Thursday, April 28, 2011


“Visão 611: talent development”
In June of this year (2011) we will finish the FC Porto Academy project that we started four years ago. In that time we have created a vision to further the developmental potential of talented young players within the Academy setting. In previous years, I have tried to implement my coaching ideas and notions to development potential talent, as well as embed this as a philosophy into the culture of the football club. This has required flexibility and adaptability to accommodate creativity and application of all coaching aspects. I have experienced much of this aspect during my time with FC Porto, which is a club of strong character, with a depth of culture; typical south European in nature. I strongly believe that the individual should serve the team, and the team should serve the individual. The reciprocal objective is to banish insularity and individuality, to empower and promote the team and to create cohesion and togetherness; a true culture of sharing. This is also the objective of the department for which I am responsible, namely; the development of individual abilities.

As a trainer/coach you can be responsible for the future of sixteen to twenty two individual talents, as the team or squad within an academy of one hundred or sometimes even two hundred potential talents. This is a demanding responsibility that should not be underestimated. Our influence, and therefore responsibility as an academy to accommodate and realise the potential is enormous. It demands total commitment to the vision, encompassing the planning, preparation and delivery in training, which should not be interfered upon by the outside world, but prevail as the exclusive opportunity of your own talents. Continuous observation and reflecting upon every aspect and detail within the academy, day in and out, will help ensure that the objective goals remain in focus and achieved.

Success within your academy is ultimately determined on the field, this is where you as the coach really inspire your potential talents as players. As much as possible, players should encounter real game situations that pose challenges as possibly unpredictable scenarios, which they have to problem-solve. This should happen both as a collective (team) and also individually (player/s). Players and the team should be able to encounter this aspect without fear of getting it wrong and to accommodate and anticipate the progression of the task and develop its permeable solutions. For this I use the following rule: The team training session (cooperation) helps the individual to develop and the individual training session helps to develop the collective.


Every player, as an individual will have their own way of fulfilling their potential development; to become a more complete player. Very often good players can only play on one or two positions, whilst the player who is more adaptable to different positions can sometimes be the ideal substitute, as an auxiliary player. Specific football applications like mobility, stability, strength, explosiveness, coordination and technique, may never be exclusively classed as objectives, but they are aspects of talent development as they vary from player to player. It is important to remember that every player is different, and therefore the conditions applied in coaching should reflect that fact.

In my opinion you should position players within the team formation as a permanent position. This will accommodate the opportunity of the players to develop their own style, thus optimizing their play within that position. This happens far too little, and that is the reason why there is a lack of positional specialists. It may appear a very logical method with that which occurs within many academies; trying to make all players complete and competent in the same way. Being decisive as a coach, you can give the responsibility and the opportunity to the talent, and most of the time more potential talent is realised. Developing could be understood in this context as; accommodating the opportunity through the responsible actions of the young player under the decisive input of the coach. Or to put it another way; it is about allowing the player to develop. An analogy of this could be; when as a child in the playground you would play a pick-up game, you would have a good idea which player was really good, and what you had to do against them to gain the advantage. Ask a player who's the best and why? Ask a player if that trial player on trial might be a good addition to your team? They will know and will also be able to substantiate their answers. Giving them this responsibility can only be done if they are accommodated and coached within an environment that permits this type of opportunity.

When you coach in large areas and with (possibly abnormally) large numbers of players, efficiency does not give a valid indicator about the players’ potential. Also, it certainly says nothing when trying to train players through the developmental ages, where very often two teams become one, as we, as coaches are deciding on the potential direction and future of these players. It does not surprise me that more players who are born between January and June remain in development programs, than those who are born between July and December. For me, potential talent can only be identified if you work with all your players in their potency of development, but remembering that some may have different strengths and potential. I am sure there is more talent out there than is readily identified; it just knowing how to spot it and how to accommodate maximising this potential.

Talent yields itself in many different ways and is a direct result of developmental opportunities. In the past there was an excellent ‘street academy’ on every corner of the street where young people were free to play and develop; they were not judged by their birth month. The opportunity to playing freely, every day, for three to four hours, fashioning your own game area with your own rules and conditions decided democratically amongst friends, of varying ages and indeterminate numbers – odd and even. Younger players or siblings having to play against bigger boys or those not at the same level of physical maturation, develops a player to play smart and be physically strong on the ball. There is evidence to show that a number of top players have developed through these circumstances, but also where they regularly mixed age-groups, played against siblings or more physically matured, in the garden, in the street or in the local park, developing in the ‘street academy.’ That confirms that talent must be permitted to develop as well as being coached specifically, and maybe as a coach this is something that should be conducted more consciously than subconsciously.

