Google+ Blueprint for Football: 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Birth of the Flat Back Four, Importance of Reading & Guardiola's Debt

This will be the last message sent before the end of 2016 and the start of 2017.  As I draw my conclusions over the past twelve months I have to say that it has not been a vintage year for Blueprint for Football.  There were a number of interviews and articles of which I’m very proud but not as much as I would like.

I find that such a critical analysis at least once a year is essential in order to determine what needs to be done to get to where I want to be.  I do it for Blueprint for Football but not only; I do it for every major area of my life as well.  I think that you should too.  (If you do, let me know)

On the plus side there is now a good rhythm to the weekly digest (subscribe here to receive it in your in-box each week), which is a major plus as I know that there are a number of coaches who check them out each week.

I’ve also got planned a number of new features and articles that will be kicked off in the New Year plus a great interview with a coach who I respect immensely, Todd Beane. 

Although I don’t listen to the World Football Show on the BBC as much as I used to in the past, I still have a huge admiration for Tim Vickery who, in my mind, is the star of that show.  My respect grows when I read articles like this one about the birth of the flat back four in, of all countries, Brazil.
I’m not a big fan of the military and I’m not sure I agree with all of this but this by General James Mattis on the importance of reading is excellent: “the problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business

For whatever reason, Bayern Munich’s 3-0 trashing of previous league leaders RB Leipzig went by practically unnoticed.  It shouldn’t be the case because it was a tactical masterclass by Carlo Ancelotti and his men, as this piece highlights.

This extract from a new book about Andres Iniesta speaks of Pep Guardiola and the debt that the coach owes the player for helping shape his tactics.  Beautiful

“There are no shortcuts to excellence” – Angela Duckworth

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best Coaching Link This Week: Liverpool's Academy, Scouting Overseas and Efficiency of Freekicks

The great Jonathan Wilson recently wrote a piece on how greed is ruining football, with his main focus being the restructuring of the Champions League, and how no one seems to be that bothered about it.  At around the same time as this article came out, I was researching for a piece on the impact of the Bosman ruling and, in particular, on clubs’ desire to develop their own players.  The conclusion that I reached is that the Bosman ruling has effectively stopped clubs from being able to develop their way to success.

Below the high profile, top level managers there is a group of coaches who dedicate their lives on investing in the future.  Alex Inglethorpe, the head of Liverpool’s academy, is one such man and as Jurgen Klopp integrates more young players in the first team, his work is coming increasingly under focus.

Free kicks, when they are well taken, can be spectacular which is why they inevitably generate an air of excitement when a team gains one in a dangerous situation.  Yet is this excitement and pressure to hit it directly at goal misplaced?

The latest of an interesting series about the role of scouts focuses on the work and thinking that goes into getting a player from overseas.  Really insightful, I thought.

“The man who fears losing has already lost” – George RR Martin

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Best Coaching Links This Week: Football IQ, Physical Literacy & More

Over the past years there has been an increasing realisation of the importance of intelligence in football.  Defining and measuring a concept as nebulous as intelligence is difficult, however.  Andres Iniesta might provide the key to changing that.

Keeping on the theme of the brain in football, here’s a piece by John Haime that talks about building and sustaining confidence in footballers.

Something that I plan to look into in greater detail during 2017 is physical literacy.  If you have any thoughts, questions and ides, do feel free to share them.

In case you missed it, there’s been a lot of fuss in Scotland over Ian Cathro getting the job of Hearts manager because he never had a significant playing career.  Given his experience in coaching, I can’t believe that people are actually talking about this but, still, it was encouraging to see Rangers manager Mark Warburton come out with is opinions.

“Two things define you: your patience when you have nothing; and your attitude when you have everything" -  Imam Ali

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Monday, December 12, 2016

How The Bosman Ruling Broke Small Clubs

When Ajax lifted the Champions League trophy in 1995 it was hardly a surprise. Their previous successes in the competition marked them out as European royalty even though over twenty years had passed since they had last triumphed in the competition.  What’s more, it was perfectly natural for a club coming from a weaker league to win.

