Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Passing and Shooting: The Y-exercise

Whatever passing and shooting exercise you use, for every coach it is important to guide or improve the technical execution. The pass with the inside of the foot, the pass with the outside of the foot and the instep pass are, of course, the most used passing and shooting techniques. There is also the heel pass, but there are not many trainers who will use their training time on that type. Besides that, you can vary the speed of the ball, the direction of the ball and you can also pass the ball through the air. Firstly, we look at the different forms of shooting technique and the most important coaching points within that. After that, we will look at the different types of resistance and condition you can implement in this exercise.

In general you can say that the pass with the inside of the foot is the most common in football. Especially in youth football, because the instep pass is quite difficult at this level. But is it also commonly used at the higher levels, because it is a clean pass and suitable for passing across shorter distances?

So if you and your team choose the short build up from the back, you will have to perfect the inside foot pass. At youth level, you still look at the technical elements, like opening the foot accurately, kicking the ball in the middle, keeping the body bent over the ball and using the arms for balance. Whilst, at the senior level, it is more about the speed and the direction of the ball?
Are those technical or tactical elements? I am inclined to say that they are tactical elements, because of the several tactical elements involved, such as positioning, the pressure from the opponents and the objective of the pass; to play an important role in the correct execution. So you cannot say that every ball must be passed as hard as possible, or that a striker that opens up with a defender in his back, must be reached with a much more sensitive pass. He already moves towards the ball and will therefore prefer a softer pass. Also the defender must than cover bigger distances (to the striker), so the space increases for the striker or other players. So it is more complex than just passing the ball as hard as possible.

The difference within different shooting techniques involves several aspects, namely; which part do I hit the ball, which part of my foot hits the ball and how is the position of the rest of my body, especially my upper body and arms? It is important to note that everybody is different, which means that passing and shooting is also something personal. Because Ronald Koeman has small feet, he can hit the ball beautifully with the instep in the sweetspot of the ball, whereby he places his foot straight against the ball. You can imagine though, that a player with larger feet must slant his foot slightly, because he will otherwise risk shooting into the ground. And we all know how that feels!

You can hit the ball in different places. But in general if you want to keep the ball low, you have to hit it through the centre. If you want to kick the ball through the air, you have to hit the ball slightly below the centre, and if you want to play the ball with effect, you have to hit it slightly on one side. A great example is Roberto Carlos’ free kick, as he kicks the ball with the outside of the
instep and slightly on the side of the ball and consequently was able to surprise many goalkeepers with his infamous swervers.

Besides the different places to hit the ball, you can also use different parts of the foot to kick the ball; inside and outside of the foot, instep, and, of course, the inside instep or the outside instep. All these forms of passing and shooting demand a lot of practice to perfect them. You as a coach must always ask yourself what is important. If you are limited in your training time, you must ask yourself how much time you must spend on training without resistance or conditions, the direction and finishing. The more training time there is available, the more time you have to perfect the passing and shooting technique. These techniques can also be coached by the players in small groups outside the regular training sessions.

An area which is often overlooked is the correct use and posture of the body when passing and shooting. For example, the position of the standing foot is very relevant for a good execution of a pass or a shot, and is different for various techniques. If you want to keep the ball low, the body must be positioned over the ball, and the standing foot must not be too far behind the ball. In general the foot must be positioned at about the same height as the ball and if you want to play the ball through the air, the standing foot should be a bit more behind the ball. This way it is easier to hit the ball a bit lower, which is required to play the ball through the air. If the standing foot is placed too far forward, it is very difficult to gain power and lift, in this case you will hit the ball too soon and will have not reached maximum speed. That is how so many shooting chances (in and around the penalty area) are wasted.

Another important area of attention is the direction of the standing foot. The standing foot should point in the direction you want to pass or kick the ball. At the highest level there are of course players who can camouflage this really well and are able to trick the opponent in this way.
Finally, I emphasize the importance of using the arms for good balance. Just like with walking or running, your arms swing along in the opposite direction, but often you see that with shooting that the arm swing is not totally completed, whereby the player is offbalance. Or you see one arm swinging along in the right direction, but the other in the wrong direction; that will have an effect on the execution of the shot or pass. So passing and shooting requires a lot of technique and it is crucial to pay the necessary attention to perfecting these techniques. When a player trains often, these things will become automatic and you can start to perfect the execution, but bear in mind that the player’s physique plays an important part in this and may not be forgotten.

In passing and shooting exercises, you as a coach can also implement different resistances and conditions, whereby the exercises become more realistic to the game situation.

By including a finish at the end of an exercise (on a goal with a goalkeeper or by dribbling across a line after a 1v1), the technical aspects have more meaning. For the players, it means that the ball must be passed in such a way that your teammate can easily give the next pass, or that receiving the ball is aimed to finish on goal, or to get into the 1v1. You can also make the exercise more demanding by setting a maximum number of touches, as this puts emphasis on their first touch, which has effect on their next touch, and so on. Another important condition is, of course, to play with one or more defenders, which can be done by letting a defender cover the ball line, so the ball speed must be fast, so the defender cannot (so easily) intercept the ball. The player who receives the ball, must adopt a position to receive it, before deciding what to do next; run off the ball, away from the defender.

As mentioned earlier you can also put a defender behind an attacker, so the attacker must become open to receive the ball. The timing of the run off the ball and the ball speed are two important coaching points. If as an attacker you run too soon, there is a big chance that the defender will close in when you receive the ball. If you run too late, a good defender will be able to intercept the pass. These exercises are therefore a great way to train the timing of a run off the ball.

Passing and shooting are also excellent exercises to improve the communication; not verbally, but by looking closely at the pass of your teammate you can influence on the speed of the game play, as a possible advantage.

You could decide to pass directly in some positions, or to touch the ball twice to improve receiving the ball, but it is even more effective if the players have to make that decision for themselves. When the ball is on his way from player A to player B, player C must already decide if player B is able to pass the ball to him(subsequently),or if the player B must control it before passing it to him. Player C must be able to estimate whether the pass is good enough for player B to pass it to him in one touch or not. If you are able to estimate that correctly you will almost always make the right choice when timing your run off the ball.
This is probably the most difficult aspect in football, especially if there are defenders in between who are pressuring the ball. But on the highest level, it is this aspect that decides if a team can easily pass the ball around or not, and that football actually looks very simple. Look at Barcelona or Ajax under Louis van Gaal.

Progressing from easy to difficult
It is not recommended to challenge players as beginners with a lot of resistances and conditions. Like with all techniques this must also be improved step by step, and more and more tactics and technical detail are progressively added. These aspects should also be monitored in matches. Which pass is used most often by the players and what is their shooting strength at any given age? Of course you have to adjust your exercises to that. Where are your players positioned and how do you want your strikers to be reached? However, you must be aware of the fact when you are playing a match there is an opponent, and they are positioned in between your players. The opponent will try to interfere with your play.

There are a lot of passing and shooting exercises to consider, and it could be useful to look at your own style of play to decide what is right for you and your team.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Developing a more refined tactical vision

As a Graduate of Physical Education, Paulo Cesar do Nascimento had dreamed of becoming a professional footballer, but ended up capacitating his passion for the sport in the academic world. His main foci within his academic career linked to the assessment and prescription of physical activity, along with fitness, exercise physiology in both football and Futsal.
“We look for the technically gifted kids of course; combining size, strength and intelligence. Specifically, our focus for the U13’s is on basic concepts, tactical principles of play, fine motor coordination, agility and balance.”
He goes on to add, “we do not want the U15 coach to inherit players with technical skills deficiencies, or for that coach to have to worry about that.”

