Irish Grassroots Football

Interview with Footblogball

David Berber from DB Sports Tours and The Coach Diary brought FC Barcelona to Carton House Kildare Ireland this February.  Footblogball asked Antonio Mantero from The Coach Diary a few questions with regard to youth football in Ireland and the Barcelona experience.

Q1. There seems be a big discussion, you could almost say a crisis within the youth coaching system in England. The standard of player needed to keep up with the rest of Europe, South America and Africa is just not being produced, despite Ireland having a smaller population can we say that there similar problems in Ireland?

Absolutely there are, we are not producing players because our systems don’t allow us to, the only players that are catered for are the best and we forget about the rest. Elite structures, leagues at u7s, coaches and clubs emphasis on winning and not development is the problem and if we continue like this we will fall further behind.

Football in Ireland is so competitive that kids don’t enjoy playing it as much; the pressure on coaches to win is not good for them as people. We need to be teaching kids more about the technique and having fun, about being a good person and teaching them that trying tricks and running with the ball, dribbling is good and not bad. Let the kids be spontaneous and take risks, they should be smiling. Kids haven’t even learnt the basics and they are thrown straight into leagues and expected to do things straight away. In Spain, Portugal etc emphasises is on development, winning comes later age 16, 17 and up. We are pushing kids to win at age 7 its totally wrong. Kids don’t need to be pushed to win by parent or coaches at any age, they naturally want to win anyway but they need to be doing at their expense and no one else and under their conditions

Q2. When we want to help young kids (7-11 years) with their development are we over coaching them? Do we take the fun out of the game? Are club coaches to blame for stunting creativity? Do we as coaches still define success as winning?

I thing we are over coaching tactics and under coaching technique, but again our leagues systems are failing us as coaches. Every coach wants to win but I also think every decent coach wants whats best for his/her players and as long as we have competitive leagues at under age it’s going to be very difficult to change all the others. Take away competitive leagues and coaches will have to concentrate on development. Introduce weekend blitzes for age 7s and start non competitive leagues at a later stage. Kids are naturally competitive whether it’s a game in the park or a game with the club colours on. We the coaches and parents aren’t allowing them to have fun, there is too much pressure on kids to win, to develop quickly and be the best. The fact is that there is only ever 2-3 kids who stand out in any one team the rest are team players. So why are we putting so much pressure on these bundles of joy to develop quickly. A lot of kids develop at a later stage then others and generally the late developers are the ones that make it and not the special kid at age 7 who was better than the rest.

How many times have you heard someone say, “how is a professional footballer, he was never any good when we were kids” well the late bloomers usually make it because they never had the same pressure on their shoulders as the kid who everyone thought was going to be a pro. The fact is that some kids are born talented and have it all, but they only come around once in a while, aka Pele, Maradona, Messi, Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo and whats special about all of these, they came from the street and played with a ball day, noon and night and some are born to play football. A full team is 11v11, so stop trying to pushing your kid to be something let him make mistakes and be creative and stop making kids run around a pitch and do boring drills, kids need to be kids and kids enjoy having fun.

Q3. You recently had the Barcelona Academy over with you in Dublin. How was that and who was there representing the Barcelona academy?

Albert Benaiges

Almost 20 years with Barça
Albert has been at FC Barcelona for over 19 years and has had a hand in nurturing some of the best talent the world has ever seen; having arrived in 1990 he has always worked in and around the Academy nurturing players for the top level. In recognition of this, Benaiges was one of the club’s representatives at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich. He is the godfather of the Catalan club.

Franc Carbon Pujol

Franc has been coaching for more than 10 years and has been working for FCBarcelona for nearly 3 years. He is currently doing his pro licence. He has also the Technical Director for the Spanish Football Federation.  He works between FCBarcelona Escola and Academy and regularly travels around the world with FCBarcelona Camps.

