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Inside Barca’s Talent Factory
Interviewee: Marti Perarnau [Barcelona Based Author]
A lot has been written about Barcelona’s La Masia but few people are as knowledgeable about what happens there as Spanish journalist Marti Perarnau who has written books about this subject as well as about his close friend Pep Guardiola. Here he answers questions about the birth of La Masia’s philosophy, how players are chosen and how they manage to keep the talent flowing
Memorable Quote: “Is physical strength and height given much importance? None.”
Bursting the Specialisation Myth
Interviewee: Dr. Martin Toms [Senior Lecturer at University of Birmingham]
The idea that the 10,000 hour practise rule is, at best, an indicator rather than a rule that guarantees expertise is now quite accepted but at the time of this interview with the University of Birmingham Senior Lecturer Dr Martin Toms his arguments flew in the face of the pop-psychology beliefs set about by Malcolm Gladwell’s books. A wide ranging interview that delves into the damage that early specialisation does to players and how it would be best to let children try out a number of sports.
Memorable Quote: “Grass roots clubs should all act as they would a surrogate family”
Hamilton Aiming To Be The Best
Interviewee: Frankie McAvoy [Youth Academy Director at Hamilton Academical]
Although Scottish football has, to put it mildly, not been enjoying the best of times there are still a lot of people within the Scottish game who are top class coaches with ideas for youth development that are quite inspired. Frankie McAvoy is one such person. At the time of this interview he was the Youth Academy Director at Hamilton Academical who had produced players like James McCarthy and James MacArthur. McAvoy has since followed Alex Neil to Norwich but Hamilton still field teams made up largely of home grown players, a sure indicator that they still abide by the same ideology for the development of talent.
Memorable Quote: “Our philosophy is very simple: in every sport the goal is to be the best that you can possibly be. That is what we try to teach our kids here.”
In Search of Game Intelligence
Interviewee: Horst Wein
Although he is not a familiar name among many football fans, Horst Wein has to rank among the best coaches to ever think about the game. His attitude to letting young players learn by playing the game is visionary and in this interview he spoke among others of that belief and how best to achieve it.
Memorable Quote: “The strongest, fastest player without game intelligence will waste most of his potential, but the smallest intelligent player can overcome any opponent.”
Helping the Brain to Win Games
Interviewee: Dan Abrahams [Sports Psychologist and Book Author]
The history of the game of football is littered with players who had the talent but not the mental capacity to succeed. It is a shameful waste considering how much resources there are out there for them to help themselves. As for coaches, they too have to have a good handle of the basics of sports psychology and Dan Abrahams delivered a primer on that in this interview.
Memorable Quote: “Too many coaches say that they have players that have lots of physical talent but 'he doesn't want it' and there's nothing that can be done. That is rubbish. Of course something can be done.”
Perception is in the Eye of the Beholder
Interviewee: Geir Jordet
Can you teach a player how to be more aware of what is happening around him? Can you determine how aware a player is of what is happening around him by watching him play? The answer to both questions is yes and Geir Jordet, who has studied in depth the idea of perception provided a breakdown on how this is possible. For coaches looking for some different ideas to investigate, this has to be on their read list.
Memorable Quote: “Xavi is a good example. He doesn't just look, he is one of the most active players out there; he doesn't automatically know what is around him, is constantly searching, constantly looking.”
The Secrets of the Talent Spotters
Interviewee: Michael Calvin [Author of The Nowhere Men]
When he wrote The Nowhere Men, Michael Calvin brought to focus a role that is often mythicized without ever really being understood, that of scouting players. He did this by spending time with a number of scouts and learning from them along the way. Some of that knowledge was passed on in this interview.
Memorable Quote: “In any other business, when you've made that massive investment you would have psycho-metric testing but in football you can't do that because the person you want to test is the property of another club.”
Futsal Provides The Technicians That Football Needs
Interviewee: Michael Sorato [Futsal World Cup Winning Coach]
As the games increasingly appreciates technical players, youth football coaches are being faced with a challenge brought about by the decline of street football where most of those players used to learn those skills. Futsal is a valid replacement and perhaps the way forward.
Memorable Quote: “[Futsal teaches] quick thinking, fast decision making, a higher demand of technique to solve problems in small spaces. It helps the player to think about the game and to learn how to defend and attack. The player needs to be complete.”
The Man Who Made Barca
Interviewee: Laureano Ruiz [Former Head of Barcelona’s Academy]
Although Johann Cruyff is widely credited as kicking off the revolution in thinking at Barcelona, the process had actually started under Laureano Ruiz who took over the club’s youth system before Cruyff arrived at the club. One of his first acts was to abolish the policy where only players of a certain height were considered.