Integrated fitness
“The Portuguese have a different perspective on team sports compared to Brazilians.
In Portugal, the starting point is always the 11V11, as the universal training methodology. A frequent question about this centres around ‘tactical periodisation,’ as a notion of Professor Victor Frade. In Portugal, this is a very common methodology, which was evidenced by Jose Mourinho, who adapted it with much success. I worked in both football and Futsal in Portugal, and this vision of integrated fitness works well football in Portugal, but in Brazil we still predominantly work on fitness separately. “

Is there a lack of integration at the youth academies in Brazil?
“I believe that the work in Brazilian football is still very fragmented. Many professionals still work this way, more technical, or ‘partial.’ I know some clubs in Brazil, in Curitiba, Parana and Northern Rio Grande do Sul, who think and act systemically and apply their coaching strategies accordingly. Corinthians in Sao Paulo, is an example of this approach. So there is a shift to integrate the work and to combine the ideas, but in the main, progress has been slow. At Avai, I try to work within a methodology, with the application of tactical principles of play which is similar to the Portuguese ideal. In very recent times there has been more research to promote and validate these notions and methodologies (Juan Pablo Greco (Universal Games) and Israel Teoldo), but still there are barriers to be broken. “

Applying tactical concepts to children
“We are currently looking to add an U9’s team to the Avaí academy, but there have been difficulties in attracting players because f a number of social and domestic issues.
At the U11’s, we already work with very basic principles of play. In my approach (with this team) I work in a way to help them understand more about the game itself. Nine and ten year old children have difficulty capturing the depth of tactical concepts. At this developmental age, a child has difficulty grasping abstract things, and their ability to concentrate is still quite limited. So we work on the basic concepts of the game, such as defensive concentration, coverage, etc., by means of activities which are performed in so-called ‘series.’ This allows them to gradually get a broader view of what they are doing.”
“At the U13’s, even though some concepts are still basic, we make them understand the concepts more. It is necessary to develop a more refined tactical vision at this age. It is interesting to begin with instructions on tactical concepts, game concepts, principles of the game, as well as structure of space and communication of their actions on, and off the ball. “

Regional differences in the country
“Since Brazil is a country of continental proportions, we also have the issue of regionalisation.
In the South, they play stronger, ‘harder’ football. In Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, for example, they play with more freedom, marking is not as tight, and the game is more technical and more enjoyable to watch. In São Paulo and Minas Gerais, I have been able to identify a few things through observations; a running game, fast, technical and more organised, and also games with physical consistency. For development, everything that happens in the workplace is seen as a reflection, and then they see the game in accordance with what the local culture provides.”

Can we produce a ‘new Neymar’?
“The identity of Brazilian soccer has been lost in recent years, and it will be difficult to produce another player like Neymar, who has very impressive ball control and an amazing flair with technical and tactical ability.
Here in Florianópolis (where Avai FC is located), the middle and upper class kids play in rented fields and inhabit nice apartments, are different from those who play in the streets and neglected and rough fields.
Whoever comes from an the lower class (as we deem the latter), tends to play with a ball all the time. It is a matter of adapting to the environment and these players are therefore more skilled than the kids who only play an hour a day on synthetic turf (of the middle/upper class). We have also noticed that these players do not play freely, with expression. Talent is something more innate, and cannot be created.”

Benefits of Futsal for soccer
“Playing Futsal helps in the development of agility, speed of thought, information processing, technical ability and tactical intelligence.
At Avai FC, we have many players who have a Futsal background and through participation have developed these skills.
But there is also the other side of Futsal, which hinders the football development. Often, quality players, that have experience of four or five years on the pitch, have difficulty adapting to the aspects of space and time, both technically and tactically. When you have to pace the game and the rhythm for example, a young player will more likely accelerate the transition and this will increase the likelihood of mistakes. Futsal should be seen as enjoyable and an auxiliary to mainstream football development.”

Role of the games to develop team concepts
“You should create a game with certain conditions and rules that force the players to do what you planned. With the U11’s, I still try to make the younger players think about the activity, despite any limitations I may impose. I believe in the small-sided games as it is ideal to create this type of environment, and I would talk to my players about the application of the principles (such as offensive support, defensive cover and delay).
I think for the potential yield to be realised through the activity, the conceptualisation of; ‘how much space and why that space?’ or ‘why that space and how....? These are just a couple of the possible conundrums that could or should be taken into account.”

“The difference between 2-1 and 1-0.....?”

When I ask you; “would you rather have a 2-1 or a 1-0 lead, what would be your answer? With the advantage in your favour it might not seem to matter that much, it is a one goal advantage either way.......but there is a difference!
The difference lies mainly in when the goals are scored or maybe even in what circumstances?
Let us say that Real Madrid and Barcelona are playing a match at Santiago Barnabeu and Cristiano Ronaldo scores in the 12th minute to put Real Madrid in a 1-0 lead. If they keep that lead to half-time, they would go to the dressing-room feeling good. But, if in the 35th minute, Higuain doubles the lead for Real Madrid to lead 2-0, they would feel even happier and quite comfortable. However, let’s say, in the 40th minute Barcelona get a goal back from Messi, and five minutes later the referee blows for half-time. Then it would be the Barcelona team going in the happier, feeling that the momentum is with them and they are only one goal behind, away from home and that they are in the ascendency. Real Madrid will feel disappointed they conceded and are a little vulnerable, letting a clear two goal lead slip, and giving Barcelona a real chance of getting a spoil of the points.
These circumstances will undoubtedly affect the mind-set (psychological state) of the players on both sides entering the dressing-room. Some will feel elated, positive, motivated and encouraged, whilst the others may be disappointed, negative, but possibly motivated in a different way.
These perspectives will also be present as the teams return to the pitch for the second half.
A strange and interesting phenomenon, and it is totally understandable that coaches’ feelings and perspectives will parallel those of the players. Yet as a coach it is important to make sure the players are not negative or disappointed when they leave the dressing-room for the second half. In the given example, it is important to ensure that the players of Real Madrid see it as a (positive) 2-1 lead, but to deal with the effects of conceding a goal to reduce the lead in the correct way, possibly to seek to extend or reinstate the two goal advantage as a positive strategy. Dealing with situations like this is one of the great things about the football coaching profession, and possibly one that can easily be over-looked.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


“Visão 611: talent development”
In June of this year (2011) we will finish the FC Porto Academy project that we started four years ago. In that time we have created a vision to further the developmental potential of talented young players within the Academy setting. In previous years, I have tried to implement my coaching ideas and notions to development potential talent, as well as embed this as a philosophy into the culture of the football club. This has required flexibility and adaptability to accommodate creativity and application of all coaching aspects. I have experienced much of this aspect during my time with FC Porto, which is a club of strong character, with a depth of culture; typical south European in nature. I strongly believe that the individual should serve the team, and the team should serve the individual. The reciprocal objective is to banish insularity and individuality, to empower and promote the team and to create cohesion and togetherness; a true culture of sharing. This is also the objective of the department for which I am responsible, namely; the development of individual abilities.

As a trainer/coach you can be responsible for the future of sixteen to twenty two individual talents, as the team or squad within an academy of one hundred or sometimes even two hundred potential talents. This is a demanding responsibility that should not be underestimated. Our influence, and therefore responsibility as an academy to accommodate and realise the potential is enormous. It demands total commitment to the vision, encompassing the planning, preparation and delivery in training, which should not be interfered upon by the outside world, but prevail as the exclusive opportunity of your own talents. Continuous observation and reflecting upon every aspect and detail within the academy, day in and out, will help ensure that the objective goals remain in focus and achieved.