“How do you create situations that bring youth players as close as possible to street academy again?”
A number of activities that we organise regularly (daily or weekly) to give the players street instinct:
- 2V2 foot volley and playing small sided games in the dressing room (winner stays on)
- 2-2 extra 5V5 fields with “boarding” where the players can play before, during or after the training session
- 3 hours of 6-a-side indoor competition on a Sunday
- Challenge Thursday tournament with hierarchy list
- Mutual Matches (U14’s V U15’sagainst for example, because we have Casa Dragão, where 40 players across the ages from U14’s to U19’s live, these are events that they talk about all week).

To achieve these goals, we must establish more academies to accommodate these players and create the opportunities to identify the talents and potential, so they can be nurtured in the appropriate way. As well as providing for those players who are born in the last six months of the year, it could be inclusive to all birth months, and even across the years. This environment requires lots of inspiration on a daily basis, positive feedback to aid self-esteem and confidence in the players. Planning and preparation are imperative, with accommodating delivery, observing and evaluating performance. Give players the freedom of expression with positive modeling as core values that are very important, but whatever you do never inhibit the potential talent. By limiting and inhibiting players in academies you can stem the development of potential talent, and this sets a negative example of how “not” to educate players. I think that every practice you deliver as a coach should permit; freedom of expression, anticipation, cooperation and improvisation. The inclusion of anticipation and improvisation incorporates decisionmaking, and for optimal development these aspects must have a high frequency. This also means freedom of expression and the development of the complete individual process in every exercise: observing, positioning and (technical) movement. Every part of the training session has 6 phases (in each subsequent phase there is more cooperation and more pressure). I endeavour to use new exercises every day and also adjusting the old accordingly to accommodate the following:
- Difficult situations
- Direction of the goal
- Relation to team principles and team organization.
- Cooperation
- Freedom of expression
- Maximum repetitions (Periodisation)

Making difficult situations easier
For this season I am working specifically with all age groups, twice a week with 40-50 minutes (average) sessions. Every age group has a first, second, and some even a third team. For the first 2 weeks we concentrate on a wide variety of aspects.
- Session 1 focuses on inspiring, learning and creating routines.
- Session 2, most of the time the day after, focuses on performance: implementing and connecting the learned accents.

On the first day, I often stop the game to give further instructions, and on Day 2, we continue with repetitions of tasks from Day 1. These aspects are covered further by our coaches and expanded upon or progressed where appropriate, and through repetition; experience and success are important motivators for the players.

Session tasks become easier day by day, as players get the chance to consciously repeat and perfect the acquired skills. There are four different parts in my training session, with each part consisting of 6 phases. The exercises constantly change because of development and inspiration. The first three parts eventually blend together in later phases:
- Connecting play (turning away, combining, quick give and go's, turning through and trapping)
- Individual creativity (surviving in difficult situations and penetration)
- Scoring capacity (crossing combined with feeling for the net)
- Conditions (technical coordination/ mobility)

For 16 weeks I concentrate on each aspect for two weeks, all in combination with conditioning. The next six weeks we differentiate with midfielders, strikers and defenders in terms of emphasis and the aspects of the skill, technique and gameplay, and also their individual development within these areas. We combine these training sessions with the individual goalkeeping training from Wil Coort, and also before each session we do extra coaching on a specific theme. During one recent month, we coached to improve heading techniques for 15 minutes each time.

Connecting play, turning away and trapping
Learning to connect play by positioning (and conditioning) players by facilitating the ideal positional play, or to play the ball to an area where the opposing team has fewer or fewest players (creating an outnumbering situation). This can exploit and/or create space for yourself and your team mates; creating an advantage with as few as possible touches; first touch or with a direct pass through anticipation and vision can immediately give you more options. This is an action where the player is required to act or react, anticipate and improvise with vision and good decision-making. I always train ‘turning away’ and taking the ball forward,’ under pressurised conditions, this way the player must be developing ‘turning away’ in different situations.