In the ten years prior to Ajax’s success there had been winners coming from Romania (Steaua Bucharest), Portugal (Porto), Holland (PSV Eindhoven) and Yugoslavia (Red Star Belgrade).  Such successes had become somewhat commonplace.

What made Ajax’s victory all the more remarkable is that it came with a team built around individuals who had progressed through the club’s youth system.  Six out of the starting eleven had been at the club since they were children whilst the scorer of the wining goal – second half substitute Patrick Kluivert – was also an academy graduate.

Twelve months later Ajax were back in the final but this time missed out in a penalty shootout with Juventus.  It was to be one of the final hurrahs of the smaller clubs.  Since then the Champions League has practically always been the domain of Spanish, German, English and Italian clubs.  Only once – 2004 with Porto - has it gone to teams not from one of those four countries and that was a freak year where the other finalist was also from a non-elite country (AS Monaco).

Indeed, if you were to exclude that 2003-2004 edition, there hasn’t even been a finalist that wasn’t from one of the top four countries.  

That is a situation which is unlikely to change.  Football has moved on and the free market forces in which the game operates has driven competition out.  Three European leagues in particular dominate earnings – England, Spain and Germany – and they can attract the best players.  More significantly they can strip others of their best talent making it all the more difficult from anyone outside this elite to break in.

Money, however, explains only part of it.  Spanish and Italian clubs were, historically, much more financially powerful than others and always tended to attract the most exciting of players.  Yet they never dominated the European Cup in such a manner.

Indeed the defining change for European football came in December of 1995 – the same year in which Ajax had claimed their title – and happened far away from any football pitch.  The leading figure in this revolution was an unknown Belgian footballer who had brought a case in front of the European Court of Justice.  

That is when the Bosman ruling was passed.

Ajax were one of the first to suffer from this ruling and also one of the clubs to suffer most severely.  Within months the core of their young side was ripped out as three of their brightest talents – Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids – all moved to Italy on a free.  They were the kind of players on whom Ajax would otherwise have expected to found a dynasty and had they stayed then the likelihood is that they would have won even more European titles.

Even if they had been sold they would have earned Ajax enough money to effectively rebuild their team.  After all these were players who would go on to be among the best of their generation.  Instead, they got nothing.

In time, clubs learned to adapt yet that meant a certain degree of self-immolation.   Players were given longer contracts which meant a bigger commitment for clubs who were not necessarily always in a position to afford it.  The risk was that these players wouldn’t turn out to be as good as had been hoped and end up being a drain on the club’s resources.

Yet that was a risk that clubs became used to.  So much that now as soon as a players starts showing signs of fulfilling his potential then he’s immediately handed a new and better contract.  As soon as that doesn’t get signed or a players starts getting closer to the end of his contract then the alarm bells start ringing.  Often the end result is the same with the player getting sold at a fraction of his market value.  Some money is better than no money.  Everyone knows that, including the players, their agents and the clubs who are interested in them.

This makes it almost impossible for a club to slowly build a squad that is good enough to challenge.  Unless someone ultra-rich comes in – as is happening with Paris St German – then it is virtually impossible to build.

Even a relatively big club like Borussia Dortmund is struggling.  In 2013 they reached the Champions League final yet saw their biggest domestic rival take away two of their best talents – Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski - for what is a pittance.  Although Dortmund have invested wisely it is still getting increasingly more difficult for them to challenge both domestically and continentally.

From one extreme the pendulum of power has shifted to another.  Where once clubs used to be in a dominant position now it is the players who are in control.  This is the legacy of the Bosman ruling.

That should not excuse the practices that clubs used to adopt – such as the one that forced Jean Marc Bosman to start his fight – nor should it blind anyone to the reality that clubs still show no sentimentality towards any player that is no longer considered as needed.   Supporters aren’t much better, often calling for a player to be sold as soon as he starts to show any signs of decline or claiming that they should be ‘left to rot’ should any player indicate that perhaps they might want to move to a bigger club. 