Success within your academy is ultimately determined on the field, this is where you as the coach really inspire your potential talents as players. As much as possible, players should encounter real game situations that pose challenges as possibly unpredictable scenarios, which they have to problem-solve. This should happen both as a collective (team) and also individually (player/s). Players and the team should be able to encounter this aspect without fear of getting it wrong and to accommodate and anticipate the progression of the task and develop its permeable solutions. For this I use the following rule: The team training session (cooperation) helps the individual to develop and the individual training session helps to develop the collective.


Every player, as an individual will have their own way of fulfilling their potential development; to become a more complete player. Very often good players can only play on one or two positions, whilst the player who is more adaptable to different positions can sometimes be the ideal substitute, as an auxiliary player. Specific football applications like mobility, stability, strength, explosiveness, coordination and technique, may never be exclusively classed as objectives, but they are aspects of talent development as they vary from player to player. It is important to remember that every player is different, and therefore the conditions applied in coaching should reflect that fact.

In my opinion you should position players within the team formation as a permanent position. This will accommodate the opportunity of the players to develop their own style, thus optimizing their play within that position. This happens far too little, and that is the reason why there is a lack of positional specialists. It may appear a very logical method with that which occurs within many academies; trying to make all players complete and competent in the same way. Being decisive as a coach, you can give the responsibility and the opportunity to the talent, and most of the time more potential talent is realised. Developing could be understood in this context as; accommodating the opportunity through the responsible actions of the young player under the decisive input of the coach. Or to put it another way; it is about allowing the player to develop. An analogy of this could be; when as a child in the playground you would play a pick-up game, you would have a good idea which player was really good, and what you had to do against them to gain the advantage. Ask a player who's the best and why? Ask a player if that trial player on trial might be a good addition to your team? They will know and will also be able to substantiate their answers. Giving them this responsibility can only be done if they are accommodated and coached within an environment that permits this type of opportunity.

When you coach in large areas and with (possibly abnormally) large numbers of players, efficiency does not give a valid indicator about the players’ potential. Also, it certainly says nothing when trying to train players through the developmental ages, where very often two teams become one, as we, as coaches are deciding on the potential direction and future of these players. It does not surprise me that more players who are born between January and June remain in development programs, than those who are born between July and December. For me, potential talent can only be identified if you work with all your players in their potency of development, but remembering that some may have different strengths and potential. I am sure there is more talent out there than is readily identified; it just knowing how to spot it and how to accommodate maximising this potential.

Talent yields itself in many different ways and is a direct result of developmental opportunities. In the past there was an excellent ‘street academy’ on every corner of the street where young people were free to play and develop; they were not judged by their birth month. The opportunity to playing freely, every day, for three to four hours, fashioning your own game area with your own rules and conditions decided democratically amongst friends, of varying ages and indeterminate numbers – odd and even. Younger players or siblings having to play against bigger boys or those not at the same level of physical maturation, develops a player to play smart and be physically strong on the ball. There is evidence to show that a number of top players have developed through these circumstances, but also where they regularly mixed age-groups, played against siblings or more physically matured, in the garden, in the street or in the local park, developing in the ‘street academy.’ That confirms that talent must be permitted to develop as well as being coached specifically, and maybe as a coach this is something that should be conducted more consciously than subconsciously.

“How do you create situations that bring youth players as close as possible to street academy again?”
A number of activities that we organise regularly (daily or weekly) to give the players street instinct:
- 2V2 foot volley and playing small sided games in the dressing room (winner stays on)
- 2-2 extra 5V5 fields with “boarding” where the players can play before, during or after the training session
- 3 hours of 6-a-side indoor competition on a Sunday
- Challenge Thursday tournament with hierarchy list
- Mutual Matches (U14’s V U15’sagainst for example, because we have Casa Dragão, where 40 players across the ages from U14’s to U19’s live, these are events that they talk about all week).

To achieve these goals, we must establish more academies to accommodate these players and create the opportunities to identify the talents and potential, so they can be nurtured in the appropriate way. As well as providing for those players who are born in the last six months of the year, it could be inclusive to all birth months, and even across the years. This environment requires lots of inspiration on a daily basis, positive feedback to aid self-esteem and confidence in the players. Planning and preparation are imperative, with accommodating delivery, observing and evaluating performance. Give players the freedom of expression with positive modeling as core values that are very important, but whatever you do never inhibit the potential talent. By limiting and inhibiting players in academies you can stem the development of potential talent, and this sets a negative example of how “not” to educate players. I think that every practice you deliver as a coach should permit; freedom of expression, anticipation, cooperation and improvisation. The inclusion of anticipation and improvisation incorporates decisionmaking, and for optimal development these aspects must have a high frequency. This also means freedom of expression and the development of the complete individual process in every exercise: observing, positioning and (technical) movement. Every part of the training session has 6 phases (in each subsequent phase there is more cooperation and more pressure). I endeavour to use new exercises every day and also adjusting the old accordingly to accommodate the following:
- Difficult situations
- Direction of the goal
- Relation to team principles and team organization.
- Cooperation
- Freedom of expression
- Maximum repetitions (Periodisation)

Making difficult situations easier
For this season I am working specifically with all age groups, twice a week with 40-50 minutes (average) sessions. Every age group has a first, second, and some even a third team. For the first 2 weeks we concentrate on a wide variety of aspects.
- Session 1 focuses on inspiring, learning and creating routines.
- Session 2, most of the time the day after, focuses on performance: implementing and connecting the learned accents.

On the first day, I often stop the game to give further instructions, and on Day 2, we continue with repetitions of tasks from Day 1. These aspects are covered further by our coaches and expanded upon or progressed where appropriate, and through repetition; experience and success are important motivators for the players.

Session tasks become easier day by day, as players get the chance to consciously repeat and perfect the acquired skills. There are four different parts in my training session, with each part consisting of 6 phases. The exercises constantly change because of development and inspiration. The first three parts eventually blend together in later phases:
- Connecting play (turning away, combining, quick give and go's, turning through and trapping)
- Individual creativity (surviving in difficult situations and penetration)
- Scoring capacity (crossing combined with feeling for the net)
- Conditions (technical coordination/ mobility)

For 16 weeks I concentrate on each aspect for two weeks, all in combination with conditioning. The next six weeks we differentiate with midfielders, strikers and defenders in terms of emphasis and the aspects of the skill, technique and gameplay, and also their individual development within these areas. We combine these training sessions with the individual goalkeeping training from Wil Coort, and also before each session we do extra coaching on a specific theme. During one recent month, we coached to improve heading techniques for 15 minutes each time.

Connecting play, turning away and trapping
Learning to connect play by positioning (and conditioning) players by facilitating the ideal positional play, or to play the ball to an area where the opposing team has fewer or fewest players (creating an outnumbering situation). This can exploit and/or create space for yourself and your team mates; creating an advantage with as few as possible touches; first touch or with a direct pass through anticipation and vision can immediately give you more options. This is an action where the player is required to act or react, anticipate and improvise with vision and good decision-making. I always train ‘turning away’ and taking the ball forward,’ under pressurised conditions, this way the player must be developing ‘turning away’ in different situations.

