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The European Approach

I really enjoyed writing this for The Soccer Store.  If you require any soccer equipment make sure you visit their website!

Why do our European neighbours seem to produce more technical gifted players that seem to play with so much flair & creativity compared to our home grown talent?  Over the years I have visited Holland, Spain & Portugal to see how they develop their players from grassroots through to pro clubs.  What is the relationship like with players, parents & the link from Pro Club to Boys’ Club.  You will be surprised with some of my findings…

The UK

I have been fortunate enough & made to feel very welcome with a number of top pro clubs in England.  The facilities are second to none but one problem I noticed straight away is the location.  Many of the training centres are in the middle of nowhere so unless you drive you can’t get there.  Talented children from low income families may struggle to get to the venues.  This was commented by a club official when I visited Derby County.  When we arrived at the training complex I commented on how nice the first team players’ cars were…he laughed & informed me they were the parents cars!

Coaches should always look to learn & evolve

Coaches should always look to learn & evolve

The other factor is the schedule.  Children are in school all day & then when they get home they are trying to do homework before Dad leaves work to get them to training on time…many occasions families struggling to eat dinner together.  So location & schedules are a problem but as we look closer at how a child starts playing football & progresses what is the typical learning experience?

Although the FA are improving education & development for clubs it will take time to filter down to grassroots.  For too long children start playing for their local club run by volunteers who aren’t qualified.  This is not a dig at those people who give up their free time to cater for young people but the FA, the professional clubs within the area & those members in the club should do more to improve a child’s first experience.

For too long training for children in the U.K. involves a number of laps around the pitch before coming back in for long winded conversations with the coach before doing long boring line drills.  Too much emphasis is on fitness & the adult game rather than a child centered approach.

Then when it comes to the game children as young as 9 are playing on a full size adult pitch with full size goals.  The ‘coaches’ scream instructions to the kids.  When they aren’t doing it the parents join in.  The shouts of ‘pass it’ & ‘get rid of it!’ put pressure on the child.  If a child tries something different like taking on an opponent with a bit of skill that doesn’t come off they get shouted at for losing the ball.  This is a culture that is teaching children to play in their comfort zone & not take risks.  As coaches are telling a child how to play the game, what to do in training all it is doing is creating robots that can’t think for themselves.  How can we create exciting players that play with flair, creativity & imagination?  We have done it in the past.  As a young child I remember the magnificent squad England had under Sir Bobby Robson that went to Italia ’90.  They got to the semi finals only to be beat on penalties by the Germans.

Let’s think about that for a minute.  In that squad we had exciting flair players of Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes & the entrance of a young Paul Gascoigne.  These were players that could change games.  Add in the grit & determination of Terry Butcher, Stuart Pearce, Bryan Robson with the goalscorers of Gary Lineker & David Platt coming from midfield.  For too long the nation stood still & we never evolved.  In every walk of life you need to keep moving forward & looking to develop, to evolve, to create.

Spain

I suppose the Spanish are one of the best nations to look at first having won the last 3 major tournaments.  I spent a week in Barcelona viewing their famous youth set up.

While a host of other top European Clubs spend millions on players hoping to buy success Barca continue to develop their own home-grown players.  Messi, Iniesta & Xavi all came through the Barca Academy & cost nothing.  Barcelona’s youth Academy, which in Spanish goes by the name of ‘La Cantera’, meaning the quarry.

Start of a youth team session at Barca

Start of a youth team session at Barca

Other players to come through the Academy include Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal took away at the age of 16 (has since returned),  Mikel Arteta from Everton (now Arsenal) & Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Ex Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, also came through the Academy.  In his first season as manager he helped Barcelona win every competition they competed in, 6 in all, including the Spanish League title, World Club Cup & the Champions League against Manchester United.

Against United in the Champions League final, 7 of Barca’s starting line up were all produced from the Academy.  Goalkeeper Valdes, defenders Puyol & Pique, midfielders Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta & forward Messi.

When I visited Barcelona I loved the fact that the training complex was beside the Camp Nou.  The club has a boarding house that accommodates the older boys from the Academy.  Boys from the age of 13 or 14 that live outside the city are housed here so they don’t have to worry about travelling to and from training.  Typically they will train for 6-8 hours per week along with playing a game.  The club insures they also develop their lifestyle & attitudes along with their football education, preaching the importance of healthy eating & early nights.

The boys live, sleep & eat together.  Each morning they are bussed to the best local schools.  Barcelona stresses the importance of finishing their education to the boys.  They return at 2pm for lunch & siesta, with training early evening.  They do their homework in a library with access to private tutors & have a games room with table football, pool & PlayStations.

The boys have 3 objectives when playing matches.  First, they must be the more sporting team, committing fewer fouls & being less aggressive.  Then they must try to win by playing very well, more creatively than the opposition, with attacking football.  Finally they need to win on the scoreboard.

Reina and Arteta were great friends at the Academy.  Although Arteta suffered from homesickness & cried himself to sleep many times.  Iniesta also had problems with homesickness after moving from central Spain to Barcelona at the age of 12.   Saying goodbye to his parents at the end of each weekend would become a mini-drama.  Although Iniesta only had to look out & see the Camp Nou to remind himself of his goal to play there.

Messi arrived at Barcelona from Argentina with his family at the age of 12.  He had a growth deformity and no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs he needed to treat it.  It is no surprise that Barcelona took on Messi unlike in England, where size, strength & the ability to throw your weight around is highly prized.

The model of Barcelona is that 50% of their team should be from the Academy, 35% should be the best players from Spain or Europe & then 15% from the top ten players in the world.  Although the Barcelona Academy is so successful it is also producing players who are among the top ten in the world.  This season their starting XI has included a team made up of academy graduates!

The Academy has 12 boys’ teams.  In the Academy each squad has 2 coaches & there are 23 or 24 players in each group.  At least half of the coaches have a UEFA Pro licence.  The club provides the budget, around 6 million Euros per year, & is fully responsible for the academy facilities & training programme.

The qualities that Barcelona look for in a young player is pace, technique and someone who looks like a player.  The speed of decision-making, the way he approaches the game, the vision to pick off a long pass – in other words, the mental qualities to go with the technical ability.  The emphasis is on speed.  When this speed is combined with top-quality technique, then they believe they have the ingredients.

