Irish Grassroots Football

COACHTALK: Hugo Vicente

I had the pleasure to speak to former SC Braga (Academy Assistant Director; U14 Head Coach; Youth Individual Development Coach) and Portuguese Coach Hugo Vicente. Hugo recently left Braga to take up a position in Norway with Bergsoy IL Fotball club.

TCD: Did you play soccer before you started coaching?

HV: Yes I did played soccer until I was 25 but I never reach top level and because of that I started to have other priorities, and then it become a natural choice to stop playing since my job was also not compatible to be regular trainings, so I preferred to stop because I like to be fully committed to what I do, otherwise I don’t see any sense in doing it.

 TCD: How did you get into coaching?

HV: Well, it was by chance… when I stopped playing, one of my former coaches asked me to give him a hand as assistant coach on a U16 team. I was doing nothing after work at that time so I decided to give him a hand, but to be honest, I had no clue that this would be my real passion. Suddenly I saw myself in a situation where I had to be in charge of the whole team because the coach had decided to drop out, and event though I had no idea of what I was doing or how to do it, I loved the experience. Since things were going well, the club asked me to continue but I had to start with the youngest, an U9s team.

With that responsibility, I had to educate myself to make a difference on their development as football players and to provide them a good experience. I had just discovered what I “want to be when I get older”… and since then, it has been a great journey full of great experiences.

TCD: What is your current role at your current club?

HV: My current role is Head coach of the First Team and also Academy Director. The main idea is to develop a mid-long term project here, and that was a great challenge for me, since it allows me to implement my ideas in the club and how to develop football players from the bottom to the top and vice-versa, but obviously there are some challenges, but that is also what it makes so nice.

TCD: How does football differ in Norway compared to Portugal?

HV: Well, the differences are a lot, from the organisation of the game and the involvement of the the FA and local FA’s, and also on the game itself, it is all very different. In grassroots I think that is where you can see the bigger differences, with a goal to include everybody which I consider great but at the same time, with a very low level of demand and no chances to select the players with more potential at the younger ages but the differences are too many, some for good, things that I think they would work in Portugal quite well, but also a lot of the differences for bad, and some of them have a huge impact on the level of the game in terms of quality of the children’s football. Which influences the whole development process in a negative way. So you can see many differences in the way the game is organised, in the way of coaching, in the style of playing, in the type of players, etc.

TCD: What changes would you make to the grassroots game?

HV: In Norway one of the golden rules at the grassroots game is that football is for everybody and that is almost untouchable! All kids are involved and treated the same way. Football is for everybody, for as long as possible, and for as good as possible. The idea is that you should play and enjoy football, regardless of your level of ability. It is the parents that are mostly involved and control the game here, not proper educated coaches , but the local FA’s are great in terms of providing help and guidance to the clubs comparing to my country. This way of organising things is great for the game and a perfect promotion for the sport; good for the social relationships and integration of everybody, but at the same time, there is also a huge lack of demands at this level, and compared to the seriousness that we run football in Portugal. Even for kids aged 7 and 8 years, seems like you are living in another world, I don’t say that the way we do it in Portugal is perfect, because sometimes we rush things a little bit and we put too much pressure on kids at a younger age, but at the same time, this reality here is so so relaxed that I really believe that a balance between this two worlds would be amazing.

I do believe that you will be as good as you are stimulated to be and I do think that the environment is essential for a good player development and by that I mean that the game should be taken a bit more serious and not so recreational, we shouldn’t be afraid to understand that players will only improve and have fun if they are challenged by players at the same level as them, not much better or not much worst.

TCD: What age do kids move to 11v11 football?

HV: The 11 a side starts here in my region starts at the age of 13 but due to this idea of everyone included, you can have your team on this age group competing in several competitions according to the number of players. So basically, if you have 20 players you should register a 11 a side team and a 7 a side team, to make sure everybody plays. It’s hard to be against this great idea.

This is where, going back to the previous questions, you can see even more differences between Portugal and Norway.

In my country it is ok to be better than the others, we are educated to try to be better than the others in everything because that might be the only way to survive and in football that is even more enhanced. So the players with highest abilities are at a very tender age differentiated from the others, and all age groups in every club will be based by levels of ability with the coaches controlling the process.

