I’m talking to Paul Grech, Founder of Blueprint for Football

Paul Grech is a writer, parent and blogger. This is not exactly COACHTALK, more great writing talk. Paul’s articles are fascinating, extremely interesting and very helpful to any coach, parent or anyone involved with Youth football. I find a lot of inspirations from his articles; where he discusses ideas, values and philosophies with Coaches from various footballing backgrounds all over the world. If you haven’t subscribed to he’s Newsletter I suggest you do today.  This is his Blueprint…

TCD: What is your background in football?

PG: Quite simply, I’m a fan first and foremost.  On top of that, I’d like to consider myself a writer.  It is not something that I do full time which perhaps affords me the luxury to look at areas which aren’t exactly mass market.  For instance, I have written a lot about Italian football for the site In Bed With Maradona, covering teams like Aquila Calcio and Venezia; not exactly front page news but very interesting stories that deserve to be told.

It is the same with youth football.  Whenever the English national team has a bad result there is an immediate flow of articles on what needs to be done to ‘solve the issue’.  I’m fascinated by such writers and how they think that they hold the solution to such complex issues; I certainly cannot do that.  Instead, I like talking to people who are deeply involved in this area and who have ideas that have worked.  And I write about these discussion, hoping that by putting out all the different ideas people can start to piece together the different solutions that help them progress.

“You might not agree with everything that they say but only a foolish man would listen to the experiences of others and fail to find something that they can learn from them”

Blueprint logoTCD: When did you start Blueprint for Football and what is about?

PG: I’ve always been interested in why some clubs manage to bring through a lot of players and others do not.  Thinking about it, I first started thinking about this subject in my early teens when I was watching the Viareggio football tournament, which is a very prestigious tournament for U20 sides in Italy.  Year after year I would see Atalanta – a provincial side – beat the giants of Italian football and this astonished me.  How could it be that this small side could outperform clubs that spent millions on their youth sides?

It was a question that stayed with me through the years until I decided to start looking at it in a more structured manner a couple of years ago which is when I set up Blueprint for Football.   The idea for this – the framework around which it will be built – comes from the desire to really understand what drives such a successful development programme.

The definition of success in itself is difficult to pin down: for a club it involves getting players through to the first team, for another it is a question of getting kids off the street.  Each one does things differently to get to where they want to be and, for me, each approach is important.

TCD: You focus a lot on Youth, is youth Development something your passionate about?

PG As a father to three young kids, I’m naturally inclined to look at different ways that kids develop.  So I, in part, my passion stems from that.  But a lot of it is simply down to curiosity around what it takes to help an individual fulfil his or her potential because ultimately that is what youth development is all about.  The fact that it is youth development in football is only incidental.  I’m increasingly convinced that those coaches and academies who focus on the individual are the ones who ultimately will succeed.

Naturally, you need to handle the football side and you have to ensure that they get the best coaching possible.  But if you focus exclusively on that area you will fail.

Blue print for football 3TCD: What has speaking to coaches from different countries taught you about youth football?

PG: It has been the most positive thing that I’ve done bar none. The most fascinating thing is that sometimes I ask different individuals the same questions but they provide me with different answers that look at the issue from a different angle.  Each reply opens up a whole new dimension to the question.  Ultimately, that is why I think that any coach should talk to as many different people as possible.  You might not agree with everything that they say but only a foolish man would listen to the experiences of others and fail to find something that they can learn from them.

TCD: You’re launching a new Ebook, what is it and who’s it aimed at?

PG: “Blueprint According To…Volume 1” features six interviews with six different coaches about their footballing ideas and beliefs.  Each one covers different areas so each one provides insight into how they tackle different problems.

The book is aimed at anyone who has an interest in the debate about developing players but perhaps it will interest most of all those who are directly involved in coaching.  To be clear: there aren’t any coaching drills or tactical notes in the book, simply a discussion of different ideas and experiences which, I believe, will help people get a better idea of how to tackle whatever situation they are facing.

To give you just one example, Rodrigo Baccin talks about futsal and how this can be used to raise the technical ability of players.

TCD: How can people get it?

PG: Up till February 2014 this will be completely free to subscribers to my weekly newsletter called “Blueprint for Football Extra”.  Then, as from March 2014, I plan to put it up for sale for a nominal fee mainly to help finance the costs of running the site.

Hopefully, it will be the first in a number of books.  I have a few ideas in my head about areas that can be tackled and which I’m sure people would enjoy reading about.