From the age of 7 to 15 everything is about working with the football at the Barcelona Academy.  With the very small boys, the most important thing is to control the ball very well, to have the ability to run with the ball & to think very quickly & execute their passes very well.  They use the same playing system as the first team, so all the youth teams play 4-3-3 formation.  The development teams have to play attacking, attractive football.  Barcelona believe if they do everything well, the winning comes as a consequence.

Every team I witnessed dressed exactly the same as the first team, right down to the youngest age group.  All sessions focused on ball work.  A high percentage of the time at the start of the sessions was given to the children to play with the ball.

Sessions also featured plenty of 1 v 1 duels.  Again, the kids were given a lot of freedom.  No lines, no cones or coaching area.  The concept was simple.  Half the group started on the throw in line with a ball.  They were partnered up & had a duel with their team mate to get to the other side using turns & tricks.  A slight competitive edge was introduced with scoring being kept between the boys.  The boys were given the freedom to dribble from one side to the other going forward, back, left or right.  It was realistic & fun as everyone was involved.

Sessions developed to passing & possession games.  Plenty of shooting drills were evident throughout all age groups.  All sessions finished with small sided games.

The older sections became more tactical but was set in a relaxed pace but roles were given to each individual.  Although lost in translation , coaches talked to their players in a calm voice.  All the players from the youngest group up applied themselves & were all comfortable on the ball.

They also like to keep an open mind & expose players to different playing roles as part of their education.  They work intensely on the individual skill, but also on group play, including each line of the team.  They train the Barca way which involves fast movement of the ball, player mobility, use of width, & a lot of fast, effective finishing.  They watch the passing movements of the first team as they provide the role model of the youth teams.

Another factor which helps continue the development of young players is that Barcelona have a ‘B’ team.  They play in the lower Spanish League. This helps the club continue to develop young players between the ages of 18 & 21 in a controlled environment.  In England the FA prevent Premier League clubs from having feeder teams in other domestic leagues.

The Barcelona model is based on a number of people providing specialist skills & all working in the same direction, with the same objective: to prepare players for the first team.

Other European Nations

One thing that struck me when visiting the European clubs was their openness & welcome they offered.  Especially in Holland, a nation with ‘no secrets’ that wanted to work with all coaches.  The relationship from professional clubs to grassroots clubs seemed so much closer.  Yet listening to the pro coaches the concept was simple & refreshing.  At PSV Eindhoven they informed us that they had links with a number of grassroots clubs, as does all Dutch Pro clubs.  They regularly visit the clubs & offer coach education & session plans.  This helps the grassroot coaches deliver better sessions & in turn help develop better players.  The junior clubs know exactly the level of player that the senior clubs require as they visit the academy on a regular basis.  So when they feel they have a talent they contact the club to come & watch them.

At PSV Eindhoven the Academy Director gave us a presentation on the blue print to their academy!  On another visit the first team manager talked to us for 30 minutes.  Players posed for photos, signed autographs.  In fact at the PSV training complex they are happy for coaches & fans to visit.  On my last visit I sat drinking a coffee while watching the first team train only yards away!

The academy players are transported from their homes to the training complex & school.  This offers opportunity for them to train twice a day without missing out on their education.  I watched the pre development squad train.  It happened to be their last session of the season.  After the session they were all given a signed poster from the first team & a letter from the club.  My Dutch friend translated the letter.  It was coming direct from PSV Eindhoven thanking them (the player) & the parent for their commitment & hard work.  I found this so refreshing, a top European club thanking the child & the parent!

Portugal

Although it is common for these pro clubs in Europe to be so respectful toward the player & parent.  My good friend, Hugo Vicente (ex Benfica & now assistant academy director of SC Braga), explained that without the parent they don’t have the child so the respect is there.  Although I often remember some of the great stories his Benfica Academy Director got up to.

In a staff training meeting he brought one of the staff up to the front & slapped him on the face.  The dazed coach looked at him as he said, ‘you weren’t expecting that’!  As he went to slap his face again the coach was ready for him so this time he kicked him!  The member of staff received a slap on the face then a kick to the leg!  Why?  This was his way of asking his coaches to preach to their players that he wanted them to play with creativity, to improvise, to play with surprise!  Simply put if a player always attempts the same skill there is no element of surprise for the opposition & they can prepare to expect it.  But the coach who was hit on the face was expecting the same thing again as the hand moved toward him then in a split second he got kicked!  Expect the unexpected!?

The same Academy Director had a novel way of dealing with parents shouting from the touch line telling their kids what to do.  In England the parents are told to stand behind a piece of rope normally 50 yards away from the pitch.  In Portugal it is different.  If a parent shouts or tries to coach their son they simply sub their child!  This way the club don’t need to speak to the parent the kid does it for them as they don’t want to be replaced.  Although on one occasion they had a repeat ‘offender’.  The Benfica AD went up to the father before kick off & passed him a Playstation remote control.  The puzzled parent looked at him & was told, ‘If you want your kid to shoot press the ‘X’ button, hit ‘O’ for pass & the ‘triangle’ for tackle…now shut up’!  Brilliant!

Juggling education & training can be a challenge

Juggling education & training can be a challenge

It isn’t always perfect in Europe.  One problem they have in Portugal is the balance of school work to training.  School times vary in Portugal.  Some mornings start anytime from 9am to 11am & lessons can go through to 5pm, although they have a longer lunch break.  When I met with a young player called Pedro from the U13′s it was nice to speak about his schedule & experience.

A typical day for Pedro starts at 7.30am.  Wake up call, shower & breakfast.  The club will then send a car or club bus to take Pedro to school at 8am.  Lessons will start at 8.30am & continue through to lunch at 12pm.  Pedro will then head to a restaurant before returning to school at 1.30pm.

In Portugal they have extended lunches but school can finish later.  On this particular day lessons didn’t finish to 6.30pm.  He then travelled back for an evening training session with Braga U13′s at 7.45pm.  The session was shorter on the night we were there, it lasted one hour.  Pedro then showered, changed & head for a meal at 9pm.  Club officials would insure the young players are accompanied to restaurants.

Pedro arrived home to start homework at 10pm before bed time at 11pm.

I must stress that this schedule is variable.  Some day’s school finishes at 4pm & home work can be completed then.  On other days lessons will start later so Pedro can have a longer rest.

Personally I was surprised at the long days.  Pedro admitted on this particular day he was feeling tired but I was impressed at the same time how the club monitor their young players.