It is only right that players should try to do what is best for their career.  That is what most people do in their day-to-day lives; looking for a better job when they realise that they have enough experience or knowledge to do so.  What is different, however, is that players don’t work for a corporate institution but rather an entity that towards which thousands devote their thoughts, hopes and passion.

The Bosman Ruling stripped that element from the equation.  It gave players the liberty to take charge of their career and forced clubs to look at their players as assets to be managed as such; allowing them to accumulate value to be disposed when this hits its peak.

It is the Bosman Ruling that helped pave the way for the creation of the current environment where the financially strong are those who hold all the power.  There is still the possibility that a smaller club with a particularly intelligent recruitment policy can manage to achieve success – see Leicester last season – but that possibility is becoming increasingly slimmer.

The reality is that unless all the stars happen to align there is no way for such a club to slowly progress until it is in a position to force its way into a challenging position.

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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.

“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.

“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.

"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.

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.

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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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Best Coaching Links of the Week: Reacting to Mistakes, Importance of Character and More.

Although, from the outside looking in, the Barcelona youth model is an endlessly successful one those closer to the club aren't so sure especially after a recent tactical move.

Guy Branston has been doing his UEFA A coaching badge and shared a video on playing out of the back in a 4-4-2 that he did on his assessment.
We all like mistakes, whether we admit it or not.  The important aspect of when you make a mistake is how you react to it.

Talent gets you noticed, character gets you recruited.

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. - Stephen Hawking

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Best Coaching Links Of The Week: Individual Coaching, Learning from Defeats, Deliberate Practise & more

Coaching is not only about talking to the whole team, it is also about giving pointers to particular individuals.  Apart from being a sensible option - it is better than stopping the whole session to correct one person's mistake - it is also the best way to ensure that people improve.

Defeat might often be bitter to swallow but it is also a great opportunity to learn.

Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea that practise is what makes top athletes what they are and, although the way he described the 10,000 hours of practise as being the key has since been debunked, there is no doubt that deliberate practise is an essential element for those trying to improve. 

Talking of practise, here are five myths about genius.

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Best Coaching Links of the Week: Importance of Change for Coaches, Newcastle's coaching & more

Change is rarely easy.  In fact, change is often hard and creates discomfort.  Yet without change progress is rarely possible and that is something coaches need to be particularly aware of.  In fact some clubs' decline - like that at Liverpool - is down to their inability to accept change.

I love pieces like this one that lift the curtain and allow us a look behind the scenes at a club like Newcastle that has suffered its fair share of humiliations in recent years but which now, with Rafa Benitez, have a coach that matches their fans' ambitions.

There are a lot of problem with the FA and the coaching structures within English football (as the declining standards of national team coach highlights).  Yet praise where praise is due, I really enjoy the coaching articles that they put out.  This one dealing with planning for the complexities of the game is a case in point.

And, to wrap it all up, something about psychology in sport which, rather than focus on the theoretical puts in a significant dose of it in action.

"A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are." Bill Shankly

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Best Coaching Links of the Week: Impact of Changing Managers, Am I Doing It Wrong?, Leadership and More.

Whilst people should always be appreciated when they are alive, one must do plenty right to be remembered as fondly as Keith Blunt was when he passed away.

Many fans - and club owners - seem to believe that a struggling club can be improved by changing managers it seems that, whilst this can result in a slight immediate improvement, it does not necessarily guarantee a solution to the problems.

Most coaches will find themselves in this position at some point or another, wondering whether they are doing it all wrong.  A good thing to ponder. 

A lot is often written about leadership but what do we actually know about it?