Then, progress by adding a team mate, so now you must not only create space for yourself, but also for their other players. Therefore, not only does the player need to anticipate the opponent, but also the position and play of your teammate/s. Player will need to develop an understanding of what happens under pressure, but also how that affects those scenarios, your team mates and that phase of play. Timing of actions is crucial to what happens, and to what situation the player/s might find them in. Maybe you could ask yourself why Xavi does not tend to find himself in many pressure situations as 2V1 or 3V1, but instead he has free space or possibly a 1V1? Why does he seem to exhibit so much anticipation and control during phases of play? The answer is a combination of conscious selection of position, vision and technical application. This incorporates anticipation and decision-making, for clever positional play, good vision and applying the football skill also. This is all coached through practice repetitions, conditioning, timing, amount of space and increases of pressure.

When we are working specifically with defenders in the warm-up that means we are working on passing with power through the lines in combination offensively. We try to let our defenders play with the thought that; if the opponent is not well organised and zones. If they are well organised, we then have to play through or round other zones, or find space in other areas. With one through pass, you can beat 4, 5 or even 6 opponents, effectively taking them out of the game, or that phase of play at least. The central defenders become more important in offense, creating opportunities through open play, learning how to adjust and improvise play to implement these aspects, even if opponents are well organised. Success rates for defenders attempting to play ‘offensive through passes,’ may bring a focus for coaching. Principally, within our team, principally defenders are classed as supporting then we can penetrate through the lines players, with the midfielders as the playmakers, this way we always have support from the back. We analyse our defenders’ ability of; interceptions, anticipation, being smarter and being fast. During the summer we bought Otamendi, a central defender, and he has proved that quality as a defender is not just about height.

Creating individually
Creating individually contains two different situations; maintaining possession in a difficult situation and penetrating offensively (possibly from supportive positions). In combination with becoming open to receiving the ball and having the vision to use it, it must be noted that if you do not have players who can take on the opposition as 1V1, 1V2 or other combinations, following the initial pass if a difficult situation arises then team play through that phase may not be fully efficient. For example, Arjen Robben’s technical skills that include ‘taking and
receiving, and dribbling’ are exceptional, but I try to make our players aware how Robben creates space for himself, whereby he consciously positions himself, creating space to receive the ball and what he does with it, and how this effects team mates during that phase of play. That comprises a player like Robben, dropping out at just the right moment, thus optimizing your skills within that game situation. So, whether it is holding, moving, dropping, accelerating etc. it is all about timing,

Scoring capacity (crossing combined with feeling for the net)
When we are perfecting that feeling for goal, it is about being able to find the goal in any unpredictable situations, and without losing sight for the strikers (and their movements) as other opportunities or how they affect play. The aim for the supporting player is to provide the telling pass, ideally as an assist, to penetrate with that pass as much as possible and taking thus taking opponent player/s out of that phase of play. If that is not possible, the player may need the ability to take players on, or open-out, take a touch to create space and ultimately have a shot themselves. Again, within these combinations of the unpredictable game situations; practice, repetition, and allowing for freedom of expression with real game-like pressures will optimise individual creativity.

Following on from this, the next step is to be able to score or to give an assist from the side zones, possibly as; get to the byline, move in front of your opponent, to open-up without the ball, heading, shooting or volleying. Of course the strikers focus more upon this than the defenders.

Conditions (technical coordination/mobility)
Training the ‘Conditions of technical coordination and mobility’ is an ideal ingredient for the warm-up, as it is suitable for implementing mobility work comprising coordination. It is an ideal preparation for individual creative aspects that may include connective play or maximizing capacity to score, as well as being apt for team or individual recovery training sessions. Your muscles must recover in as many ways as possible, which is only possible in football related situations.
Practices and/or warm-ups could be designed to revise crossing, volleying, turning and accelerating, or conditioning phases such as scoring with a cross 60 times in 15 minutes, which is perfect for a rapid technical reactions.

With training these conditions you can think of:
- In Series; accelerating on the ball
- Combinations of movements and simulations
- Quickly changing direction
- Keeping the ball short, quickly turn and simulating
- Tricks to get open-up/create the space; without the ball and counter movements
- Cutting and turning, holding back, simulating and accelerating
- Beating your opponent and dribbling
- Technical coordination exercises and ball control
- Heading, crossing, volleying and shooting with 8 flat goals and 4 normal goals.

Besides team training sessions the head coaches and I, also coach the notably talented players from the U14’s and U17’s. We call these talents Potential Jogadores Elite (Potential Elite Players or PJE). These training sessions are an ideal way to coach the key aspects of talent development to a higher level. Our best young talents get the chance to learn to play together as a unit or team, and also widen the experiential scope with the opportunity of playing with and also against older players. For example, we work with the strikers of the U15’s against the defenders of the U16’s and the goalkeepers of the U17’s. In other combinations we pit two dribblers and the central midfielder of the U14’s against four defenders from the U16’s.

If you ask anybody who is the best player at Barcelona, Arsenal, Ajax or Bayern Munich, many will answer with the name of one of the shorter players. It is also worth remembering the legs of Cruijff or Van Basten, exhibiting pure technique and strength. Within my practice sessions, I try as often as possible to involve older players to create more role models on the field with very positive effects. For example, one U15 player, that works with five U11 players, but sometimes also an U14 player gives examples to the U17’s. In my opinion quality is not about age. Within every top team there are (older) role models, who are often influential and positive upon young talent. Think about Scholes, Giggs and Van der Sar at Manchester United, Xavi, Puyol and Iniesta at Barça, or even Rijkaard and Blind a few years ago at Ajax.

Overall, in all the training sessions within my section it comes down to this to simplifying difficult situations. In other words, make difficult situations look easy by developing total control over random combinations or situations. Every player is different, so every situation is different. Because situations constantly change the imperative for the quality to improvise is of great important. Of course the application of improvisation must be constructive to the situation and the process of development. Knowing and understanding the role of anticipation and improvisation is fundamental to cater for the unpredictability of open play, through all zones and positions.

Having technical control in every situation can makes a player more independent from the coach. For me it is about the comprehensive process of development for individuals, and to be able to realize the next two objectives:
- Maintaining possession and being able to (individually) ‘create’ more individually, develop own individual style and optimizing that positional play with consistency at a higher level; transferring this to match situations.
This always depends on the playing style and the cooperative rapport between players, but in my opinion; every exercise within the planning must be based on developing this individual process (in relation to the time, the team principles and team capacities). This allows players to problem-solve difficult situations both independently and collectively.
- Above all, it is about ‘total control’ in nearly every situation. Total control in the positioning and through anticipation, where the application of the technique is more important than power. In training and to a certain extent in matches, if a player has a go and it does not quite work, then praise is still given, and to coach that point later. Whatever happens, for the individual or the team; it is imperative to create confidence, increase confidence and maintain confidence.

It is important for players to develop effectively, to play clever; to make any game situations easier with a complete level of efficiency. Then as a team you are looking for a cooperative and collaborative ethos. This is a function that needs individual technical ability and technical plus tactical interaction collectively. This reflects actions such as; passing at the right moment, playing out of pressure, creating space by choosing position at the right moment, support behind the ball, etc. This inclusion of cooperation becomes a more central tenet in every part of training sessions, as it is the key to technical and tactical interaction of the team. The difficulty of ‘one touch’ or ‘turning away forward’ is not in technical acting, it lies within the combination of choosing position and watching in advance under pressure. This needs to be practiced competitively, with real resistances and pressures to make it realistic; with the anticipation and improvisation being developed. Without the real pressures, it does not recreate what happens in the game, this is also the case with overloading conditions and non-directional
practices. We must develop players individually within the team ideas in all relevant contexts, so they can realise playing opportunities at the highest level.
We lay claim that our players should know what happens in front of them, behind them and all around them. The best developed and technically adept players are constantly open, move into space, they know what is going to happen around them. They see everything and are technically capable of performing their role with consistency within the team principles and its organisation.