Schedule

The club will always arrange transport for players that are away from home.  This includes too & from school, training & meals.  At meals they will always insure, especially the younger players that they eat with a club official or the U19′s.

Although Pedro lives away from his family & misses them he simply told us he adapts.  He lives in an apartment owned by the club with 3 other boys & looked after by a ‘Nanny’.  The adult will look after the boys.  Generally the boys will partner up & share a room each.  He will see his family generally every weekend.  If he has a game on the Saturday his father will come along to watch the game.  After the match Pedro will travel home with his father & return on Monday morning.

The club try to send all the children to the same school so they can adapt a schedule to suit their training sessions.  They eat together so that the club can control what they eat & when they eat.  The players will generally eat red meat on Monday & Tuesday, white meat on Wednesday & then pasta, etc. thereafter.  The nutritionist talks with the restaurant to adapt & suit the weekly programme.  The boys’ height & weight are recorded every month too.  The club also has 3 Doctors to attend to any sickness.

Players, at this level, will generally train 4 times per week.  The U19′s will train every day & also receive wages.  The accommodation, schooling, transport & food are all paid for by the club.

Braga has psychologists that work alongside the club.  If a coach knows he will be releasing a player the psychologist will work closely with that player but not obviously tell him right away.  The club will also try to find another club for the player.

Summary

The first thing that I picked up on from my first visit to this club was the family feel it had.  Everyone greeted each other with a welcome, smile & hand shake.  This is very positive & creates a real togetherness.  The set up is very impressive.  All sessions concentrated heavily on the technical side of the game.  This includes use of the ball along with pressurised drills & sessions.

Personally I was surprised at Pedro’s schedule when I was talking to him but I suppose we have to consider that this was possibly his busiest day.  Other days of the week had later starts, or earlier finishes or a non training night.  Although in some cases it is no difference from a child living in the UK that has to juggle schooling, homework, meals, transport & training.

The big difference I feel is the interest they take in each individual child.  The club record everything from school work to eating habits & from training to simply monitoring their height, weight & rest.  Also for the players living away from home.  The effort they put into for accommodation, transport & duty of care.  Then the long term development & future of the child is put as most importance with every last detail thought of – even if they unfortunately have to let a player go.

It was nice to sit & have a meal with one of the players at this age group.  It also, I suppose, shows how quick they mature as in Pedro’s words he simply ‘adapts’.  He obviously enjoys what he does even if he does miss being away from his family.  I found all the Braga Academy players to be confident young players that behaved & worked very hard in all sessions & games.

Europe v UK

Overall I think the relationship with grassroots & professional clubs is so much closer throughout Europe.  England at times can seem to have a massive gap in that respect.  The focus on ball work, dribbling & small sided games is evident but to be fair England are now rolling out a programme right down to grassroots to focus on this.  I feel the major problem will be converting the old school at the bottom.

Data from the 2008 UEFA Coaching Convention shows that England has 1,759 B Licence coaches, 895 A Licence coaches & 115 Pro Licence coaches.  France has 15,000 (B), 2.400 (A) & 188 (Pro).  Spain has 9,135 (B), 12,720 (A) & 2,140 (Pro).  While Germany has 28,400 (B), 5,500 (A) & 1,070 (Pro).  Although the FA’s acclaimed & highly respected Nick Levett has responded to say that each Football Association roughly develop the same amount of coaches per annum & that the results weren’t realistic, i.e. The Spanish apparently awarded many 70 year olds with their B Licence who most likely no longer coach.

At the same time the UK has a mentality of having 8 mini clubs within each club.  Although they share the same identity through badge & colours they compete against each other rather than forming a strong youth system.  There is many stories of parents falling out with coaches & taking their son away & starting their own club!  I feel there is too many clubs which result in too many unqualified coaches resulting in a poor youth education for the player.

In Holland they generally only have 1 or 2 clubs for each village or town.  Many clubs with have 100 teams within their set up.  Rather than U9, U10, U11, etc.  They have A, B, C, D, E, F & G.  ‘G’ being U10 but they could have 10 teams at that age group, i.e. G1, G2, G3, G4, etc.  G1-G3 teams will be the most developed kids playing against other clubs G1-G3 teams.  While G7-G10 will be the late developers, the recreation players, etc. who will play against players there only level.  This means the Dutch will very rarely have a game that will finish with more than a 3 goal deficit.  They also play with a lighter ball on reduced playing fields.  They have 15 & 16 year olds refereeing the games while parents use the games as a social event.

When I took my academy team over to Holland many of my parents were shocked that the kids played in such a relaxed atmosphere.  The main voice you could here was the children’s voices.  Parents stood & chatted while watching the game.  All the clubs ask in return is what can you offer when you register your child.  They mean what time can you offer.  You could have someone volunteering 4 hours per week that will simply assist with kit or working in the bar area.

I can’t stress enough, if you are a coach you need to visit Holland to see what I mean.  The Dutch are so organised & the club we visited hosted over 50 games on that Saturday!  This was from children to seniors including women’s & an over 65′s team!

The coaching style across Europe is simple.  They encourage the players to think for themselves & let the small sided game be the teacher.  They get away from the ‘stop / stand still’ tactic to coaching within the game & summarizing at the end.

The Future

Certainly it is not all doom & gloom.  Manchester United are renowned for their way of thinking.  When they play 8 v 8 they will ask the opposition can their 4 subs play Manchester United’s 4 subs a 4 v 4 game so everyone is involved.  The focus on the technical side of the game is improving at all levels.

A recent visit to Watford FC & the Harefield Academy was very refreshing.  Nick Cox is the Watford Academy Director.  It is very interesting listening to Nick & seeing the thought process & the importance of everyone at the club to the school backing the concept.  The typical English Academy system will have boys going to school as normal then returning home to start homework, eat dinner & then to be transported by a parent to training.  This adds a busy schedule to each individual boy & adds pressure to the family life.  It is not uncommon for a father to return home from work early & to eat on the way to take his son to training.  Nor is it uncommon for that child to be up at 7.30am on the morning & on the go all day to 9.30-11pm at night.

Watford made many visits to European Academies to see what suited them best to move forward as a club.  The Dutch Academy set up was one of choice, especially a club called Willem II.  They have a similar set up in terms of stadium size, club structure, fan base, etc.  The big difference in the Academy structure was the club would work in partnership with a school.  This is what Watford FC based their concept on.  Although it was not copying the Dutch club they would simply set up an academy to best suit Watford FC & their Academy players.

