with the results than with the process of developing players for the future. To do so, they end up privileging the physical players and not the intelligent ones. 

What are the most important attributes of players in your teams?
That the players like to play and enjoy training is important at a senior level. Then it is important that they are good teammates, capable of creating a rich environment to develop a team. 

One of the most important things for players is their intelligence; the ability to make good decisions in the game.  They must know the game and its principles of play.  Finally, it is very important that the players have an excellent relationship with the ball which is acquired in early ages.

You're currently at the Real Madrid Foundation in Portugal.  What is it that you do exactly? 
At the Real Madrid Foundation I’m the coach of the football team in the Portuguese School in Algarve. Here we work with kids from 6 to 12 years who have some problems like behavior problems, learning difficulties, obesity, integration issues, bad economic conditions which means that they don’t have money to play for other club and so on. 

We try to use their love for the game and for Real Madrid to improve the lives of these kids. Our slogan is: “They Play, We Educate”. 

Beyond the Tactical, Technical, Physical and Mental aspects of football adapted to the age of the kids, we incorporate in every training sessions the Real Madrid Foundation Values: Respect, Autonomy, Motivation, Equality, Self-Esteem, Health and Fellowship.

In what way does football help children with behavioral problems?
Football is very much important for these children. Usually all the children love football so when these children with behavioral problems are playing they have to adapt to the rules of the game and to the principles of living in a society (group of players) to can play. 

This way they have to demonstrate self-control and have ability to resist to frustration for when they concede a goal or when an opponent takes the ball from them. These capacities trained in the football game will then become adopted in everyday life. 

Is there added pressure given that you are representing Real Madrid?
I’m representing Real Madrid Foundation. When we are in Real Madrid Foundation we have always to respect the Principles that we teach to children. It can be difficult for some people to live with this responsibility. However for me it’s easy because I believe in these Principles of Real Madrid Foundation and apply in them both in the teaching sessions and in my daily life.

In Portugal as well as in Spain there is a very good history for producing very technical players.  Is there anything special that is done that result in such players?
In Portugal we love good football and we’re always seeking players with ability to dribble past others. Since a young age, kids are encouraged to go into 1v1 situations and develop the ability to control the ball. 

Another important aspect in Portugal is that all persons are fans from one of the three great clubs (FC Porto, SL Benfica and Sporting CP), which means that every person like an attacking and attractive style of play. This aspect has influenced the type of football we like and this way the kids are molded for the future.

What do you want to achieve to be satisfied with what you have done in your coaching career?
My goal is to be capable to work exclusively in football.  At the moment I have the UEFA Basic Coaching Course and in January I’ve begun the UEFA Advanced Coaching Course in Spain. 

In the next years I want to be assistant manager for one of the great coaches who can teach me more things about this fantastic game. Then I want to be a manager in the English Premier League, win a UEFA Champions League and also win a FIFA World Cup.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

From Economics to Football; From Cambridge to Crewe

By Arnar Steinsson

Before people spoke about the Barcelona model of developing players, there was only one talent factory as far as most were concerned and that was at Crewe.  Dario Gradi joined the club in 1983 when it was one of the worst in the Football League and slowly built it up into one that launched the careers of some fine players, reinvesting the funds generated by their sale into the increasingly productive youth system.

Gradi was in many ways a visionary and he has undoubtedly been the architect of Crewe’s success but it is also partly down to the quality of coaches he has recruited to help him carry out his plan.  Michael Jolley is one of these coaches, in what has already been a fascinating career for someone who is still in his mid-thirties; one that has seen him go from a Masters degree in Economics to his current coaching job at Crewe.

Arnar: It’s been quite a journey for you to date. From England to New York, Brazil and the Netherlands to name a few destinations and now you are coaching at Crewe Alexandra. I would like start things off by giving you the opportunity  to introduce yourself.
Michael Jolley: Hi Arnar – thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. As you say I am now coaching at Crewe Alexandra Academy under Dario Gradi, which is a great privilege for me. I am learning a huge amount from him and all the other staff at Crewe. I have been coaching for eight years and Crewe is my 5th professional club – I have been lucky to have coached in many different contexts and levels from the youngest academy players up to first team. 