When you are constantly able to ‘open-up’ for a pass and able to ‘drag your direct opponent’ with you, then ‘shaking them off,’ you will ‘create more space’ between you and your direct opponent. More space means more time and less opportunity for your opponent to intercept the ball, leaving your opponents chasing you and the ball. This is a visible aspect of practice and the game, giving the individual/s and the team more control.

Coach development
As a coach, you are as good as the leadership, resources, materials and the structure around you. This is the path to developing better, stronger and more cooperative players. It is reported that companies can gain 30% to 40% more efficiency by effective leadership. Efficiency is a direct result, and in short; a better result depends on better leadership.

At the highest level it is imperative that players cooperate, and at an academy this could mean 20 players or more! So cooperation is the objective, and from cooperation is born a level of efficiency which represents the ‘attempts and successes’ ratio. If these developments can result in 30% to 40% more efficiency that would equate to a notable and profitable return on the basis of a 10 year academy plan. So understanding the balance of winning and development within the academy structure will surely be a good investment, creating; models, successes and other ‘somewhat’ profitable returns, and will do no harm to the structure of your academy.
By giving ownership to the player of their learning and development and making the
objectives clear after being negotiated and agreed, a level of cooperation is instilled and provides a concrete basis for conveying the technical and tactical cooperation on the field. When the objectives are clear for the players, they will be more critical. Transference to the game will provide feedback to you the coach and also to the players, and from this you can decide your action points and future strategy, planning and preparation as aims and objectives. All this reflects players’ ability to be independent and creative to the situation, both as problemsolving and technically.

The development and role of the coach is equally important. Coaches at academies are probably working on a 2 to 3 year plan to get the maximum out of a team, but inspirational and successful coaches will positively influence many players. It is also a progressive for coaches working through the youth system to possibly be aiming for senior squad positions. The development of coaches within the academy is fundamental in the development of players; by inspiring six coaches you may possibly indirectly inspire ninety potential talents.

For me, technique is about actually performing what is in your head and having the ability to think ahead. It should be emphasized that training on ‘technique’ is something totally different than training ‘on-the-ball’ control, but still a lot of ‘technique’ coaches only coach ‘on-the-ball’ control, which is more of a conditioning practice. Technique in play (and practice) will depend upon the other players’ aptitudes and abilities and situations will vary greatly, with a level of
unpredictability. It will be about the creating opportunities in the context of, ‘what, when, where and how’ as a team and individually. Improvising, anticipating and thinking ahead have become more important than ever, and for developing these aspects the academy is crucial, where players experience daily immersion of all these elements.

Creating an accommodating culture and a comfortable climate are key aspects to fulfilling the vision and mission of the coach, academy and the club, leading to greater faith and belief which can only be positive. I think that FC Porto prove that when you look at the amount of prizes they have won in the past ten years and how much money they have made with the sales of their developed players, this equates to 20 top prizes in the last 10 years and a total transfers of more than 300,000,000 Euros in the last 6 years.

Whether a player is suitable to progress to the higher ranks, is dependent upon the players around them, and also the experienced opinion of the coach. I do not believe in bad players, and for me every player can handle a certain standard in which they can be a valuable addition any team, and also an asset. Many would say that in the most difficult moments during a match, you must be able to rely on your technique and intelligence when it comes to positioning and anticipating play. But how many players get the chance to consciously work with this every day?

Our sessions demand total focus of our players (focus for me means: knowing what you are doing and just as importantly why), but without diminishing the opportunity of creativeness and pleasure. I demand from every player ambition and effort to invest in their development and playing. So in every training session we coach different aspects just above our players' level; in combination with explanation, giving examples, models and demonstrating but always providing a challenge. What became clear to me is that you as a coach must not expect players to improve, if they are not given the challenge to achieve and progress.
Players of level 8 must train at level 8 and be challenged with guidance to achieve level 9. In my opinion you can obtain the focus in two ways; by playing to win, or by empowering players to become stronger. In addition to this, I always make players fully aware of their development.

Ultimately, as it is what all players pursue, ‘I train to win.’ The objectives of technical application and tactical deliverance (positioning), maintaining possession individually and as a team, to be creative on a progressively higher level. We accommodate every player to have the opportunity to be creative, individual, cooperative and progress to their potential.

Every day, I work to prepare players for the day they get the opportunity to impress the first team staff. Every season the scouting system delivers four to six top purchases, which means that a player must be quite exceptional to join as a potential talent. Sergio was just 17 years old when he made his first team debut during last season making him the youngest player of all time. Another example is Kadu (goalkeeper), he was 15 when he first trained with us. Players often have so much more potential talent than is initially apparent, and personality with an
understanding nature are as important in their professional progression as that lends itself to good relationships with those around them. Love football and maintain the will to succeed, a player should understand that others are also playing with him, but more importantly that he also plays with others.

The project covered herein is to be concluded this year, so it is important that the vision and mission are followed in the future. This vision and mission are also written in the plan I made for the academy department. It eventually became five DVDs that contain my vision and mission of the use of small-sided games, with all content performed by the players. This must be the guide to follow for all the coaches for the coming seasons. It has always been my aim to leave a permanent legacy of my coaching, as well as a record of inspiring talent on a daily basis.

Friday, April 22, 2011


"Play the ball with a message"
Frank de Boer began his playing career as a left back at Ajax before switching to centre back, a position he made his own for many years in the national team. He won both the UEFA Cup and Champions League while at Ajax. In 1998 both Frank and his twin brother Ronald, joined FC Barcelona for 22 million pounds. However, they were unable to repeat their earlier triumphs. Frank briefly moved to Galatasaray in the summer of 2003 before joining the Rangers in January 2004. He left Rangers in 2004 after Euro 2004 to play the rest of his football career in Qatar with Al-Rayyan. Furthermore, he represented his national team 112 times, making him the most capped player in the history of the Netherlands national team, until Edwin van der Sar surpassed him. De Boer made his debut for the Netherlands in September 1990 against Italy and announced his retirement from football in April 2006.

In 2007 de Boer took up a coaching role at his former club Ajax where he was in charge of the club's youth academy. During the 2010 World Cup, he was the assistant of the Netherlands national football team, with fellow retired player Phillip Cocu. On 6 December 2010, after the resignation of Martin Jol, de Boer was suddenly appointed head coach of Ajax. His first game in charge was a UEFA Champions League match against AC Milan. There he was on the edge of his seat in the dug-out of the immense San Siro stadium. He eagerly directed his team and was continuously making forward movements with his hand, the attacking play worked and de Boer and his team managed to beat AC Milan in their own home.

His debut was in one word overwhelming. In front of the cameras, but most of all on the field. The poor, partially uninspired AC Milan were at times even outplayed on their home soil. The final score was 'only' 0-2, but De Boer and co left behind a great impression on that eighth of December! With Christian Eriksen as a guide on the field and de Boer on the sidelines Ajax entertained football fans around the world with a classic showcase of Ajax football.

De Boer smiles when he is confronted with that evening. Modest as always he reacts: “Yes, it was a beautiful evening, though we're far from not there yet. As a head coach you're mostly looking to the future. It's not just a matter of thinking lets continue with this group. You're already thinking about transfers. Players that want to leave or players that get an offer. So you always need a contingency plan. Another thing that's new for me are all the meetings and consultations; with the medical staff and the general director. With the U19s this was only twice a week. I haven't really talked to the board of directors yet, they showed their support for me when I was first assigned, but they already know me. I have been here for four and a half years.”