Then, progress by adding a team mate, so now you must not only create space for yourself, but also for their other players. Therefore, not only does the player need to anticipate the opponent, but also the position and play of your teammate/s. Player will need to develop an understanding of what happens under pressure, but also how that affects those scenarios, your team mates and that phase of play. Timing of actions is crucial to what happens, and to what situation the player/s might find them in. Maybe you could ask yourself why Xavi does not tend to find himself in many pressure situations as 2V1 or 3V1, but instead he has free space or possibly a 1V1? Why does he seem to exhibit so much anticipation and control during phases of play? The answer is a combination of conscious selection of position, vision and technical application. This incorporates anticipation and decision-making, for clever positional play, good vision and applying the football skill also. This is all coached through practice repetitions, conditioning, timing, amount of space and increases of pressure.

When we are working specifically with defenders in the warm-up that means we are working on passing with power through the lines in combination offensively. We try to let our defenders play with the thought that; if the opponent is not well organised and zones. If they are well organised, we then have to play through or round other zones, or find space in other areas. With one through pass, you can beat 4, 5 or even 6 opponents, effectively taking them out of the game, or that phase of play at least. The central defenders become more important in offense, creating opportunities through open play, learning how to adjust and improvise play to implement these aspects, even if opponents are well organised. Success rates for defenders attempting to play ‘offensive through passes,’ may bring a focus for coaching. Principally, within our team, principally defenders are classed as supporting then we can penetrate through the lines players, with the midfielders as the playmakers, this way we always have support from the back. We analyse our defenders’ ability of; interceptions, anticipation, being smarter and being fast. During the summer we bought Otamendi, a central defender, and he has proved that quality as a defender is not just about height.

Creating individually
Creating individually contains two different situations; maintaining possession in a difficult situation and penetrating offensively (possibly from supportive positions). In combination with becoming open to receiving the ball and having the vision to use it, it must be noted that if you do not have players who can take on the opposition as 1V1, 1V2 or other combinations, following the initial pass if a difficult situation arises then team play through that phase may not be fully efficient. For example, Arjen Robben’s technical skills that include ‘taking and
receiving, and dribbling’ are exceptional, but I try to make our players aware how Robben creates space for himself, whereby he consciously positions himself, creating space to receive the ball and what he does with it, and how this effects team mates during that phase of play. That comprises a player like Robben, dropping out at just the right moment, thus optimizing your skills within that game situation. So, whether it is holding, moving, dropping, accelerating etc. it is all about timing,

Scoring capacity (crossing combined with feeling for the net)
When we are perfecting that feeling for goal, it is about being able to find the goal in any unpredictable situations, and without losing sight for the strikers (and their movements) as other opportunities or how they affect play. The aim for the supporting player is to provide the telling pass, ideally as an assist, to penetrate with that pass as much as possible and taking thus taking opponent player/s out of that phase of play. If that is not possible, the player may need the ability to take players on, or open-out, take a touch to create space and ultimately have a shot themselves. Again, within these combinations of the unpredictable game situations; practice, repetition, and allowing for freedom of expression with real game-like pressures will optimise individual creativity.

Following on from this, the next step is to be able to score or to give an assist from the side zones, possibly as; get to the byline, move in front of your opponent, to open-up without the ball, heading, shooting or volleying. Of course the strikers focus more upon this than the defenders.

Conditions (technical coordination/mobility)
Training the ‘Conditions of technical coordination and mobility’ is an ideal ingredient for the warm-up, as it is suitable for implementing mobility work comprising coordination. It is an ideal preparation for individual creative aspects that may include connective play or maximizing capacity to score, as well as being apt for team or individual recovery training sessions. Your muscles must recover in as many ways as possible, which is only possible in football related situations.
Practices and/or warm-ups could be designed to revise crossing, volleying, turning and accelerating, or conditioning phases such as scoring with a cross 60 times in 15 minutes, which is perfect for a rapid technical reactions.

With training these conditions you can think of:
- In Series; accelerating on the ball
- Combinations of movements and simulations
- Quickly changing direction
- Keeping the ball short, quickly turn and simulating
- Tricks to get open-up/create the space; without the ball and counter movements
- Cutting and turning, holding back, simulating and accelerating
- Beating your opponent and dribbling
- Technical coordination exercises and ball control
- Heading, crossing, volleying and shooting with 8 flat goals and 4 normal goals.

Besides team training sessions the head coaches and I, also coach the notably talented players from the U14’s and U17’s. We call these talents Potential Jogadores Elite (Potential Elite Players or PJE). These training sessions are an ideal way to coach the key aspects of talent development to a higher level. Our best young talents get the chance to learn to play together as a unit or team, and also widen the experiential scope with the opportunity of playing with and also against older players. For example, we work with the strikers of the U15’s against the defenders of the U16’s and the goalkeepers of the U17’s. In other combinations we pit two dribblers and the central midfielder of the U14’s against four defenders from the U16’s.