The main positives for club, school & player include;

  • Increased contact time for training with the boys.  From an average of 3,500 hours to 9,000 hours (approx 10-12 hours per week but up to 15 hours available)
  • Greater Academic support & discipline – less conflict between school & club.
  • Prime time training – day light & on grass (indoor 3G dome available too)
  • Better home lifestyle – more family time with less inpact, i.e. transport & finance.
  • Professional lifestyle – more training, less late nights, regular meals, less hectic.
  • Better relationship with players – get to know them better.
  • Optimum time for education & sport.

Typical Day

Below you will find a typical schedule for a Watford Academy player attending Harefield Academy.  Classes are mixed, i.e. not exclusive to all WFC players.

  • 6.45am – Pick Up
  • 8.15am – Lesson 1
  • 9.15am – Football Training with WFC Academy Coaches
  • 11am – Lesson 2
  • 12pm – Lunch
  • 12.30pm – Lesson 3
  • 1.30pm – Lesson 4
  • 2.30pm – Normal day ends
  • 2.50pm – Study (home work / support)
  • 4.20pm – Day ends
  • 4.45pm – Football Training with WFC Academy Coaches

So you can see as a nation we are moving forward.  It wasn’t so long ago that Manchester United produced Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville & Nicky Butt.  Although important to research other nations & see what they are doing it is important to find the right formula that suits the UK.  For me a closer link to grassroots & more contact time to players is a massive start along with more qualified coaches & focus on CPD.

Valencia Coaching Clinic

The Spanish philosophy & training methods are high in demand with them being current World Cup & European Championship winners.  Along with the success of fellow club sides Real Madrid & Barcelona.  Valencia visited Belfast to operate clinics for local children & coaches.  TW Sports hosted an event in conjunction with organisers Saffron Sport.  Below you can read about the clinic along with some background about this famous Spanish club.

From left; Manel (Valencia), Tim Wareing (Director of TW Sports), Glenn Murray (TW Sports coach) & Jose (Valencia)

Valencia

Although Valencia deserve the credit as much as Barca & Real.  They play in La Liga & are one of the most successful & biggest clubs in Spanish football & European football.  Valencia have won six La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey trophies, two Fairs Cups (which was the predecessor to the UEFA Cup), one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, & two UEFA Super Cups. They have also reached two UEFA Champions League finals in a row, losing to La Liga rivals Real Madrid in 2000 & then to German club Bayern Munich on penalties after a 1–1 draw in 2001.  Valencia were also members of the G-14 group of leading European football clubs.  In total, Valencia have reached seven major European finals, winning four of them.

In the all-time La Liga table, Valencia is in third position behind FC Barcelona & Real Madrid.  In terms of continental titles, Valencia is again the third-most successful behind the two, with these three being the only Spanish clubs to have won five or more continental trophies.

Valencia were founded in 1919 & have played their home games at the 55,000-seater Mestalla since 1923.  They are due to move into the new 75,000-seater Nou Mestalla in the north-west of the city in 2013.  Valencia have a long-standing rivalry with Levante UD, also located in the City of Valencia, & with two others club in the Valencian Community region, Hercules CF & Villarreal CF.

Valencia are the third most supported football club in Spain, behind only Barcelona & Real Madrid.  It is also one of the biggest clubs in the world in terms of number of associates (registered paying supporters), with more than 50,000 season ticket holders & another 20,000+ season ticket holders on the waiting list, who can be accommodated in the new 75,000-seater stadium.

Session Plan

Registration for players & coaches took place from 9.30-10am.  The Valencia coaches, Jose & Manel, arrived early to set up.  Over 30 local children & coaches attended the event.  Many from my Academy attended along with some of my coaching team.  It was nice to see many other children from our Mini Soccer programme come along with children from other local grassroots & Irish League sides.  As always Northern Ireland mentality means so many other children & coaches don’t bother to attend an excellent opportunity like this!  Was great to see a coach travel up from down south to attend the clinic too.

After a light warm up & fun game of tig in the 18 yard box they then divided the players to operate keep ball.  This took place in a series of small 5 x 5 yard areas playing 4 v 1.  The duration of the warm up & introduction was approximately 35 minutes before stopping for water.  After this Jose & Manel split the groups.  They worked with 14 children in each group.

Jose briefing the players using the i-pad

Pressing & Come Back

Jose used an i-pad to explain the session & draw out the session plan using a football pitch app.  The players embraced the new technology & way of explaining.  We would see them refer back & use the i-pad on a regular basis to get across explanations to the players throughout the day.  The session took place on half a pitch with full size goals.  The pitch was divided in half & goalkeepers were used.  The basic set up was 3 defenders in one half with 3 attackers in the other half.

One team had to always keep their defenders in that half while the other team had freedom for the defenders to join in with the attackers.  The scenario Jose was trying to create was a tight game whereby one team was winning 1-0 & wanted to keep it tight while the other team were chasing the game.  This was a nice session & you could see the players looking to press as a unit.

Jose would add different restrictions to challenge the players.  The session operated for 30 minutes before players stopped for water & swapped groups.  We then followed the same group to see Manel’s session.

 

Shifting

Manel worked on half a pitch with 2 full size goals & quartered the pitch.  He was concentrating on ‘shifting’.  He used the i-pad to help explain to the players what he wanted.  Players were not allowed to tackle, only intercept.  The team out of possession was encouraged to pressure ball while the team in possession started with 3 touch play.  The main concept was when the ball was lost players were told to drop back & shift in relation to the ball.

This was a nice game that developed players understanding of their role when not in possession of the ball.  The Spanish teams don’t get enough credit for their hard work & pressing to win the ball back.  This session offered an opportunity to the players to see how disciplined the Spanish are in relation to what each players role is when not in possession of the ball.

FIFA Street

The session took us up to lunch at 11.45am.  The players were given an hour to eat & rest.  After lunch Jose & Manel selected 4 teams to play ‘Fifa Street’.  This offered players freedom to play.  They didn’t shout or tell them how to play the players were simply given control & freedom of their games.  The only rules were maximum of 2 minute matches or goal the winner.  Winning team stayed on or if it was a draw both teams replaced.  The only other requirement was to make a pass before scoring in the other half.  They used the 18 yard box as the pitch & 5 aside goals.