After two years with the U13s and two and a half years with the U19s he suddenly became the head coach just before the Champions League match against the Italians. Martin Jol resigned a couple of days before. ”It's not ideal of course”, De Boer admits. ”But on the other hand, there are always different phases. One moment you think you can do it - lets go for it, the next you know it's not all that easy. I might still make mistakes, but I'm in such an important position for a reason. I think I control enough aspects of this job to coach at this level. But I still need to gain a lot of experience. That's logical. And my tasks have changed. I'm not training in the academy anymore, now I must just perform. With the U19s you are stimulated when you are told to hand over your best player to the first or second team. That is the most important thing for that player. Now I'm working with the end product, that's something else.”

Youth coach
At the youth he began with a clean slate. He did everything on feeling. His ideas and exercises came from his years as a top player and as a apprentice under various coaches. For a brief period of time, only a month, he gained some experience as a head coach in Qatar, when the former head coach of Al-Shamal was sacked. “That was nice, yes. I just did the types of training sessions that I believed to be good for the group. Look, if you're 25 or 26 years old, you live more conscious as a football players. You think about your body, you look at the training session, etcetera. Than you save a lot of things on your 'hard disk'. But when I went to Galatasaray in Turkey, I thought; like this anyone can become a coach. I learned nothing from the head coach, Fakim Terim. Except that he came to the training every day in different clothes. Every day, for a half year! Unbelievable.”


van Gaal
Louis van Gaal was his big example. Ajax won the club world cup in the nineties with Louis van Gaal at the helm. “Wherever he stood, you would noticed that that group was training sharper than the other group. He demanded a lot from the players. I do that too. But that's just in me. I have always,every training, done my absolute best. If you had to sprint till the cone, I sprinted until the cone and didn't slow down five meters in front. Louis is also like that. And besides that you tell the boys that, although they have a professional contract, they aren't there yet. You can always improve.”

De Boer also learned from other trainers. You pick up on details. “Hiddink for example could create a certain atmosphere, whereby everything in the team would fall into place. I read in an interview once with Björn van der Doelen that he, in his time at PSV, always had the feeling he was very important. But he never played. And nevertheless he always had the feeling that he was part of the team. Admirable. That is something intangible in the sub consciousness. Hiddink is a real 'people manager'. From Dutch national team coach Bert van Marwijk, with whom he worked closely the last two years as an assistant, De Boer learned other things. “Van Marwijk is clear and really likes respect. He likes a good preparation, which you must do together. Involving the staff and really thinking about what you're doing.”

Under Van Gaal De Boer did a lot of small sided games like five or six versus three. Something you will see back in the matches, when you repeat it endlessly in training sessions. “We would practice it a thousand times”, laughs De Boer. “It had to become automatic.” De Boer is the same way. With this you get even more efficiency out of passingshooting exercises. Where Martin Jol, his predecessor, saw this as a nice warmingup exercise, with De Boer this is top priority. “First of all I want a rolling ball. Because when the ball is rolling your teammate will start to react. The man off the ball decides. The ball is never dead. At most with a free kick. My strongest point was that I could think three steps ahead as a player. But Van Gaal told me that not everybody was able to do that and that I had to take that into account. That is what I do now.”

Sugar cubes
A number of sugar cubes are positioned on the table by Frank de Boer, he wants to explain why he trains so much on being open to receive the ball between the lines. You do not want to receive the ball between your opponents, but you also do not want to sprint forward to be open to receive the ball. A few steps back and you lose your opponent. If you receive the ball in that position (in between the lines), you simply turn around and you're gone. Jari Litmanen in his Ajax-time was a beautiful example. Although De Boer says that it wasn't practiced in much detail under Van Gaal.

Everything with a ball. Of course the preparation of a season looks a bit different and than he listens to his conditional trainers. But, de Boer believes sprinting eight times forty meters is more effective with a ball. Than it becomes fun. Remarkably enough De Boer wasn't directly informed of the vision at the academy when he started four years ago. De Boer: ''Look, I of course know the training philosophy at Ajax. Summarized: very demanding, without losing your creativity. A lot of position play with passing- shooting and individual actions. We're very critical on how you play the ball. You must play the ball with a message. At the Dutch national team I can easily see who comes from the Ajax school. Those players pass the ball much harder. Apparently we focus much more on that than at Arsenal, PSV or another club. Further we play in a 4-3-3 system, that's clear. But we can, if needed, also play 3-4-4 or 4-3-3 with the point forward or backward. The Ajax youth doesn't adjust to the opponent, but we do watch where we can get an advantage. We always pressure forward. If you can get a player free by playing with the point backwards, you must do that. Trainers here, at De Toekomst (which means 'the future' and is the name of the Ajax youth academy - ed.), surely don't all have the same exercises, but they do all have the same intention, the same message. You must pass the ball to the correct foot and with the right speed. The right speed doesn't always mean very hard, it can also be a sensitive through pass. That is what they demand from every trainer here.”
De Boer calls the youth academy of Ajax mentally heavy. In the morning players leave their mothers home at seven and they get back in the evening at eight or nine. After school there is a training, the lunch, homework, a training and than homework again. Compare that to the players in the first team, who in principal only train in the morning at ten thirty till eleven thirty. After the lunch they can go home again. During a week when they play on Sunday-Wednesday- Sunday, they train even less. De Boer: “Don't forget: rest is also training. And everywhere, in Scotland, Turkey, Qatar or Spain they do the same. Short, intensive training with full concentration. At Barcelona too. Only we at Ajax always try to get better by the training. That's the difference. Look, you have more training hours than match hours. So take advantage of that. I saw my U19s really make steps forward by training a lot. That's how the automatisms we're trained. Than you can sit more relaxed in the dugout during a match and that is what you want to achieve as a trainer.”

De Boer got became calmer over time. Where he in his first period sometimes thought that go could yell his U13s to the Champions League final, he with time learned to take a step back. On the other hand, during a training where a hundred balls are passed, he sees it as the ultimate goal to pass them all correctly. If someone isn't concentrated, he has a problem with De Boer. The hardest part for de Boer when training the U13s was knowing what to expect from 13 year olds. De Boer had never received child development training during his education as a coach. De Boer actually believed his education was too short. But on the other hand he adapted quickly. He worked a lot with Jan Old Riekerink, the head of the youth academy at Ajax. They worked on De Boers weaker aspects: being alert and the communication to the group. “If I burned a player down, I didn't tell that to the leader first. Little, but very important things. Besides that I talked a lot in the I form. I should have said 'we'. Or Bob and I. Little things like that, but very important.”

Another important aspect is trust. In his Barcelona time De Boer claimed that eigthy percent of a sport performance is based on trust. During his time at Camp Nou he had a three week period in which he played very poor, which all started after the Catalan press blamed him for everything bad that happened at Barça. As an example De Boer points from his chair to the office door, 3 meters away from us. “If that door was wide open back than, I wouldn't have been able to shoot the ball through it. I was the 'son' of Louis van Gaal and became the scapegoat. If Puyol lost a heading duel and I was positioned on the other side of the field, I would still be blamed for it. That was a really bad period for me and it all had to do with trust. You don't just forget how to play football all of a sudden, it’s a mental issue.”