My background is probably a little bit unusual for a football coach because my degree is in Economics and I worked outside football at the start of my career. For example I was working as a trader in New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

My experience outside football has helped me to appreciate how fortunate I am now to have a full-time position coaching at such a great club. I think it has also helped me to appreciate what players can do rather than focusing too much on what they can’t. In the summer of 2013 I was one of 16 coaches to graduate from the first FA Elite Coaches Award, which challenged my thinking on a number of issues and forced me to re-examine my coaching and playing philosophy. I would definitely encourage other coaches to try and do the same – the game is evolving quickly and the best coaches will be those who can think ahead of the game – and the other coaches.

Arnar:  Yes I can imagine that background would give you a very different perspective then you would have had otherwise.  The FA Elite Coaches Award is something I find fascinating after I heard a bit about it. And I think it’s something that should get more publicity. Can you share your experience of it and what it consisted of?
Michael Jolley: The course was devised by Dick Bate at the FA who is a world class coach educator. Previously, the only option for A-Licence coaches to further develop was the UEFA Pro Licence, which is an excellent course but is mainly geared towards preparing people to be Managers or Head Coaches. The Pro Licence covers areas such as dealing with the media, managing upwards, and financial management, all of which are critical for managers but that leaves less time for focusing on the intricate detail of coaching at the very highest level. Dick’s concept was to create a Pro Licence equivalent for coaches – ideally younger coaches – which would be all about the game, and coaching the game at an elite level.

The FA selected 16 coaches to undertake the pilot course, which we did over 18 months, graduating in July 2013. The course was very intense and required us to complete tasks in our own time or in small groups, and then report back to the whole group at the regular get togethers. One example of the type of project we had to deliver – a group of four of us were the coaches of Manchester United, preparing to play Barcelona in the Champions League Final. We had to prepare every aspect of the game including a detailed tactical analysis, logistical preparations, physical loading and various scenario analyses. We presented our work to the group and then were fortunate that Rene Meulensteen shared with us how the real United staff had gone about the same task, sharing his work in preparing for the 2009 Champions League Final.

The strength of the course came from two main factors: the quality of the delivery from Dick Bate and Alistair Smith was excellent. Second – the openness of the other 15 candidates was fantastic, meaning that we shared some very frank and honest discussions.  We all supported one another through the learning process and it was certainly a special group of people.

Arnar: This seems to me to be groundbreaking. I was blown away by a video of a lecture that Smith held for example. I can’t even a imagine how much a person can learn over a 18 month period in a course designed by Dick Bate and Alistair Smith, that has so much interaction with the people you are working with as well. Is there anything in the world at this stage that you think would compare to it?
Michael Jolley: I’m not aware of anything that is similar at the moment. I know that the FA have been pleased and impressed with the success of the pilot course and are planning to roll out the course as a permanent offering. They’re also trying to get the course recognised by UEFA as a Level 5 equivalent to the Pro Licence, so I guess if that happens it will be picked up by other countries and delivered there too. I feel really lucky to have been one of the first coaches to go through the experience.

Arnar: What are your thoughts on youth development in England and what do you think is the biggest challenge to overcome in order for it to improve?
Michael Jolley: That’s a tough question to answer all in one go Arnar. I believe there are two big issues which are preventing us from progressing currently.

First, the pathway for our best young players is being curtailed at the highest levels of competition. Very few clubs – particularly at Premier League level – have a clear pathway running from the academy through to the First Team. Premier League clubs need to remain in that league because of the financial implications of relegation. So most clubs will recruit ‘finished product’ players from the global market place instead of taking a risk with one of their own academy players, who may or may not be ready. That’s logical and it is difficult to blame them for that because they are under pressure from their fans and their owners to succeed as quickly as possible.

The challenge is that young players need that opportunity to play in the first team to get the experience they need to develop and improve. Development/Academy football is an excellent learning curve, but players need to experience the essence of competition at the highest levels against the best players to become the best themselves. So there is a dichotomy between the needs of the top clubs and the needs of the development players. I have heard a few possible solutions to this, but none which have no drawbacks. One idea may be quotas for the number of English players who must be in the squad or team, but I would need to know more about the legality of that given potential restriction of labour and so on.