This was probably the only bit I didn’t like in terms that 2 teams were always off & ‘ineffective’.  I would personally prefer to have all teams involved.  Although thinking about it & putting myself into their shoes in Valencia it is very hot & they want teams to receive recovery so I guess this is why they did it.  From my time in Holland & Portugal the European approach is that they like players to watch players.  They feel it offers opportunities to learn & if a player likes a move that a team mate tries they are more likely try to replicate it with possible variations.

From the small sided games they then operated a circle drill.  3 players were in the middle trying to gain possession of the ball while the outside players had to make 10 passes with a restriction to 1 or 2 touches.  They rotated players in the middle every 30 seconds.  This led us into the final part of the session for the day.

Local coaches observe & take notes

Space Management

Jose took the final session of the day based on space management.  On half a pitch with 2 full size goals he set up 5 different coloured boxes.  He had one in every corner with a central box.  The main objective was to pass into 2 boxes then play off central box before scoring.

This encouraged players to look for space & use width.  Jose would also at times call out certain colours if he wanted to dictate play more.  The players worked hard at this & I really liked the session as it focused on players finding space & good ball retention.

You can watch some footage I recorded of Jose & Manel working with the group by clicking here.

Interview

After the session I had an opportunity to interview Jose & Manel.  We spoke about youth development in Spain & Valencia’s philosophy as well as covering touch line behaviour comparisons & on training methods.  You can watch the interview here.

Review

I’m passionate about sharing ideas & continuing my education in football.  What a treat to spend a day with Valencia & I can’t thank Jose & Manel enough for their time & insight.

They coached within the game & only in snippets.  This got players thinking for themselves.  Coaching really isn’t a case of screaming all the time & telling players what to do.  Let players search for the solution themselves & you’ll notice a real difference long term.

Massive thanks to Saffron Sport for organising & Gareth for offering us opportunity to host the day.  Thanks of course to everyone who supported the event & for my coach, Glenn, for his assistance on the day.

If you want to hear about future pro club clinics or club visits please keep in contact & connect with us.

Want more info?  You can access over 450 of my session plans by clicking here!  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or You Tube

Passing Sequences & Movement Off The Ball

Sundays Academy session concentrated heavily on passing sequences & movement off the ball.  It was a nice session that developed well from the typical drills to offering players a bit more freedom & creativity to develop passing combinations & support play.  We used Barcelona as a prime example.  Their build up play can be patient then all of a sudden carve a team open.  Short passing through likes of Xavi or Iniesta then the through ball to Messi.

As always we filmed the session.  I was happy with everything up to my possession game.  The idea of the possession game was to take the idea of the passing short & keeping possession to a set number of passes before switching the ball to another grid.  I must admit I didn’t get the results from it that I intended but as coaches it is important to realise this & adapt.  Either by making a change to the game or simply bin the idea!  Never continually force the players to do something that is not achieving what you have set out to do.  I quickly assessed this & knew it was time to switch the session.  My Academy assistant had the next stage of the session set up & transferred the players over.

Warm up…

Control Game With Keepers

Control Game With Keepers

Emphasis

Passing, control / first touch, communication & catching for goalkeeper.

Set-Up

Players spread out around half a pitch in a circle.  All players on the outside have a ball.  One outfield player works inside the circle without a ball & with a goalkeeper.

Objectives

In turn outfield players drive the ball in toward the middle player.  They must control for the keeper to combine & catch.  For each successful touch by the outfield player & catch by the keeper they receive a point.

Keeper should throw the ball back to the server.

Progressions

  1. Rotate outfield player in centre.
  2. Operate as a competition.
  3. Set a time limit.
  4. Vary the service.
  5. Limit the outfield player in the centre to one touch.
  6. Condition what part of the body they must use.
  7. Get the inside player to work the keeper by not offering them ‘presents’.  Make them work to catch the ball.

Coaching

  • Quality passing from servers.
  • Good first touch.
  • Communication.
  • Catching technique.
  • Distribution.

Again we operated with a few variations.  We started with the player in the middle taking turn to rotate with outside player while juggling the ball.  This developed to adding 2 players to take it in turn to remain in the middle of the circle to combine together.  This is ideal to work with an outfield player & goalkeeper.

The Technical Bit…

We then got players to work in groups of 3 with 2 balls.  This was to get their footwork & passing going to a nice high tempo.  Nice session to improve peripheral vision & of course when we talk about that the player that springs to mind is Paul Scholes.  Did you know he used to do a warm up with his eyes before every match?!

The Paul Scholes Passing Session

The Paul Scholes Passing Session

Emphasis

Paul Scholes of Manchester United is renowned for his vision.  His ability of passing the ball over 40 yards at ease is superb to watch.  What makes Paul Scholes a world class player is his vision.

This session is perfect to improve your players’ peripheral vision.  This is a part of vision that occurs outside the very centre of gaze.

Set-Up

3 players stand in a triangle.  The player at the top of the triangle stands in between the 2 players with the ball.

You can use cones if necessary.

Objectives

The players with a ball, in turn, pass to the target.  They must pass the ball across the targets body so they pass back with the inside of their foot.

The target player works both feet but should stand with open body looking straight down the middle of the facing players.  They should look to play one touch & increase the speed of play.

The player at the top of the triangle works for 30 seconds – 1 minute then changes.

Progressions

  1. Instead of letting the ball come across your body & passing with the inside of your foot, vary to pass near side & with the outside of your foot.
  2. Increase / decrease distance between players.

Coaching

  • Stand open body.
  • Weight & accuracy of pass.
  • First touch.
  • Peripheral vision.
  • Communication & understanding.

This then led in nicely to our passing drill.  When you watch the video you will see I had 2 grids set up to suit my group size.  This also formed the basis for my development in the Barca Passing Sequence before using the set up for the final possession game.  Use your set up wisely.  No waiting about for players & it doesn’t put you under pressure either!

Passing Drill

Passing Drill

Emphasis

Pass, move & support session.

Set-Up

20 x 20 yard grid with 2 players & one ball at one corner & then another player at each corner.

Objectives

Player passes to next corner & follows their pass for lay off & return the pass, one-two.

Progressions

  1. Change of direction to use other foot.
  2. Skip out the return pass & play direct to the next corner, i.e. play ‘give & go’.  (See diagram.)