Christian Eriksen
De Boer will never admit it, Eriksen is De Boers favorite, his pupil. You notice that in everything. Eriksen was good against AC Milan and even better in the match after that against Vitesse. Under Jol the Danish talent had a place on the bench, or at times as a left midfielder. With De Boer Eriksen can count on a starting spot, as a central midfielder. “He's always moving, always turns to the right side. He has what Sneijder or Kaká also have. You just have to give your trust to those players.” After a final explanation about covering through and the importance of video analysis, the sugar cubes are placed back into the box. De Boer has to leave. He is the busy head coach of Ajax now...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


“In football there is no reason to be immobile”
Chile impressed in group H of the World Cup last summer with their offensive playing style against Spain, Switzerland and Honduras. The Argentine coach of Chile, Marcelo Bielsa, is very keen on entertaining the fans. From his players he demands good conditioning, motivation and responsibility. The similarities with Louis van Gaal are apparent.

In Augustus of 2009 the Chilean team travelled to Denmark for a friendly match against Morten Olsen's national squad. Denmark was flabbergasted; the two Chilean wingbacks dominated the flanks, their two wingers were positioned much wider than the Danish squad was used to, Chile had a constantly open number 10 and when in possession Bielsa's squad were always changing positions and had great movement off the ball.
On top of their great possession play the Chileans executed direct pressure on the Danes when they were in possession. The Danish squad had great difficulties with the visiting Chileans and lost 1-2, which could have easily been higher if it wasn't for the abundance of missed chances by Chile. Bielsa's reaction after the match was very van Gaal like: "I just saw a great match from my team. We played our own game, without any consideration for the opponent."

Marcela Bielsa coached the Argentinean national team from 1998 to 2004, which players like Gabriel Batistuta and Juan Sebastian Veron mark as the period in which Argentina played their best football.

“I am a big fan of the football Ajax played under Louis van Gaal,” saysBielsa. “When executed properly, it is winning football and great for the fans, which is what we should all aspire to accomplish." An Argentine who gives a non-Argentinean example of great football is very rare in the proud South American country. As a coach in Argentina you should be a fan of Carlos Bilardo, World Champion with Argentina and countless clubs, not a Dutchman like Louis van Gaal.
Due to his admiration for van Gaal, Bielsa was given the nickname El Loco (the crazy) in his home country.

Argentina often played, much like Ajax in 1995, beautiful swinging football under Bielsa. Unfortunately they failed to dominate when it mattered most, like during the Copa America in 1999 and 2004 and the 2002 World Cup. This was largely attributed to injuries, but regardless of the reasons, Bielsa was asked to leave. He ended his reign of the Argentinean squad with a gold medal during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Bielsa stopped working as a coach.
Fortunately for the game of football the offensive minded coach returned to professional football in 2007, where he took over as Chilean national team coach. The Chilean football federation convinced Bielsa to return to football and he easily guided Chile to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Messi's Argentina was even more prospect less than the Danish.

Bielsa proved that this football can still be played. "Ajax always played very flexible in opponent possession. The lines adapted to the opponent's playing style, but in possession the team plays its own game. Without consideration for the opponent and of course very offensive. We are trying to do the same.”

The coach continues: “The aspect of Ajax's playing style under van Gaal I enjoyed most was probably the fact that the team played the ball back about 37 times per match. This may not seem attractive and fans generally dislike this, but it means nothing less than creating a new attempt at a great attack.” Chile played the same way up to the World Cup, always with 3 defenders and a real number ten.

The coach copied the Ajax-system, both in possession and opponent possession. Bielsa, however, does not want to refer to it as mechanizing his team. “The player, like any person who deals with great pressure, has what I call a ´temor éscenico´, a fear of failure. And how can you neutralize that? By mechanizing. By letting the player do something he is used to doing, something he practiced repeatedly, allowing for a very slim margin of error.”

“The responsibility for the execution of something like this is for the coach. If the coach asks the players to do something, something they have been training on, but they are not yet able to execute it probably, then the changes of it going wrong in a match are present. A coach can only demand from a player to do something he is capable of doing.”

“This doesn't mean that if something is executed correctly during training that it is guaranteed to go well during matches. But who's fault is it then? No one really, sometimes things just go wrong. This is why I hate mechanization of a team, because it decreases the level of player responsibility. So I want a well organized team, but not a mechanized team. I want a team where certain positions are respected and communication is a norm.”

Bielsa demands order in his team, which means he wants players to take their responsibility. A big responsibility he demanded from the Chilean team was their conditioning. The average Chilean player is not known for enjoying runs. Bielsa was able to turn that around in his squad.
“I always tell my guys that our playing style is about movement. A player should always be moving. You can come up with a reasons for every player in every position and every circumstance, why he should be moving. In football there is no reason to be immobile.”

“I am a physical education teacher. I used to be a frustrated and average player. After a couple of matches at the Argentine premier league for Newell´s Old Boys I realized I would never be a top player. That is why I want to be a top coach. In order to accomplish this I decided I needed to specialize in physiology, which is the specialized area when it comes to movement.”

“This is where the secret of football sits. I never aspired to become a teacher, I just majored in this area to learn about movement and guiding players. I graduated after a five year study and left knowing everything I needed to know about training the human body, even medically.”

“I will never allow a player not to go for something. Players should fight for every ball during a match. De-organization or something going wrong during a match, those are acceptable mistakes, things like that just happen. But giving up or not fighting for a ball, that is unacceptable. Players who always fight for the team objective, deserve a spot in the squad.”

His education makes him even more like van Gaal, but the similarity is also very apparent when you watch him work during a training session. He passionately pays attention to every single details within the order of his team. Players who do not pay attention will not go unpunished. Arturo Vidal knows all about this. When the left wingback executed a weird move during a training session, Bielsa immediately stopped the sessions and told Vidal off: “You sir, play at Bayer Leverkusen and you believe you are something else, don't you!? But all you do is create chaos! If you wish to play for me, you will have to execute the basic tasks I demand from you. Not the tasks that you believe are necessary. We have enough so called heroes in football!" Vidal stood still for a few minutes, flabbergasted by what he was just told and was demoted to a spot on the bench for a while.

The boss
Bielsa on this incident: "Communication is the most important factor for me. I need to be able to trust my players on their word. Communication is also closely linked to hierarchy. I believe a coach should have a unique aspect: he must be able to make his players feel they are not equal to him. The coach is the boss.”

“What is a boss, or a leader? Someone who when he enters the dressing room the murmur turns to a pause of silence. When he speaks everyone else is quite and maybe most importantly someone who when he tells a joke everyone laughs, while nobody would laugh at the same joke if someone else told it.”

“Leadership is most visible when you lose, a good leader is able to deal with the stress that comes with a loss. The best time to observe this is during stressful situations. Whether I am a leader? When I am asked to speak at a guest lecture the title of my presentation is usually: leadership, norms and values.”

Bielsa was able to renew Chile with his approach. Like van Gaal he has the courage to select young talents. And with result! Never before were Chilean players sold to European top clubs for great amounts, as during the Bielsa era.

Bielsa doesn't like comparisons, but I have 1 more for you: his relationship with the media. It is laborious to say the least, although his good results have made Bielsa very popular in Chile. “A journalist's weapon is the written word. My weapon is the spoken word. When I use fifty sentences to explain an idea and the journalist only uses ten, I get frustrated. Although this may also have to do with the fact that I am a poor writer.”

“What I really hate is when journalists twist my words. I would rather not be known at all, then being known for the wrong me, because I am not represented or quoted correctly. This may be odd for a coach, but I care about what people think of me.”

“This is why coaching is very difficult for me; it is a difficult occupation. As a coach you are a public figure and I am constantly in the picture. I don't like it when people hate me or don't understand me, because I am not being portrait correctly. That is why I always hope that whatever is published in an interview is also what I actually said. I don't mind it if people attack me on what I think. But I don't like it when people attack me on something I don't think or believe at all." In order to make it easier on himself Bielsa rarely agrees to an interview.