The second big issue is that we – as a football nation – do not yet have a clear blueprint for how to play the game. I know that Dan Ashworth and the FA are trying to address this by creating and rolling out a ‘DNA’ – but I still think that compared to a country like Holland, we’re behind in this area. In my opinion, I see too many development coaches who are encouraging football that is a poor imitation of the Spanish/Barcelona model. We see their excellent football and try to match it – by playing out from the back, for example. However, I see many academy games where the players are great at passing square and backwards when under no pressure, but as soon as they come under pressure, they don’t have the technical skills to cope. We do not create sufficient numbers of players who can take the ball under pressure, perform turns to play forward passes or make forward runs with the ball. I’m not necessarily talking about lots of tricks and skills on the ball – which are great of course is used in the right way. I’m talking about the ability to play in 360 degrees by receiving from one direction and playing in the opposite direction, under pressure. In my opinion we need to encourage more practices which test and develop this kind of skill, and build that into a larger model of how we wish to see the game played. As I mentioned, I know the FA is making some headway with this but we still have a long way to go.

Arnar: It’s good that you mentioned that players have problems playing under pressure, it’s something that I witness on a regular basis.  Some players cope a bit better than others but I find it rare and sometimes even they get into trouble because a teammate is not offering himself as a passing outlet in the correct body shape to receive the ball. Which methods can be applied to improve players’ ability to play under pressure in your opinion?
Michael Jolley: I think that watching the game – especially at the highest level such as the Champions League – gives the answers to your question Arnar. There are a many situations in which players must collect the ball, retain it under pressure, sometimes turn with it, and find a solution to keep the ball for the team or keep the attack flowing forwards. Creating practices which closely match these situations is the job of the coach. Football coaches are not very good at making their training/practice look like the game. This is where we must improve as a profession.

The next thing to say is that reducing the space/area size can create these conditions for playing under pressure. Many coaches might feel uncomfortable with this because it can look messy and does not flow perfectly. But I often try to work the players in small spaces because it creates the pressure that the players experience in the game.

Repeated good practice in these scenarios will enable the players to improve playing under pressure.

Arnar: Thank you Michael. I really like the method of using small sided games which are adapted to scenarios that players will encounter in matches in order to develop specific skills and understanding, which would be hard to develop otherwise . I would like to ask you what your coaching and playing philosophy is and how it has changed after those 18 months on the FA Elite Coaching Award?
Michael Jolley: I believe that it is important for a coach to constantly review and evolve his coaching and playing philosophy. This may sound contradictory, but the game is always changing, but it is also always staying the same. By that I mean that certain attacking and defending principles of play remain intact as long as the laws of football do not change, but coaches and players are continually creating slight shifts in the way the game is played. In an environment like this, a coach cannot afford to keep the same philosophy he/she had from five years ago, but things move on.

I have created a blueprint for my own purposes which details my playing and coaching philosophy. That document represents the best work of my career so far so I do not wish to reveal everything inside it! However, the summary is this: I believe in adopting a variety of coaching styles, contingent on the context in which I am coaching. Players always come first, then decide how I will ‘be’ to give the players the most relevant version of me on that day.

My playing philosophy is based on the following:

•controlling the game with the efficient use of possession when attacking

•creating overloads and 1v1s in certain areas of the pitch

•managing the game by the efficient use of spaces when defending

•playing through the units of the team, using some players who can cope under pressure (1v1, 1v2, 1v3 sometimes)

•a plan for fast transitions (both winning and losing the ball)

•a plan for all set plays.

This is a current snap shot of my playing and coaching philosophy. Ask me again in 12 months and it will be the same but different!

Arnar: Thanks for sharing that Michael and I completely agree that there are always shifts which evolve the game. Now I have to ask you about Dario Gradi. It would be criminal not to do so. What do you think of the man and what can you tell us about him?
Michael Jolley: I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Dario. He is a very special man and his achievements in the game are remarkable. I have only worked with Dario for around a year so there are many better qualified people than me to comment on him. I find him to be someone of the highest integrity who is very honest and is totally committed to the players and coaches he works with. He has incredible insight into the game, and sees the game quite differently to the vast majority of coaches. Dario is a wonderful teacher of the game and it is a privilege to watch him working with the young players every day. It is certainly a fantastic learning experience for any young coach.

Arnar: Thank you Michael for your time and for sharing your insight and experiences from the game. And would like to wish you all the best in your future.

This interview is reproduced with the kind permission of The Tomkins Times, where it appeared for the first time.  The introduction to the interview was written by Paul Grech.