Enric Duran Diaz

Enric has been coaching at FC Barcelona since 2004. He is a Level 2 coach and he currently doing an International Master in Sport Management. Enric spent 3 months at the Egyptian FCB School as assistant technical Director he has also been the technical director of the FCB Soccer School in Saudi Arabia for two years (March 2007 to April 2009), in this role he was overseeing all the specialised training programs. Since 2009 he has coordinated FCB Soccer academy at FCBarcelona; Enric collaborates and implements all FCBarcelona Camps around the world.

We had Albert Benaiges FCB School Director, who has been at Barca for over 19 years and as nurtured the likes of Reina, Valdes, Iniesta, Fabregas, Arteta, Pique, Pujol, Xavi, Busquets, Pedro, Messi to name a few and that only the current crop. He brought with him translator Juan Mari, and Academy Coaches Enric Duran Diaz (International Coordinator) and Franc Carbo Pujol (Academy Coach). We ran the clinic at Carton House Hotel, a 5 star football facility in Kildare Ireland. The same content over 2 days to cater for coaches who played Saturday and those who played Sunday. It was truly and amazing experience and apart from the rain which was nonstop over the 2 days, it was a total success. The drills they did were to the eye very basic but it’s getting the kids to do them at a high tempo with demand on 1 to 2 touch football only, movement and quick thinking is where they differ from the rest and the fact that everything they do at U6s to senior is identical and always with the ball.

Albert quickly stepped in to show the kids what he wanted and every time it broke down he would correct and insist on them doing it right. He had away with the kids that was truly amazing, in fact all the coaches did. Benaiges said “ No doubt this style can be applied to any player but they must have the desire and right attitude they must be a good person as well as a great technical player, without these you cannot be a Barcelona player ”Benaiges would stop the players every so often and get them to check their pulse to see how hard they were working, he stressed that kids did not need to run a around pitches or up hills that working with the ball in high tempo “Rondos” ( 3v1, 6v1 in a tight space, with one touch and can be 6v6 + 2 jokers, 6v3v1) was better for fitness and they did it with the ball. When he stopped the drills to check heart beats all the kids in the middle were working far less than the kids on the ball.

Q4. What was the response from the Irish coaches in attendance?

The response was amazing with had over 143 coaches on the Saturday and 127 on the Sunday. We wanted to keep numbers at 120 per day but unfortunately went a little over. From our questionnaires we had 95% positive feedback on the Saturday and we were able to rectify these issues with the coaches for Sunday. The main concerns were the demos and more interaction with the coaches and not so much with the players, but sometimes with these clinics there can be too many questions at pitch side which in turn slows down the session but overall it was a total success. We had coaches come from Irish FAI, Portugal (Sporting), England (Tottenham, QPR, and Birmingham), and Hibs in Scotland, Germany, Cyprus, Spain and Italy. Next up Sporting Club De Portugal in May

Q5. Are there possibilities in Ireland to adopt similar philosophies and approaches to the game? What are the obstacles?

Any team and country can adopt these policies, we need to have we are only a couple of meeting away from implementing changes. The FAI want these European type structures, the proof is in the pudding! The changes need to come from the top and be flushed down to the grassroots level; we the grassroots coaches should be feeding our national team and national league. The School boys Leagues &SFAI need to make radical changes now in order for us to see the benefit in the future. I speak to FAI coaches regularly and they can see the light, they want their kids to be as technical as there counterpart. Start with bringing the 7v7 game to u12s and bring in non competitive leagues. This will allow kids to be,

  • Be more confident on the ball
  • Be able to play in a pressurised game
  • Playing in all positions
  • Developing left & right foot
  • Get kids playing out from the back
  • Getting keepers on the ball more and this will also get kids more touches of the ball and not have the added pressure that winning is everything.

The problem in Ireland we have no playing method; if you look at other nations they all have a playing style but if Ireland we don’t. The player path way should be a journey and with every journey you have a destination but we don’t seem to have one yet! I believe by better development more emphasis on technique and having a vision of playing great passing football with that douggit Irish attitude we can be something different. However you need to create the platform first and then work back to how we can achieve it.

So many people are caught up in “The Way Things Are” that they cannot see clearly to “The Way Things Should Be” would like to thank Antonio Mantero from The Coach Diary.

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