Coaching

  • Good passing.
  • First touch & lay off.
  • Movement, don’t wait on pass.
  • Timing & weight of pass.
  • Communication.

This is what I call my boring passing drill.  It simply was to get the players used to playing the ball…also checking before receiving & some basic combinations like ’1-2′s’ & ‘give-&-gos’.  This developed on to the next development that allowed the players a bit more freedom.

Barca Passing Sequence

Barca Passing Sequence

Emphasis

Emphasis is based on pass & move that the great Barcelona demonstrate with the likes of Iniesta, Xavi & Messi.  Looking for the short pass, short pass then killer through ball.

Set-Up

Set up as per diagram, 2 cones facing each other approx 20 yards apart.  Have a supply of balls at either end.

Objectives

First passing sequence with the red players;

  • Player A makes the first pass to player B who has checked & moved away.
  • Player B then lays the ball off to player C.
  • Player A then over laps player B to receive the pass in space from player C.
  • Player A then passes to player D.
  • Player D operates the same sequence but as a mirror image.

Second passing sequence with the yellow players;

  • Player A makes the first pass to player B who has checked & moved away.  Player A then follows their pass.
  • Player B then lays the ball off to player C.
  • Player B then over laps player C to receive the pass in space from player A.
  • Player B then passes to player D.
  • Player D operates the same sequence but as a mirror image.

Progressions

  1. Vary distance & technique of pass.
  2. Look at creating different passing movements.
  3. Finish with a shot at goal.

Coaching

  • Communication & understanding.  Player should shout, ‘set’.
  • Players should use 1 or 2 touches only & use both feet.
  • Play ‘side on’.
  • Movement on / off ball.
  • Speed of play.
  • Quality passing, weight & accuracy.

Really happy with the session & players find it easy to identify by using pro players / teams to explain.  How many times do you see Xavi, Iniesta & Messi combine like this?  To finish of my part of the academy session I took everything that we had worked with into a possession game focusing on switching the ball.

The Tactical Bit…

Break Out Game

Break Out Game

Emphasis

Possession game encouraging movement off the ball & support play.

Set-Up

Session takes place in a 50 x 20 yard area.  3 sections are divided inside this area.  First section is 20 x 20, second section is 10 x 20 & third section is 20 x 20.

Objectives

Play takes place in the first section with a 5 v 2 possession game.  After set number of passes have been reached the ball should be passed into section 2 for a team mate to run onto.

They then pass & link up in section 3 to continue the possession game of 5 v 2.

For each successful attack the attackers receive a goal.  If the defenders should win possession they receive a goal for 3 consecutive passes.

Progressions

  1. Rotate players roles.
  2. 1 or 2 touch passing.
  3. Ball must be chipped into area 2.
  4. Extra players introduced.
  5. Area made smaller to demand better control & movement.

Coaching

  • Work rate on / off ball.
  • Quality passing.
  • Look for space.
  • Width & support.
  • Look to switch.
  • Communication & understanding.

With being a player short I operated 4 v 2 in each end zone.  Although this offered no real incentive for the defending team.  I adapted the game so we had 3 teams, i.e. 3 teams of 4 players.  The focus was still on 4 v 2 in each end zone.  If the orange team kept the ball for 5 passes in their zone they would transfer the ball to the yellow team in the other end zone to do the same.  If the 2 players from the blue team won the ball from the yellows the other 2 blue players would switch from the other end zone to join them while 2 yellow players would switch grids, i.e. it was the yellow team trying to win the ball back as their punishment while the blue team tried to complete 5 passes before combining with the orange team.

The players found this quite confusing & as I was not getting the results I wanted from the game I decided to finish this part of the session early.  As coaches never be afraid to change or move on.  Don’t force players to continually do something that no one is benefiting from!  My Academy assistant was then ready to transfer the players over to work on playing through the midfield.  We then finished with some free play.

Coaches, always adapt.  My diagrams above will show a certain amount of players but if you don’t have enough – adapt!  Adjust the size of the pitch too.  Insure your players enjoy the training but demand a lot of hard work from them at the same time.

Let me know how you get on if you use with your own team.  Always feel free to re-post & share as long as you link back to my blog.

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Do you coach enough 1 v 1′s?

How many coaches in the UK (& parents!) do you hear on the touch line shout, ‘PASS!’ or even worse, ‘GET RID OF IT!’  Why do we never hear & encourage players to, ‘TAKE HIM ON!’?  It all comes down to our cultural & how we develop young players.  If we are not encouraging enough 1 v 1′s in training it certainly isn’t going to happen on the pitch.

1 v 1 high pressure drills are great

As football fans what do we love to see?  Well I love to see players dribble & take players on.  That is why so many of the legends of the game stand out simply for that reason.  George Best & Pele are to stand out players & more recently in the modern game we have players like Giggs, Ronaldo & Messi.  So with this in mind we should spend more time working on dribbling & 1 v 1 scenario’s in training.

I know a number of coaches that stop doing 1 v 1′s after kids are 10 because they feel they want to go on to ‘more advanced’ drills.  1 v 1′s are not only great to develop dribbling, skills & taking someone on but they are great for speed, fitness & development.  It’s not only junior teams performing 1 v 1′s but top European Clubs have their players working on them.  On my last club visit to SC Braga we watched the senior team perform 1 v 1′s, 2 v 1′s & 2 v 2′s.  They really worked the players in a tight area working on dribbling, skill, touch, speed & decision making.  Players obviously enjoy 1 v 1′s – especially if you have a target or goal at the end!

When I visited Barcelona they had all their youth teams performing 1 v 1.  It is such a simple game but simply played on different levels.  For example one of the Barca sessions involved players working in partners with a ball.  One would start with the ball on the throw in line with his partner facing him a couple of yards away.  They both nodded & played 1 v 1.  The attacker would try to dribble to the far side while the defender looked to gain possession at attack the line he was facing.  Simple?  Of course.  Effective?  Yes.  Result?  Players enjoy the session & Barcelona’s methods have been known to develop the odd good player ; )

Below you will find my session plan that focus on 1 v 1′s developing on to possession games that encourage 1 v 1 duels.