Here in Norway is definitely not like that, but to be honest, I think that in Portugal we are pushing kids too much, not only the clubs but also the parents, and there is only place for the better ones, and the ‘not so good’ ones will have to play recreational football with no official competition or play at very very low level, where any “bad judgment” of the way a kid develops, can mean remove him from an environment that is going improve him and we easily “loose” a potentially talented player with this process.

In Norway it is totally the opposite, we make the environment so, so easy, and so, so undemanding, that the ones with potential ending up by not having regular challenges because the groups are too very unbalanced in terms of the ability etc. So everything is all about fun and even though technical development is preached to be priority, if you are very very good, playing against very very bad players, none of the players will have fun or enjoy the game. At youth football, after 13 things change, and again event though there still needs to be a place for everybody, it is more common to take care of the players with good potential, but in my opinion we have lost a very important period that will have a big impact on the long term development of the better players in Norway.

TCD: What is your coaching Philosophy?

HV: Hard to answer this, just like that, because it depends a lot on the age and the club you are working on. If you only have one philosophy you will probably be very limited in your progression as a coach but some key aspects that you can identify easily on my coaching is that football is always THE priority – the way to play, the behaviours on that play and the technical development to be able to play that way is for me essential things in my training sessions, (if you need something more specific try to make the question more specific).

TCD: Have you any mentors?

HV: I like to think that the books, the regular coaches discussions with and the practical experiences were and still are my mentors because that is where I really feel that I have learned. In terms of personalities, I had some people that were very important and made me think about things the way I do, with many perspectives and not just the obvious ones, and they were all the people I worked with (even the ones that only try to make your life harder and wishing that you succeed), but there is one name that I really think it was inspirational, which was Prof. António Fonte Santa, from SL Benfica, by making things so simple and yet so complex, and it is a person that impresses me by the way he can inspire others.

TCD: What kind of player do you like working with?

HV: I think every player has its charm, every age as its charm, every position has its charm so…I like to teach football, I like to help players develop and enjoy the game, so… I think I like to work with all players except one kind: the lazy ones!!! But even they, can be very challenging.


TCD would like to Thank Hugo for this interview. You can follow Hugo on twitter at @hrsvicente

I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary


Coaching Clinics

Vicente Preaches a pro Ethos by Sarah O’Donovan

Portuguese football coach and Youth Academy Director of Sporting Club BragaHugo Vicente is in Ireland this week doing coaching clinics, he was brought to Ireland by David Berber of DB Sports Tours. I’ll be helping Hugo out tomorrow night at our Club, where he will be taking the u12’s for what will be a memorable session.

Sarah O’Donovan spoke to  him about player development and his philosophies on the game, which can be transferred to any sport..

IN every sport, developing solid foundations for  future success is a key aim. Funding and a long-term commitment are crucial elements of this, but SC Braga coach Hugo Vicente  believes a programme for development is the cornerstone of any good plan. Vicente was recruited from Portuguese club Benfica and installed at SC Braga for that specific purpose.

“Qualifying for the Europa League final against FC Porto in Dublin was a sign of the progress being made within the club, but the youth structures weren’t showing the same level of improvement as the senior structures.“The first part of the puzzle was looking at the demands placed on the players at each age group.“In Portugal every age group from U10 upwards plays in an official competition and because we were the best club in the region, despite the lack of organisation, we had the best players.“We were easily beating other teams but nothing was happening to improve the level of the players. There was no need to work more efficiently or challenge themselves. It was too easy for them.“We re-organised it by having them compete in the higher age groups to redress the balance”.

His Vision

Vicente admits that coming in to an organisation and presenting your vision can meet hostility. “There was a programme in place prior to my arrival with simple guidelines and targets for each group but that wasn’t being followed. “The coaching was random and according to the coach that was assigned, so my job spec was to put in place a full-use programme that would look at the player as a whole entity from U8 up to U14.
From U15 we hold official national competitions, so all preparation is geared towards presenting players at that competition.