If you ask anybody who is the best player at Barcelona, Arsenal, Ajax or Bayern Munich, many will answer with the name of one of the shorter players. It is also worth remembering the legs of Cruijff or Van Basten, exhibiting pure technique and strength. Within my practice sessions, I try as often as possible to involve older players to create more role models on the field with very positive effects. For example, one U15 player, that works with five U11 players, but sometimes also an U14 player gives examples to the U17’s. In my opinion quality is not about age. Within every top team there are (older) role models, who are often influential and positive upon young talent. Think about Scholes, Giggs and Van der Sar at Manchester United, Xavi, Puyol and Iniesta at Barça, or even Rijkaard and Blind a few years ago at Ajax.

Overall, in all the training sessions within my section it comes down to this to simplifying difficult situations. In other words, make difficult situations look easy by developing total control over random combinations or situations. Every player is different, so every situation is different. Because situations constantly change the imperative for the quality to improvise is of great important. Of course the application of improvisation must be constructive to the situation and the process of development. Knowing and understanding the role of anticipation and improvisation is fundamental to cater for the unpredictability of open play, through all zones and positions.

Having technical control in every situation can makes a player more independent from the coach. For me it is about the comprehensive process of development for individuals, and to be able to realize the next two objectives:
- Maintaining possession and being able to (individually) ‘create’ more individually, develop own individual style and optimizing that positional play with consistency at a higher level; transferring this to match situations.
This always depends on the playing style and the cooperative rapport between players, but in my opinion; every exercise within the planning must be based on developing this individual process (in relation to the time, the team principles and team capacities). This allows players to problem-solve difficult situations both independently and collectively.
- Above all, it is about ‘total control’ in nearly every situation. Total control in the positioning and through anticipation, where the application of the technique is more important than power. In training and to a certain extent in matches, if a player has a go and it does not quite work, then praise is still given, and to coach that point later. Whatever happens, for the individual or the team; it is imperative to create confidence, increase confidence and maintain confidence.

It is important for players to develop effectively, to play clever; to make any game situations easier with a complete level of efficiency. Then as a team you are looking for a cooperative and collaborative ethos. This is a function that needs individual technical ability and technical plus tactical interaction collectively. This reflects actions such as; passing at the right moment, playing out of pressure, creating space by choosing position at the right moment, support behind the ball, etc. This inclusion of cooperation becomes a more central tenet in every part of training sessions, as it is the key to technical and tactical interaction of the team. The difficulty of ‘one touch’ or ‘turning away forward’ is not in technical acting, it lies within the combination of choosing position and watching in advance under pressure. This needs to be practiced competitively, with real resistances and pressures to make it realistic; with the anticipation and improvisation being developed. Without the real pressures, it does not recreate what happens in the game, this is also the case with overloading conditions and non-directional
practices. We must develop players individually within the team ideas in all relevant contexts, so they can realise playing opportunities at the highest level.
We lay claim that our players should know what happens in front of them, behind them and all around them. The best developed and technically adept players are constantly open, move into space, they know what is going to happen around them. They see everything and are technically capable of performing their role with consistency within the team principles and its organisation.

When you are constantly able to ‘open-up’ for a pass and able to ‘drag your direct opponent’ with you, then ‘shaking them off,’ you will ‘create more space’ between you and your direct opponent. More space means more time and less opportunity for your opponent to intercept the ball, leaving your opponents chasing you and the ball. This is a visible aspect of practice and the game, giving the individual/s and the team more control.

Coach development
As a coach, you are as good as the leadership, resources, materials and the structure around you. This is the path to developing better, stronger and more cooperative players. It is reported that companies can gain 30% to 40% more efficiency by effective leadership. Efficiency is a direct result, and in short; a better result depends on better leadership.