Please remember to stop long lines forming!  It is my one pet hate!  Set up a number of areas so you can divide your players.  It is fine to have a few players in a line as that will act as recovery for the players.  Also let the players see & feel your excitement.  If you see a player perform a great skill to beat the defender really applaud & cheer.  Don’t be a stuck up, boring coach – get down to the kids level & have fun!

1 V 1 Dribbling Game

1 V 1 Dribbling Game

Emphasis

Beat the defender.

Set-Up

One end line marked out with 2 cones 5 yards apart.  Also angle another 2 end lines either side at an angle.

Objectives

Attacker starts approximately 10 yards away from the end line.  They run with the ball trying to beat the defender & dribble through one of the end lines.  2 points through the central end line, 1 point for other angled end lines.

Defender wins 1 point for kicking the ball out or 2 points for winning the ball & playing to next attacker in line.

Avoid long lines!  Set up a couple of areas the same as above if you are working with large numbers.

Progressions

  1. Increase / decrease area depending on group size & success rate.
  2. Encourage attacking players to perform skills to beat the defender.

Coaching

  • Assertive, determined dribbling in tight space.
  • Speed of approach with the ball.
  • Good ball control.
Summary

This is a nice session for players to come into after a warm up (with the ball of course!)  I always feel the players motivation is better if there is a goal or reward at the end of it.  I simply operated the session as ‘every man for themself’!  They kept score from all successful 1 v 1 duels & were also able to add the points from any successful defending.
I then like to develop the session into a small sided game.  Basically taking the technical side of the session into a more tactical game.

Improving Passing & Movement

Improving Passing & Movement

Emphasis

Possession game focusing on passing, support & individual play.

Set-Up

40 x 40 yard area, 5 v 5 inside the grid with 3 neutral players.  Have a supply of balls around the outside of the grid to keep the game flowing.

Objectives

5 v 5 match inside the grid with 3 neutral players combining with the team in possession to make it 8 v 5.

A goal is scored by stopping the ball on your opponents end line (red top, blue bottom.)

Play 5 minute games or shorter depending on the fitness of the group.

Progressions

  1. Limit the touches.
  2. Bonus points for special combination, i.e. 1-2 or overlap.
  3. Attack either end, i.e. after scoring & giving possession to the other team you can keep it & attack the other line.
  4. Attack either side (all 4 sides of the square) but introduce mini goals to limit the area you can score along the line.

Coaching

  • Pass & move.
  • When to play & when to pass, beat the opponent on your own or with a 1-2 combination.
  • Quality passing.
  • Support play.
  • Work rate & movement on / off ball.
  • Communication.
Summary

As always I am flexible with how I set my sessions up.  As I was working more on 1 v 1 play I made the pitch smaller & tighter to try & create more 1 v 1 scenarios.  I had 16 boys report for training so I adapted the game to play 5 v 5 + 1 neutral player inside the area.  Another team of 5 played as wall players & simply played with the team in possession.  There was obviously an overload in attack but I don’t mind this as it offers success but at the same time it makes the team without possession work hard to win it back.  It also teaches how important ball retention is!  I played 4 minute high tempo periods.
I enjoyed this session as one team stood out for me in terms of being the most successful at the game.  What was their secret?  They were brave, if you like, took risks.  They weren’t afraid to take players on.  They also learnt by beating a defender they always then had a man over & they used it to their advantage.  Their decision making & movement on & off the ball was terrific.
It is also nice to offer players a goal to hit.  I added a simple 1 v 1 shooting session that is shown below.  I operated this using 2 goals so it kept the lines to a minimum & kept players moving.

1 V 1 Shooting

1 v 1 Shooting

Emphasis

1 v 1 with passing, dribbling, feinting, shooting & defending.

Set-Up

A group of players with a supply of balls position themselves behind a cone on the goal line midway between the goal & 18 yard line.

Another group of players position themselves behind a cone just outside the ‘D’.

Objectives

Player A passes the ball to player B.  Player B dribbles towards the goal, tries to feint player A & score.

If player B scores, or if player A wins the ball, play starts again with two new players.

Progressions

  1. Players rotate positions so that they both get an opportunity to attack & defend.
  2. Limit time to encourage speed.

Coaching

  • Accurate passing.
  • Feint & skills to beat the defender.
  • Speed.
  • Shooting technique.
  • Follow shots in.
  • Defensive technique.
  • Close down attacker but don’t dive in – jockey.
  • Position your body so that you can force attacker wide of goal.
  • Keep eye on ball & be patient.
  • Decision making.
Summary

This then led my session to the tactical game.  I refer to Barcelona a lot – but for good reason.  Not only is their ball retention superb but on the occasions they lose possession just watch how hard & quickly they look to win the ball back.  This is not pointed out enough.  The stars of Barca don’t receive enough credit for the work rate they put in to win the ball back.  For players to do this it must be coached, you must also add an incentive & reward for it being carried out right.
Below you will find my transition game to encourage my players to win the ball back as quickly as possible.

6 Second Transition Game

6 Second Transition Game

Emphasis

Teams are at their most vulnerable in terms of losing the ball in the first few seconds after gaining possession.  It is this transition period that we are looking at, both in terms of winning the ball back quickly & then keeping it.

The key is the first 6 seconds after losing the ball.  This period is when the opposition have not yet switched from defensive to possession mode.

The other key period is those 6 seconds after you have won the ball back & need to maintain possession during that critical period when your team is changing shape & finding space (going wide & deep.)

Set-Up

40 x 25 yard pitch with 2 mini soccer goals.  You can play 4 v 4 – 11 v 11 depending on the amount of players you have available.

Have a supply of balls in either goal.  Play starts with the goalkeeper rolling it out.

Objectives

In this game when a team lose possession they have 6 seconds to win the ball back (the coach counts this out loud.)  If they win it back in that time they are awarded a point (a goal.)

The idea is to double team & work frantically to get the ball back in the allotted time frame.  If they fail to achieve this they must then go to the centre & make sure they close all the gaps & limit the space for the opposition.

If they do win the ball back within 6 seconds, if they are high up the pitch they must look for an immediate goal scoring opportunity.  If they are in a more crowded midfield area they must look for an ‘outman’ who can get hold of the ball & maintain possession through the crucial 6 second period.

Progressions

  1. Adapt amount of players & size of pitch.
  2. Award bonus points for set amount of passes / time opposition keep the ball.