“As is the norm in France, Spain and Portugal the players who come through the ranks to U15 level are then part of the professional programme. “There was naturally resistance, people don’t sit well with change. ”

I had presented the project to the academy director and he was happy to move forward with it, and most importantly agreed with it, but there were others in the club who felt their ideas were more important than the club ideas. “You ask any coach if they want to coach Chelsea or Barcelona and they will say yes, but what they don’t realise is that 60% of the work is done much earlier in the career of the players.

“What coaches can add instead is quality when providing the session in terms of correct feedback and watching things properly. It’s not about coming up with an amazing drill”, You, as a coach, can never be more important than the programme of the club, especially at youth level.”

“I mean everyone in the club knew that change was required and I suppose the resistance was more related to the ideology of the change rather than actual change. “You end up having to say ‘Look this is the direction we will take’. Obviously this will not suit everyone and the intention is not to hurt egos.”

Vicente pinpoints identifying a style of play for the club as one of the main aspects of the implementation structure. “To best explain the importance of implementing such a rigid system, say I’m the coach of a particular age group and I like technical players, fast players, but the next coach might prefer working with big, strong, physical players. “He could decide to replace the players that I was developing with players that have a more physical dimension — resulting in my work and those technically good players disappearing into the mist.”

The challenge

“Implementing a core philosophy was the first challenge. And the second challenge was improving the scouting facility available to us in the region to gather the players that we felt would benefit from our preferred style of coaching.” “Another challenge was facilities; believe it or not when I came here first we had the use of one sand pitch, one time per week because it is common in Portugal still to have half of the amateur teams in the country playing on a sand pitch.

“I go to the UK and they say other countries are so much more developed, but in truth in Portugal astro-turf pitches and grass pitches aren’t the norm!”

Vicente admits that while the theory is well documented, he feels the most important job after implementation is control. “You can buy books. You can read all the literature if you wish. “You will always find people willing to agree, but when you see them working, when it was put in to practice, it was just talking, it was never done.

“For example I find sessions in Ireland are very drill-orientated or focused on shadow plays, because they want their players to know how to play the game. “I want my players to know how to play the game but I want them to learn and live in situations in order to be able to understand them, which I have found translates in to progress in competitive situations much faster.

“We say openly that we want to focus on winning and people pretend to be shocked, but they misconstrue what we mean by winning. It’s not winning at all costs. “We want to win as a consequence of the way we work. We want our players to try to solve the problem. If they solve the problem better than the others they will win. It’s as simple as that. “Winning here in the youth projects should be about putting players in a position to reach the top.”

The Irish System

Vicente is concerned with a number of aspects of the Irish system currently. “I feel there is a lack of contact time with the ball, especially in terms of the youth. The quality of that contact time is also questionable. I think people still work without questioning the goal of the exercise.
“They say ‘but we have always done it this way’ and what they fail to understand is that we are coaching or preparing our kids for what will come in 10 years.” “Nobody understands, nobody can say accurately what the game can be in 10 years, but we can look at history and see how the game has evolved and predict where it might go with a programme to facilitate that expectation. “I think people still work the same way as when they were coached as players and this is one of the great mistakes.

In Ireland it may also be considered a problem to be near to one of the biggest football competitions in the world in the Premier League, but that can be a good thing.
“Some of the best players might be poached early but you must remember they will be playing and working with the best, so that will improve them as players and benefit the national team in the long term. “The key issue is the lack of professional organisation that the clubs have in Ireland and what I mean by that is under your amateur reality, that you should be working in a professional way.”

“You say you want to develop your players technically but you go to the game and because you want to win you always ask your goalkeeper to kick the ball long, far away from your goal. “You don’t allow the players a chance to take on an opponent. This is a common mistake from coaches and they totally go against what they said was a top priority without even noticing. “You must think about your daily actions and the result that has on the youth development of a player.”

 HUGO VICENTE has been running a series of clinics in Ireland all this week and over the weekend.

The clinic will involve a three-hour workshop broken down into two sections: theoretical and practical. Irish coaches will first be presented with a lecture detailing the make-up of the Portuguese club’s youth structure, goals, methods and specific details in the day-to-day running.

Report by Sarah O’Donovan – Evening Echo CORK.