You can read more of Paul’s work on Blueprint for to get the his book, click on this link Get your hands on Volume 1

Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_grech


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

Irish Grassroots Football

‘Every Boy’s Dream’

This is an article from Blueprint for football:

“When fans look at their club’s academy, they tend to look at results – both on the pitch and in players developed for their first team – to determine whether it is being successful.  And, obviously, those are important metrics.  Yet there is a lot more to an academy’s success than that.  How they handle the kids placed in their care, for instance.  Or whether they are sacrificing long term development at the altar of short term results”

The determination to look at these factors was one of the reasons that drove Chris Green to write the book ‘Every Boy’s Dream’ back in 2010; an analytical look at the academy structure in England and whether this was working.

The full interview with Chris can be found here.  Warning: it is a long piece but I’m sure that you will love it.


If you’ve read the book and enjoy that kind of analysis on youth football, then you will enjoy Blueprint for Football’s own bi-weekly newsletter.  Blueprint for Football can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.


Coach Talk

Exporting the Barca method by Paul Grech (Blue print Football)

This Article was originally published on blue print football, check out the site here Blue Print Football for more interesting articles.

Throughout the history of the game of football, there have always been teams that have helped shape the way that the game was perceived and played; from Herbert Champan’s Arsenal to Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan going through the mighty Hungarian national team, Helenio Herrera’s catenaccio driven Inter and Ajax’s total football.  Yet the influence that every one of those great teams could exert was limited for the simple reason that very few could get to watch them with the frequency needed to be influenced by them.

It is in this that the current Barcelona team is truly unique because they are perhaps the first team to have come up with a different philosophy for playing the game and who have been watched regularly by a global audience.  Barcelona’s football hasn’t simply shaped how their national rivals play but is shaping how the whole world plays the game; everyone is looking to reproduce to some extent what Barcelona have done.

How it all began…

Wanting to copy Barcelona and actually doing that, however, are two very different things.  Because the road that led to Barcelona’s current way of playing didn’t start three years ago with the appointment of Pep Guardiola and much less six years ago when Frank Rijkaard was put in charge.  Instead, the seed of this team was planted twenty five years ago when Johann Cruyff began reshaping how football was played at all levels of the club.

That the seed planted by Cruyff was allowed to grow in an industry as obsessed with short term results as football is astounding.  Because the real secret of Barcelona’s success is that: TIME.

It isn’t about putting in place a way of doing things but all about giving the system time to mature so that the whole club thinks, breathes and moves in the same way.

Barca 1That certainly is one of the man messages to come out of an interview with Enrique Duran Diaz.  Having spent almost a decade absorbing the Barcelona philosophy at their FCB Escola, last year Duran was asked whether he was willing to take on the challenge of trying to do what Crujff did at Barca by planting the seed of a distinctive playing style at the South African club Mamelodi Sundown.

He is therefore one of the few individuals who can talk with authority about what it takes to replicate Barcelona’s way of doing things and what he says provides real insight as to whether that philosophy can be transplanted elsewhere.

Enrique was one of the two coaches who came to Ireland with Albert Benaiges in 2011, the first ever Barcelona 2 day coaching clinic in Europe.

How did you start at Barcelona?

Ever since I was very young I’ve had a great passion for football and seeing that I wasn’t exceptionally good at it I decided to start coaching when I was 14.  After a number of years coaching neighborhood teams I got the opportunity to collaborate in an FC Summer Camp in Barcelona in 2003.  At the end of that activity the person responsible for it offered me a contract to become coach at FC Barcelona.

What was your role there?

My duties were always related to FCB Escola, Barcelona’s football school for children between 6 and 12 years. There I stayed for seven years, occupying different positions. For the first three seasons I worked as a coach before being offered the chance of heading the school that FC Barcelona wanted to open in Saudi Arabia – Rhiad – and was there for two seasons as head coach of the project.

On my return I went back to being the co-ordinator FCBEscola for young players (11 to 12), and took part in various international campuses in countries like South Korea, England, China, Bangladesh and Singapore among others. Ireland also!

Why have Barcelona been so successful in developing players?

The key to success lies in that FC Barcelona is committed to a policy of getting young players through, where the players get to create that dream of one day getting to play at the Camp Nou. This philosophy was implanted in the club for over 25 years and in recent seasons we have seen that great players have emerged from the grassroots to the first team.

“It is a complicated process that requires patience, besides having great professionals to help identify, train and educate the young players who come to the facilities of FC Barcelona.”

barca2Can the Barça method be copied?

Barca’s style is unique and to be successful you must believe in it. All youth football teams play one system and from when the players are very young concepts are introduced to help bring them closer to someday becoming first team players. To create this structure takes time and many seasons without success. Clubs seeking to copy the Barca method look for short-term results and it is very difficult to reach them. A good set-up, a good program to identify talented players and good coaches can help create a good structure but it is hardly possible to achieve the same results as FC Barcelona in recent years.