“Worrying gets you nowhere. If you turn up worrying about how you're going to perform, you've already lost. Train hard, turn up, run your best and the rest will take care of itself.” - Usain Bolt

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Monday, October 3, 2016

The Importance of Change for Coaches

“I like to dream,” a veteran football administrator told me in one of the first interviews that I did.  “But I know that if I stretch too much I will hurt myself.”  Reverential as I was to wisdom built on years of working in the game, this seemed to me like quite a sensible stance.  Only years later, when I had supplemented it with some experience of my own, did I come to see that the sensible option might also be the one that leads to lethargy and insignificance.

The human brain is built to identify patterns and react to them accordingly.  That is how it was at the beginning of humanity.  Eat a particular fruit and you will survive; ignore the rustling of leaves in the forest and a deadly animal will jump on you.   Those who were better skilled at identifying and following those patterns survived.  They passed their genes on to their children until humanity as a whole was wired to follow those patterns.

Our brain is still essentially the same.  That is why most of us value the familiar and dislike change.  We look for patterns and, when we don’t find them, our brains start to panic because they cannot predict what the outcome will be.  It is why we feel discomfort when we’re faced with change.

The thing is that our brains were shaped in extreme times where not being cautious could result in death (and a painful one).  It still reacts to what isn’t familiar in the same manner.  And whilst, sometimes, the sensible option is the best one there are also circumstances where change is beneficial. 

Football provides plenty of examples of this.  When Liverpool opted to replace Graeme Souness in the early nineties they decided to pick Roy Evans in his place.  Evans was an excellent coach who tried to innovate in his own right – he opted for a formation with three at the back to capitalise on his team’s attacking talent – but his main qualification for getting the job was his history at the club and as a member of the fabled boot room.  If promoting from within had worked in the past why shouldn’t it now?

Yet the face of English football was changing.  Arsene Wenger was bringing with him dietary regimes that were unheard of at other clubs whilst Chelsea were investing their new-found wealth in foreign players.   Liverpool needed to be brave and embrace the change but instead went all conservative.  There are many factors that contributed to the club’s decline and it would be grossly unfair (not to mention hugely incorrect) to pin it all on the appointment of Roy Evans.  But the appointment was emblematic of a mindset that wasn’t ready to deal with change.

This in itself was hardly surprising.   For the previous two decades, Liverpool had been the dominant force of English football so they had more to lose than most.  It is fairly easy to be brave and experiment when there is little at stake but that is often not the case with the successful.  Even if there is an element within those organisations that fully believes in looking at different ideas, it is extremely hard to convince others to get on board.

Liverpool had, essentially, forgotten the lessons from their own history because their longevity was fuelled by change and their ability to pull it off at the right moment.  Big players left and were replaced by others who didn’t have the same characteristics but, in their own way, shaped the team so that it continued to be successful.  

Crucially, Liverpool’s managers were always willing to push along this change.  They didn’t get sentimental with players: when they felt that someone was getting to a stage where he wasn’t good enough, they were quite ruthless in selling them.  However, they always had a plan in place so that when that player left they already had a replacement who pretty much knew what he had to do even if it meant tweaking other areas.  And so change came about without impacting the team.

It was the same with another of English football’s most successful managers.  Sir Alex Ferguson kept on winning partly because he had the vision to foresee changes in the game and prepare for them.  It wasn’t simply tactical brilliance that shaped his success but rather his ability to see the bigger picture, identify what was going to be a problem and then prepare so that his side effectively improved.

Even Barcelona’s modern success is founded on change: when Pep Guardiola took over he faced down the huge risk of moving on some players who had been huge for the club – the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco – because that is how his side could really develop.

What does this all mean for coaches who aren’t at a big Premier League club and are doing this purely for their love of the game?  Essentially that change should be embraced.  Change can be uncomfortable but if you try to put it off then what you’re doing is undermining your capacity for success.  Look out for what might be changing, prepare for it to make the transition as easy as possible and then carry it out.

Some words of caution though: change for change’s sake can be just as bad (to continue on the Liverpool case study: Graeme Souness tried to change too much, too soon) so always be aware of why you’re doing all this.  And be ready to fail.  Not everything will work out smoothly.  But it will be the instances where they do that will define you.