“The secrets of the academy”Luis Martins began at Sporting Lisbon at the age of 8 years old as a player, but he was unable to make it to the top. After graduating in sports, he began his coaching career with the U16’s at Odivelas FC, a modest team from the Lisbon area where he played until the age of 18. Not surprisingly, he went to Belenenses, a team from the Portuguese 1ª Liga, where he coached all youth ages. After some adventures with senior teams in the 3rd division, he was invited to join Sporting Lisbon were he has now been for 6 years, coaching the youth teams. He was also José Peseiro’s assistant coach for the senior team, during the season when they ended up as runners- up in the UEFA Cup final.
The demands of a top club
At Sporting Lisbon, the youth are always very important, and they continue to have a big role in the club‘s future. Without the winning at all cost philosophy, Sporting Lisbon assures that all kids have other priorities that go hand in hand with soccer. Besides the high demands of playing at a top club, with all the inherent expectations, they also have to achieve good results at school, and good social behavior is not required it is demanded.
Currently there are 47 kids from six youth teams and different age groups living at the “Academia” full time. They have the facilities to house more kids, but they prefer to keep the players in their natural environment with their families in order to lessen the impact that playing at a top club can have on a child’s life. They prefer to keep the number of full-time players restricted to some special situations, also in order to avoid conflicts that can happen more easily when living together with other kids.
With excellent conditions and facilities the new Sporting “Academia” is the most successful in creating top soccer players for the Portuguese professional scene and obviously for their A team, their main goal. Another season has passed, and Sporting achieved the champion’s title in all youth categories, which gives you an insight into the quality of their work throughout the club.
The role of the coach
The coach has an important role in this project, but he is conditioned in some areas. An internal program guides the coach through the formation process that has to be followed. Luis Martins considers this a great tool in his coaching work; because it ensures that each age has the required complexity in their work according to his capabilities. With this program, Sporting Lisbon can guarantee that the development of the player does not depend solely on the quality of the coach and his ideas, but on the program followed by the coach, which can provide a constant evolution in the formation of the player, adding more contents and complexity in a progressive and pedagogic way in the process of teaching the game. That is why many players who reach Sporting Lisbon’s A team or transfer to other 1ª Liga teams, are always able to answer to the demands of professional soccer.
The systems and style of play
In Sporting Lisbon, all youth teams play in a 4-3-3 formation and when they reach the U17 they also start to practice in a 4- 4-2 formation. More important then the system of play used, is the capacity of the players to play according to the game principles; exploring, creating and filling up spaces that are important in the attacking process and in the defensive process. An attacking mentality is always present at all ages and because almost all their opponents, even at lower ages, play very defensively, this gives them the initiative in the game. With many players behind the line of the ball, they usually play an organized attack, with lots of passing and moving, and with the accent on exploring the sidelines, usually the only place available to find spaces to attack against a massed defense.
The practice sessions
From their first day at the club all individual data on each player is registered, both inside and outside of the club (international call for practices and games) in order to follow the development of the player closely with constant evaluation according to the expectations of that player. At Sporting Lisbon, pleasure in playing the game is the key to learn soccer, so all exercises try to have a good balance between the contents of the game principles and the fun of practicing them. The complexity and demands of the exercises increase as the age and experience of the players increase. Like this, every coach at Sporting Lisbon can be more then sure, that when a player is promoted for example from U14 to U16, he already has a good knowledge of the game, and the exercises that he will face are a constant and logical evolution of what he did before, only in a much more challenging way! At Sporting Lisbon, huge importance is given to the way a player and the team, manage the ball in possession, so they work a lot on tactical circulations, focusing on the movements of support to the player with the ball, usually with constant changes from side to side, exploring the sidelines, trying to create spaces on the opponent defensive system.
The defensive process
At Sporting Lisbon, all teams have an offensive attitude but it is very important to have a solid defense as well. For example, the U19 team defends with zonal pressure; in a high or low block depending on how the team is organized at the moment they lose possession and start to defend. That is why it is important to create intelligent players that can read and understand the game, so they can communicate and organize themselves and start their aggressive pressure in the field, with a high, middle or lower block, according to their actual organization.
The U19 team
With the elimination of Sporting Lisbon’s “B” team, the U19s are now seen as the reserve squad of the “A” team, so there is a huge demand on the players, but, like the coach Luis Martins says, we cannot and will not forget that despite all the demands and expectations, this is still a stage in their development process as players. At Sporting Clube de Portugal, there is also a big concern in making the players see that they are part of a team, of a big club, and they are only as good as the team. The group is above everything, and players have to think as a team and add quality and something more to the squad.After reaching the championship title this year, the team will now see some of their players promoted to the professional team of Sporting Lisbon with high expectations on them, and they will have to answer to the demands of a club that competes to win competitions, in their country, and outdoors! And this is the goal of the Sporting Lisbon “academia”, to create top players for their professional team. And if we look at the names they have already “produced”, we definitely think they are heading in the right direction!