One of the privileges of working at a club like Man City is the network you are able to create in the football world all over the globe. Below are some observations from a visit I made to Spain during a break in the 2012/13 season.
As a coach it is crucial that you seek out continued learning for your own personal development. I spent this visit attending Real Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona – who we were also fortunate to play a few years later, and Real Vallecano. This visit was at the very beginning of the new era at the club when we were setting out our blueprint for the next 10 years and needed to catch up and be able to compete with the best clubs in Europe.
Below are my notes and observations during my trip…
Real Madrid academy:
Just for the player
Any team can play any system
They need to attack and they must win
They make decisions on players at 15/16
All the coaches are different, for example – 13s very ‘command style’ 14s ‘guide and discovery’.
All teams do the 4 v 4 boxes with end zones
The intensity of the sessions is very high and the players work very hard .
Compared to Barcelona, who control the tempo much better and the football is slower.
Real work on patterns of play up the pitch against no opposition (U13s).
U18s worked on shape 7 v 5 the 5 attacking with the 7 breaking quickly when they won possession looking for the big diagonal to get out the opposite side.
U11/12s did 4 v 1 boxes and unopposed passing drills.
Roberto Martinez is the Real Madrid co ordinater
All the players I have watched at Real and Malaga work extremely hard without the ball and try to win it as early as possible, they hate to lose, they train as they play.
I have seen very little technical practice, instead the reason they are better technically is that they always have to deal with the ball under pressure in tight spaces with little time, in turn touch and awareness are tested every time. The intensity of all the training and games is very high with and without the ball and both Malaga and Real like to attack quickly and are quite direct, this style is in contrast to Barcelona and ourselves who like to control the tempo and keep possession. Physically all the players are very athletic and core strength and balance is very good, they are very strong.
To compete against these clubs and players you will need to match them for effort and desire and to catch them we need to train as we play in all sessions, all the time, always under pressure with opposition and with the ball, if we do this along with our position specific drills and tactical development we can be better than these teams in the coming years.
Technically Gifted Independent Decision Making Winners (The next stage of our program to develop this player, in contrast to the methods in Spain).
Technically: No player in Spain that I saw did a technical practice under no pressure, everything is done under pressure which relates to the game, the culture also plays a big part in the Spanish players technical ability.
Independent decision makers : We have now created the environment for our players to take ownership and responsibility of their own development regards what we expect of them on and off the field and the way we play in and out of possession.
The foundations have been laid. We must now play like they do in Spain, now develop our players decision making in the tactical corner of our program and provide our players with problems in training and during in house games, different shapes and scenarios and 11 v 11 games with the best players being put together regardless of age, (12 to 14).
Winners: We need to create competition for our players and create the pressure and make the demands that they will face as their career progresses. In Spain the players compete in different categories from the age of 15 and the first competition is U17, so players are playing up and they are expected to win and perform. This gives the Spanish players everything that we need to create for our own, the environment, the expectations and the consequences.
In summary: What I found and observed were players and coaches working extremely hard in training in preparation for the games. Every player and coach knows the expectation is to win and they also identify the areas in the opposition that are weak and work on how they can exploit this (tactical).
The standard of the players across the board in all squads were of the same quality and all able to compete at the levels required (recruitment). With the exception of Barcelona, the Spanish game that I saw was very fast, very direct with quality, extremely tactical and very physical, the complete opposite of my personal perception in terms of my original thoughts.
So in light of this and going back to our mantra that we have committed to, the question is what do we want? Is it producing a brand of football that entertains and is nice to watch, or is it the player or players, who are game intelligent and know how to win?