At the highest level it is imperative that players cooperate, and at an academy this could mean 20 players or more! So cooperation is the objective, and from cooperation is born a level of efficiency which represents the ‘attempts and successes’ ratio. If these developments can result in 30% to 40% more efficiency that would equate to a notable and profitable return on the basis of a 10 year academy plan. So understanding the balance of winning and development within the academy structure will surely be a good investment, creating; models, successes and other ‘somewhat’ profitable returns, and will do no harm to the structure of your academy.
By giving ownership to the player of their learning and development and making the
objectives clear after being negotiated and agreed, a level of cooperation is instilled and provides a concrete basis for conveying the technical and tactical cooperation on the field. When the objectives are clear for the players, they will be more critical. Transference to the game will provide feedback to you the coach and also to the players, and from this you can decide your action points and future strategy, planning and preparation as aims and objectives. All this reflects players’ ability to be independent and creative to the situation, both as problemsolving and technically.

The development and role of the coach is equally important. Coaches at academies are probably working on a 2 to 3 year plan to get the maximum out of a team, but inspirational and successful coaches will positively influence many players. It is also a progressive for coaches working through the youth system to possibly be aiming for senior squad positions. The development of coaches within the academy is fundamental in the development of players; by inspiring six coaches you may possibly indirectly inspire ninety potential talents.

For me, technique is about actually performing what is in your head and having the ability to think ahead. It should be emphasized that training on ‘technique’ is something totally different than training ‘on-the-ball’ control, but still a lot of ‘technique’ coaches only coach ‘on-the-ball’ control, which is more of a conditioning practice. Technique in play (and practice) will depend upon the other players’ aptitudes and abilities and situations will vary greatly, with a level of
unpredictability. It will be about the creating opportunities in the context of, ‘what, when, where and how’ as a team and individually. Improvising, anticipating and thinking ahead have become more important than ever, and for developing these aspects the academy is crucial, where players experience daily immersion of all these elements.

Creating an accommodating culture and a comfortable climate are key aspects to fulfilling the vision and mission of the coach, academy and the club, leading to greater faith and belief which can only be positive. I think that FC Porto prove that when you look at the amount of prizes they have won in the past ten years and how much money they have made with the sales of their developed players, this equates to 20 top prizes in the last 10 years and a total transfers of more than 300,000,000 Euros in the last 6 years.

Whether a player is suitable to progress to the higher ranks, is dependent upon the players around them, and also the experienced opinion of the coach. I do not believe in bad players, and for me every player can handle a certain standard in which they can be a valuable addition any team, and also an asset. Many would say that in the most difficult moments during a match, you must be able to rely on your technique and intelligence when it comes to positioning and anticipating play. But how many players get the chance to consciously work with this every day?

Our sessions demand total focus of our players (focus for me means: knowing what you are doing and just as importantly why), but without diminishing the opportunity of creativeness and pleasure. I demand from every player ambition and effort to invest in their development and playing. So in every training session we coach different aspects just above our players' level; in combination with explanation, giving examples, models and demonstrating but always providing a challenge. What became clear to me is that you as a coach must not expect players to improve, if they are not given the challenge to achieve and progress.
Players of level 8 must train at level 8 and be challenged with guidance to achieve level 9. In my opinion you can obtain the focus in two ways; by playing to win, or by empowering players to become stronger. In addition to this, I always make players fully aware of their development.

Ultimately, as it is what all players pursue, ‘I train to win.’ The objectives of technical application and tactical deliverance (positioning), maintaining possession individually and as a team, to be creative on a progressively higher level. We accommodate every player to have the opportunity to be creative, individual, cooperative and progress to their potential.

Every day, I work to prepare players for the day they get the opportunity to impress the first team staff. Every season the scouting system delivers four to six top purchases, which means that a player must be quite exceptional to join as a potential talent. Sergio was just 17 years old when he made his first team debut during last season making him the youngest player of all time. Another example is Kadu (goalkeeper), he was 15 when he first trained with us. Players often have so much more potential talent than is initially apparent, and personality with an
understanding nature are as important in their professional progression as that lends itself to good relationships with those around them. Love football and maintain the will to succeed, a player should understand that others are also playing with him, but more importantly that he also plays with others.

The project covered herein is to be concluded this year, so it is important that the vision and mission are followed in the future. This vision and mission are also written in the plan I made for the academy department. It eventually became five DVDs that contain my vision and mission of the use of small-sided games, with all content performed by the players. This must be the guide to follow for all the coaches for the coming seasons. It has always been my aim to leave a permanent legacy of my coaching, as well as a record of inspiring talent on a daily basis.


  1. Ecellent read!
    thanks for sharing that!
    I met Pepijn at Porto, great coach and leader.

  2. Excellent read the amount of detail within the article is excellent. A must read for aspiring coaches looking to replicate competent, detailed development coaching.