Coaching

Trying to win possession;

  • Concentrate on closing down – ‘PRESS’.  When a player goes to win possession players around them close space – tuck in.  Don’t dive in!
  • Keep shape, apply pressure while others react & drop off but cover space in behind.
  • Communication.
  • Nearest player pressures the ball.
  • On the call, ‘PRESS’, all players should look to win the ball off the opposition.

In possession;

  • Quality passing – weight & accuracy.
  • Decision making.
  • Support play.
  • Work rate on / off ball.
  • Receive ball side on.
  • Head up.
  • Play simple pass.
  • Look for space.
  • Use of width & depth.
Summary

My players love sessions like this as much as I do.  They receive so many touches of the ball.  The full session was carried out to such a high standard.  Always remember to reward your players with free play.  I offered 15 minutes free play at the end before carrying out a cool down.

Remember you can have full access to all my session plans by clicking here!  As always please add your comments & if you like to use the session & share with others please credit my work with a link back to my blog or coaching website.

Barca – Total Football

Last Mondays El Classico was so one sided it was embarrassing.  Jose Mourinho and his multimillion ego driven squad simply didn’t deserve to be on the same pitch as the slick Barca side.  4 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week with FC Barcelona and I learnt back then the importance that they put into developing youth (you can read my report by clicking here).  So how many players came through the Academy that represented Barca on Monday?  What is the organisation and structure to their Academy and how does this affect their approach to games?  Read on…

My philosophy and coaching is all about developing young players that play with creativity and flair.  I encourage them to run at opponents and beat them with skill.  I also concentrate heavily on possession games.  I always use Barca as a great example of a team full of players that play with freedom, creativity and flair but at the same time are very disciplined.  When you watch Barcelona you will see triangles all over the pitch.  The player on the ball always has options.  They are such an exciting team to watch.

Against Real Madrid every player knew each other’s game.  It wasn’t a simple case of Barca having the best players in the world.  Every player instinctively knew where every other player was on the pitch at all times.  Out of Barcelona’s 14 players involved against Real Madrid only 4 where not developed through the Academy (Abidal, Alves, Keita and David Villa).  This compared to Real Madrid only producing Casillas with the remainder being assembled to the tune of nearly $500 million!

While Real and a host of other top European Clubs spend millions on players hoping to buy success Barca continue to develop their own home-grown players.  Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all came through the Barca Academy and cost nothing.  Barcelona’s youth Academy, which in Spanish goes by the name of ‘La Cantera’, meaning the quarry.

Other players to come through the Academy include Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal took away at the age of 16,  Mikel Arteta from Everton and Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, also came through the Academy.  In his first season as manager he helped Barcelona win every competition they competed in, 6 in all, including the Spanish League title, World Club Cup and the Champions League against Manchester United.

Against United in the Champions League final, 7 of Barca’s starting line up were all produced from the Academy.  Goalkeeper Valdes, defenders Puyol and Pique, midfielders Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and forward Messi.

When I visited Barcelona I loved the fact that the training complex was beside the Camp Nou.  The club has a boarding house that accommodates the older boys from the Academy.  Boys from the age of 13 or 14 that live outside the city are housed here so they don’t have to worry about travelling to and from training.  Typically they will train for 6-8 hours per week along with playing a game.  The club insures they also develop their lifestyle and attitudes along with their football education, preaching the importance of healthy eating and early nights.

The boys live, sleep and eat together.  Each morning they are bussed to the best local schools.  Barcelona stresses the importance of finishing their education to the boys.  They return at 2pm for lunch and siesta, with training early evening.  They do their homework in a library with access to private tutors and have a games room with table football, pool and PlayStations.

The boys have 3 objectives when playing matches.  First, they must be the more sporting team, committing fewer fouls and being less aggressive.  Then they must try to win by playing very well, more creatively than the opposition, with attacking football.  Finally they need to win on the scoreboard.

Reina and Arteta were great friends at the Academy.  Although Arteta suffered from homesickness and cried himself to sleep many times.  Iniesta also had problems with homesickness after moving from central Spain to Barcelona at the age of 12.   Saying goodbye to his parents at the end of each weekend would become a mini-drama.  Although Iniesta only had to look out and see the Camp Nou to remind himself of his goal to play there.

Messi arrived at Barcelona from Argentina with his family at the age of 12.  He had a growth deformity and no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs he needed to treat it.  It is no surprise that Barcelona took on Messi unlike in England, where size, strength and the ability to throw your weight around is highly prized.

The model of Barcelona is that 50% of their team should be from the Academy, 35% should be the best players from Spain or Europe and then 15% from the top ten players in the world.  Although the Barcelona Academy is so successful it is also producing players who are among the top ten in the world.

The Academy has 12 boys’ teams.  In the Academy each squad has 2 coaches and there are 23 or 24 players in each group.  At least half of the coaches have a UEFA Pro licence.  The club provides the budget, around 6 million Euros per year, and is fully responsible for the academy facilities and training programme.

The qualities that Barcelona look for in a young player is pace, technique and someone who looks like a player.  The speed of decision-making, the way he approaches the game, the vision to pick off a long pass – in other words, the mental qualities to go with the technical ability.  The emphasis is on speed.  When this speed is combined with top-quality technique, then they believe they have the ingredients.

From the age of 7 to 15 everything is about working with the football at the Barcelona Academy.  With the very small boys, the most important thing is to control the ball very well, to have the ability to run with the ball and to think very quickly and execute their passes very well.  They use the same playing system as the first team, so all the youth teams play 4-3-3 formation.  The development teams have to play attacking, attractive football.  Barcelona believe if they do everything well, the winning comes as a consequence.

They also like to keep an open mind and expose players to different playing roles as part of their education.  They work intensely on the individual skill, but also on group play, including each line of the team.  They train the Barca way which involves fast movement of the ball, player mobility, use of width, and a lot of fast, effective finishing.  They watch the passing movements of the first team as they provide the role model of the youth teams.

Another factor which helps continue the development of young players is that Barcelona have a ‘B’ team.  They play in the lower Spanish League. This helps the club continue to develop young players between the ages of 18 and 21 in a controlled environment.  In England the FA prevent Premier League clubs from having feeder teams in other domestic leagues.

The Barcelona model is based on a number of people providing specialist skills and all working in the same direction, with the same objective: to prepare players for the first team.

Based on last Mondays El Classico, the people behind Barcelona’s youth Academy are certainly working in the same direction.

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