Google+ Blueprint for Football: October 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

When Experience Matters

Whilst working on a piece on Feyenoord’s florid youth system for an upcoming issue of The Football Pink I was struck by a quote from Stanley Brard who, when interviewed back in 2011, said "we want coaches who know what is required to become a professional. So we have several former Feyenoord players working at the academy who specialise in the position of their playing days."

Brard is the man who is widely regarded as the prime force in the restructuring of Feyenoord’s academy, making it one of the finest as confirmed by their victory of the past five editions of the Rinus Michels Award which is handed to the best youth system in Holland.  

More significantly than that, the Dutch squad that made it to the last World Cup included four players who had been at Feyenoord since they were kids (Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Terence Kongolo and Jordy Clasie).  A further five players had made it through their youth system before moving elsewhere (Robin van Persie, Jonathan de Guzman, Leroy Fer, Georginio Wijnaldum and Salomon Kalou).

The point of all this is that Brard is someone who knows what he is talking about.   That of using former players to coach youths is something that is prevalent at some major clubs – Ajax, for instance, are quite famous for doing as are Barcelona – but not at many.

In the past, this was seen as a way of ‘rewarding’ former players and ensuring that they had a job once their playing career came to an end.  Not so any more, especially with players making so much money during their career - at least at the highest level - which means that for most of them there isn’t really the need to work.

Those who remain in the game today do so out passion and ambition.

The big benefit of having someone with playing experience coaching children is precisely that they can pass on their experience.  There is a significant difference between someone who can turn to what he went through in his own playing career and someone who’s coaching career has been built purely on theory.  This doesn’t necessarily make the latter a worse coach but it is undeniable that he lacks something that someone with playing experience has.

As with any walk of life, if you have a problem or are having a hard time learning to do something it is always easier to turn to someone who has overcome that same problem and can empathise with you.  Same goes in coaching, especially when there are young people involved.

Naturally, this doesn’t mean that any former player will automatically become a good coach.  They too must get their coaching education and they too must learn how to put across different ideas to the various age categories.  Certain skills need time to develop – if they ever do develop – and there are ideas that not necessarily everyone was exposed to whilst they were playing.

The case of Roy Makaay, again at Feyenoord, is indicative.  As a player, Makaay was a highly prolific striker who played at the highest level – not only with Feyenoord where he is a club legend but also with Tenerife, Deportivo La Coruna and Bayern Munich – as well as amassing over forty caps for Holland.  

Currently he is the club’s Under 19 boss but even he had to work his way up.  Indeed, his first role was coaching the Under 13s, then moved to the Under 15s before, eventually, getting his current job.  The message is clear: no matter how good you are as a player and regardless of the club’s policy of favouring former players, you have to prove that you are more than good enough in their job.

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