Memorable Quote: “When I refer to my system of play, I stress: order, inspiration and fantasy.”
The Future of Football Lies in Universality
Interviewee: Matt Whitehouse [Author of Coaching Books]
Universality is a concept where players interchange between positions, where they are not fixed to any role and instead simply rotate with each other in games. It is along the same thinking as total football, the only difference, and perhaps the key aspect for the future game, is that the team is made up of universal players, all with the skills and attributes required to play in any position. In this interview Whitehouse spoke in detail about that concept, why he thinks that football will evolve in that manner and why every football coach should be paying attention to it.
Memorable Quote: “What coaches need to think is not in terms of position based skills but of what a footballer requires.”
What Goes Into Developing a Coaching Philosophy
Interviewee: Tim Lees, Ex-Liverpool FC Academy Coach]
In recent years, philosophy has become something of a buzzword within football yet the real meaning of philosophy within the game was somewhat lost. Lees explained it in detail looking also at his own route to developing a philosophy.
Memorable Quote: “Whenever you ask a top manager privately ‘what’s your philosophy?’ his response will often be ‘one that wins’.”
Working on Aberdeen's Future
Interviewee: Gavin Levey [Aberdeen FC Academy]
Aberdeen have a tradition for bringing through young players and that looks like continuing given the club’s current policy of focusing primarily on bringing through players to their first team, something which they have done successfully. Gavin Levey is the man charged with their younger age groups and he explains how they do it.
Memorable Quote: “It is vital that as coaches we help develop a winning mentality with individuals from an early age and this comes from the training ground and preparing sessions which are competitive.”
Inside An Academy: Bristol Rovers
Interviewee: Jonathan Henderson [Bristol Rovers’ Academy Head of Coaching and Academy Manager]
Although most of the attention is focused on what happens at the highest level, there is a lot of excellent work going on in lower levels. Bristol Rovers are a prime example and in Jonathan Henderson they have a head of coaching who is determined to push them forward.
Memorable Quote: “We want a learning environment; a growth mindset. That extends to the staff as well as the players.”
“Being A Goalkeeper Is The Greatest Thing In The World” + What a Goalkeeper Needs
Interviewee: Ruud Hesp [Ex-Barcelona goalkeeper & current PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper coach]
Goalkeepers, it is often said, are different. You have to be when in a game where the ultimate aim is to put the ball between the goalposts you dedicate yourself to stop it from doing so. Ruud Hesp was one such individual but he sees it differently as for him there is no better role than being a goalkeeper. In these two interviews he speaks about his career, the lessons that he learned and what it takes to be a top goalkeeper.
Memorable Quote: “You can have good players but if the goalkeeper isn’t good enough then you have a problem. A house is built on a good foundation. It is the same with goalkeepers.”
"I Never Look For Players Who Take Advantage Of Their Physical Power At Young Ages"
Interviewee: Albert Capellas [Ex-youth coordinator at Barcelona, current-assistant coach at Maccabi Tel Aviv]
Any coach who has the good fortune of working with Barcelona is bound to have an excellent insight into the game. Albert Capellas has gone further than that, expanding his horizons by working in a number of countries like Holland, Denmark and, now, Israel. This has been an educational experience and he shares some of what he has learned in this interview.
Memorable Quote: “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.”
Getting Players To Think
Interviewee: Todd Beane [Founder of TOVO Academy]
A lot of coaches have mentors who guide their formation and towards whom they look as they develop their ideas. Few however can match American Todd Beane who found his tutor in his father-in-law, the legendary player, manager and football visionary Johann Cruyff. He began working with Cruyff in the foundation of the Cruyff Institute – an educational institution aimed at educating athletes, sport and business professionals in the field of sport management - in 2002 and continued his work there until Johan’s passing last year.
Memorable Quote: "Intelligence is the foundation of all excellence - within and beyond the pitch. It is more than important; it is imperative."
"The coach is the most disposable element in a football team"
Interviewee: Ismael Díaz Galán [widely traveled Spanish coach of clubs like Malaga, Granada and Real Oviedo]
Having delivered tiki-taka and a generation of players that dominated world football for almost a decade through a system based almost exclusively on ability, Spain is rightly seen as the home of technical football. Fueling this culture are coaches who bring the ideology to life. Ismael Díaz Galán is typical of this class. His experiences might have been limited largely outside the Primera Liga but he is a deep thinker about the game and a keen educator who is eager to share the vision that lights up Spanish football.
Memorable Quote: "I do not hope for a win, I aggressively try to make it happen by keeping hold of the ball more than not; creating a collective intelligence that makes us stronger as a group without diminishing individual creativity."
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