How did you get the job at Mamelodi Sundowns?

During 2009/10 I was able to do a Master in the Johan Cruyff Institute, and at the end I was offered the opportunity of working with them on this sports project that had emerged in South Africa.

What is your role there?

My role is Technical Director of Football at Mamelodi Sundowns’ youth system. My main task is to assist the development of coaches and players at the club. The coaches receive the programme of coaching that is to be followed, as well as courses that help them to form and understand the philosophy I want to introduce. On the other hand, players must learn to be professional both on and off the pitch because we believe that training should be complete so that they can achieve their dream of being footballers.

What is the difference you’ve found to work with Europe?

The lack of structure at clubs to develop players is what struck me when I arrived. Players do not begin to be introduced to the technical and tactical concepts until they are 16 or 17, something that children in Europe have mastered by the time they are 8 or 9. For the future of South African football it is key to create programs for youth players that will help them grow athletically because with the current system much talent is wasted.

How are the players compared to players from Barca?

Barca 3

I have met players who are as skilled with the ball and possess excellent physical conditions for this sport but with large gaps in their knowledge of tactics.

The South African player spends many hours playing in the streets on pitches that are in very poor condition. This helps them improve their technique but can sometimes be harmful as they tend to pick up skills that will not be beneficial in the professional game.

At a physical level there is no need for specific work for players with very good inborn qualities. However at a tactical level the scope for improvement is large because as I said, players don’t receive any training in this area and sign with a club when they get to 17.

Finally, an aspect that needs to improve a lot is mental because due to lifestyle full of difficulties we encounter players with disciplinary problems.

“Sometimes they are not aware that they must make a huge effort to achieve the goal of become professional footballers.”

At Barcelona a lot of attention is devoted to the technique of players. Is it the same in South Africa or is physical strength given more importance?

I’ve been in the country for a year and half now and have observed how teams always try to prevail due to their physical strength.  I’ve seen crazy games where long balls and counterattacks were constant. Players just do what they have confidence in and in South Africa that trust is in their physical qualities. Once we analysed this we got to work to introduce a philosophy where you can try to win a game without having to run all the time with the ball. Therefore, we focus our work so that technically and tactically players get better thanks to exercises where everything revolves around the ball. At first it was not easy for the players as they had to adapt to new training.  However, with the passing of the weeks they have become aware of the importance of these exercises to improve their qualities.

At Barcelona there is a clear philosophy of how to do things. How important is this?

At grassroots level it makes sense to trust and believe in young players who train with the sole aim of becoming professional team players someday. Patience is key here, where the players have to be aware that there are easier ways to get short term results but the longer, harder way may make you the best resource for the team.

Was it difficult to work in a club where there is this philosophy? And how to go about this?

It’s complicated, having to introduce a philosophy is never easy. Every day you come across many problems you did not expect to find you and hinder your work. Also people are not accustomed to a situation where results are not immediate so it adds significant pressure on you with which you should be able to coexist. Nevertheless, there comes a time when despite all the difficulties you have to find the ability to change your mind for the benefit of the young players that you train.

“I’ve learned to focus on those things that I can have direct responsibility and forget about everything that does not help me improve or keep me from doing my job 100%.”

How long does it take to establish a system and philosophy that provides the talent regularly?

It would be wrong to set a specific number of years since I’d probably be mistaken. In my opinion to create a grassroots structure can be relatively simple but getting results isn’t. There are many elements that are important for the youth structure to makes sense. One of the most important for me is to know the policy of the first team, because if the club decides to sign new players each season without taking a look at the youngest we have a problem because the project probably never be consolidated, while if each year the Club seeks younger talent among those coming to join the professional team and we will be giving them more opportunities to consolidate the structure’s reputation. Clearly, time will be a necessary, but if the team does not believe and there isn’t commitment to the project it will not reach the objectives established at the outset.

What you want to do at Mamelodi for you to consider your time there a success?

The most important thing would be that the work can continue until the end of my contract (June 2014).

“I would feel that my time in South Africa has served some purpose if coaches continue to be good professionals, club scouts continue to seek talent and especially following the guidelines that players will continue to receive excellent training both on and off the field.”

Now there are months of hard work to try to consolidate the concepts introduced and those I consider to be key to the club so that it can be a leader in the African continent in the development of young talent.

Enrique Duran Diaz is currently technical director of football of Mamelodi Sundown’s Youth System and can be followed on Twitter

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Thanks Enrique for notifying me about this article and for allowing me to post it.  TCD