World Cup
Prior to the World Cup Simon Kuper predicted that Chile would not do very well during the tournament. The author of famous football analytical books (such as Soccernomics) stated: “Bielsa plays the same way van Gaal played in 1995, with three defenders. In South America this may work, but European football has evolved.
Bielsa's football is too predictable for a World Cup. Van Gaal opted for a different style and has played 4:4:2 for quite some time now. Switzerland with Hitzfeld will be able to easily prepare for their match against Chile and I think they will win.”

Contrary to Kupers expectations Bielsa opted for a different system of play against European opponents. Chile played a 1-4-2-3-1.
(Chile is vulnerable against an opponent who plays 1:4:4:2 with deep wingers and deep wingbacks or against a 1:4:2:3:1 with deep wingers and wingback. Bielsa was also very aware of this and changed his system of play for the World Cup to a system with a four players defensive line. If Bielsa would play with his system against a 1:4:2:3:1(and deep wingers) he would be faced with a 1v1 on every field position. The risk to pressure would then be too high, as it would allow for lots of space on his defensive end. In the South American qualification Chile's opponents would rarely play with deep wingers, but European coaches do).

Bielsa's new playing style during the World Cup was very similar to Bayern München. The main difference was the fact that Bielsa opted for a right-footed right winger, Alexis Sanchez, and a left-footed left winger, Mark Gonzalez or Jean Beausejour.
Because of this there was a much lesser threat to come inside then the threat of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry on respectively Bayern's right and left wing. Bielsa's wingbacks also played a lot deeper than Bayern's. Another notable aspect of Chile's playing style was the fact that they continuously changed their system.


Sunday, January 30, 2011


"Facilitate the transformation of information into a training reality"

Santos FC finished in first place after the first half of 2010 Brazilian competition. This success can be attributed to the individual talent of some of their young stars and the self-sufficiency of their coach, Dorival Júnior. Santos played a very offensive game, scoring 100 goals in this first half of the season and managed to win the São Paulo State Tournament 'Campeonato Paulista'. In addition to the magic brought by Robinho, Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, the technical department was also strengthened by performance analyst Denis Iwamura’s two years ago. The former university and amateur athlete came over from Coritiba FC, where he was in charge of performance analysis for the youth teams as well as the first team. Denis assisted the conditioning and technical coaches with statistic match and training analyses.

At Santos FC Denis now assists the technical department and is specialized in sports technology mechanisms. He sizes up the technical and tactical variables and passes them on to the coach. Denis' main objective is to facilitate the transformation of information into a training reality and is doing so with good results.

"I was an amateur and university athlete. I started my physical education degree in 1998 and my former coach was working as a conditioning trainer at the Coritiba FC youth academy. He invited me to join the department as a trainee. I started as a nonremunerated trainee working with the U15s. In the 2000 I became a physical trainer to the U11s and U13s. A year later I was working as the primary conditioning coach for the U15s and another year later I was asked to move up to the first team, at that time coached by Róbson Gomes. I became part in the technical staff for the first team at Coritiba FC working as the conditioning trainer's assistant. Due to this previous experience with performance analysis in youth teams, I also got to assist the performance analysis department at the club. In 2006 and 2007 I became responsible for the department and continued to work as a conditioning trainer's assistant. In 2008, I switched to focus solely on performance analysis, an occupation I currently carry out at Santos FC."

"The scouting department at Coritiba started as a pilot project. We worked, me and Érielton Pacheco (Pachequinho), in a two-person team at that time. We were trying to standardize observation and catalog the competitions and players of the various divisions in professional Brazilian football (and its youth teams), generating a database of players including a complete map of their performance throughout their careers. This data served as the basis for the Board of Directors and technical department to assess players they were looking to recruit. Parallel to this work, we also helped out the technical department with the observation and analysis of the opponents the club would face in various competitions throughout the year."

"A performance analyst is a technical assistant that can also work directly in the field. I am specialized in sports technology mechanisms and use the technical and tactical variables to inform the coach about players and opponents. Denis' main objective is to facilitate the transformation of information into a training reality. My specific function is to translate the technical and tactical performance data, both individual and collective, of our team, throughout the season."

"We use several tools, including 'FootStats' (statistical mapping of the movements of each and every player in a game), video analysis, longitudinal follow-up of competitions and some indicators we established internally to evaluate the performance of our players. Also I am responsible, along with other technical assistants, to analyze the performance, both technically and tactically, of Santos FC's opponents. We have a team working on the observation of live games, an editing room where all games are recorded and, subsequently, we review all material that we collected."

Link between theory and practice
"The most important step is how we present the information to the coach and our players. We translate information to facilitate their understanding, giving priority to the quality of the information, and not the quantity. This information is then used by the coach, his assistants, the conditioning trainers, physiologists, directors and the press office. All of them seeking to achieve, as much as possible, a better integration between their areas, each respecting their own procedures and contributing to the development of the overall team performance."

Difficulty of implementation in Brazil
"Sports technology is still a bit frowned upon by Brazilian clubs. This is due to two main factors. First, the lack of willingness in Brazilian football culture to utilize these tools, which are very commonly used in the United States and Europe. Like in basketball, volleyball, and football. In Brazil, its applicability and results are often questioned, because of the high financial investment demanded in some cases. It is a cultural barrier that is slowly changing over the years. The second restricting factor is the lack of trained professionals who can work with these tools. We still do not have adequate courses for performance analysis. What we have are highly qualified professionals in technical and tactical areas and on the other hand qualified professionals in technology, but bridging these professions is required to take steps in training performance analysis professionals."

Coritiba FC, a school
"Coritiba FC was my 'University' of performance analysis. It was the place that gave me the opportunity to work and 'test' the various analytical tools and prove their effectiveness in the everyday life of a professional team. The club opened the door to the area of performance analysis and we were able to grow together over these years. In 2009, we had an editing room, trainees to collect data from scouts, various specialized trainers and our own scouting department."

Support found at Santos FC
"Santos FC is a club with a great working structure, and I was hired to organize their performance analysis department. The main difference with Coritiba is that at Santos we have a team of analysts working solely on opponent analysis. This promotes an exchange of information, which is an asset to the growth of the technical department. We are also including technological resources in our day-to-day work to ensure the exchange of quality information to our coach."

Amisco System: is it possible in Brazil?
Rafael Benítez works with the Amisco system, would a tool like this also be applicable for use in Brazil? "I know this tool. It is very efficient for performance analysis. In the way it is performed in Europe, I believe it is still financially unfeasible for the Brazilian clubs. At the time I was working at Coritiba FC, we contacted some companies about this system, but found that it is still to big of an investment for the Brazilian market. We are currently evaluating the opportunities for a system like this at Santos FC. We are looking for support from a company who is willing to invest in the technical materials needed to implement a system such as Amisco."

Staff cooperation
"At Santos FC we have a great integration and cooperation between the technical department and all other departments at the club. I need to give credit to the abilities of Dorival Júnior, Celso de Rezende and Ivan Izzo, who are all working together and making it possible for all staff members to perform their duties to the best of their ability. Celso is head of the physical department and he has worked closely together with Dorival for many years to come to a great cooperation between the physical and technical department. They know each other very well and have a great working relationship. The physical department also works closely together with the medical and the physiology departments. The medical department provides clinical assessment and recovery of all players. They are continuously at the disposal of the technical department during training and games. The physiology departments acts as a 'compass', always seeking to assess the real situation of the players in relation to the strain the endure during the season. The physiology staff members receives this information and, together with the coach, adjust volumes and intensities of each player's training program during the duration of the season."