opinions | 2016-10-21
Barcelona's tactical changes at youth level threaten what made the club special
The departure from Positional Play could lead to problems in the long term
Last Wednesday, I watched Barcelona vs Manchester City in the UEFA Youth League (Under 19s), once more confirming that our club's youth also aims to play like the first team: without wingers, less constructive plays in midfield, and overall a more direct approach One of the things that caught my attention was watching so many tactical mistakes in our team.
Thursday, through twitter, Sirocco was telling us that a Villarreal scout was explaining to him the change of mentality happening in many of the biggest European clubs when it comes to youth football. Just to have an idea, for those who do not know too much how youth development generally goes, grassroots football develops players in four stages: Initiation (approximately up to 12 years old), Development (16 years), Performance (19 years) and Competition (21).
What is happening? Very simple: the big clubs are focusing more on Performance and Competition at training, scouting and recruitment level, than Initiation and Development.
And that is worrying to say the least. For the entire sport, but particularly for Barcelona who used to follow important guidelines and the implementation what we've grown accustomed to call the model.
In the last 25 years since the appointment of Johan Cruyff as Barcelona's coach, Barça has developed a special model of training and playing. It's not unique, because at the end of the day Cruyff took it from Ajax and mixed it with the methods by Laureano Ruiz, but it's been so well implemented that it has led us to greatness both domestically and internationally, and it has received tremendous acclaim worldwide, including outside of football.
The problem is that the "model" is more than a form or style of playing football. The "model" contained all the Principles of Football that were key to Barça's success. There's something very important taught at the coaching courses of the Spanish Federation, they establish Principles (Offensive and Defensive), that aren't seen in any other country. In fact, in many countries, depending to whom you talk, will say that the Principles are others.
This means that any boy who had gone through the Barca youth football was developed to understand the "game", the "what", but also the "how" and "why" of any given situations on the pitch. But not now. And this "not now," includes the pause and the delay. The pressing, the possession, the width, the 4-3-3 can be used in many ways to play, however, pause and patience are linked unequivocally to positional play. And, pause and patience allow to have lines together, allow unmarked support, and how to close down the pitch correctly.
All of it, however, is no more. And it is not that you don’t see it with the first team. It is not seen at Barcelona B, neither at the U19s. But it has its logic. The grassroots teams should play as their seniors do, the fact is that the vast majority of players at the B team haven't played for the under 19s and many of the U19s are not trained at home. And, they lack the understanding of positional play; and it seems that many do not know neither the Principles either. And, the coaches (Gerard and Gabri), appear to not care whether they are applied or not. And instead of teaching Professional Formative Football, it’s now called B and U19s, but still "formative", they want to win at any cost.
But there is more. Until now, they were looking for, particularly for grassroots, skilled players who could play the ball, able to run with it, pass, dribble... But now bigger and stronger players are searched. And they tell us that Rakitic can replace Xavi, or André Gomes or Denis Suárez can replace Iniesta. Or, if Busquets is not playing, Mascherano can do it easily. And they are calm. It's as if nothing changed! As if there isn't any relation between a dribbling of Messi or Iniesta with one of Rakitic or André Gomes. The first dribble because their quality. The latter, because their strength. Make no mistake.
And it’s also said that you have to play with the players you have. The coach must adapt to the characteristics of his players. I think it's great, but, all these players have come because Luis Enrique asked for them, have they not? And those who have been signed for the B team, were asked by Gerard Lopez, right? Or is there someone who believes that coaches have no say in making the squad?
The respective Technical Secretaries (Robert Fernandez and Pep Segura) seek what they desire or do they follow the ideas of the coach? And all of this is done following the guidelines given by the Board, who should decide which model the club should follow.
The club claims that grassroots (Amateur Formative Football, until 17 years), continues to work in the same way as before. I really doubt it. But if it's true, it's inconsistent. Until the players are 16-17 years old they are taught one thing and later on, a severely different one. And all this, while we are signings outsiders for the B team and the U19s who are not trained in positional playing.
But, what about the coaches? Until recently, the majority of coaches in grassroots football were people who had spent many years at the club or former players who knew the model. For one reason or another, many of these are no longer at the club and those who have returned have done it with other ideas. It is somewhat sad that coaches trained in the club go around the world explaining the model and, when they come back, they do not apply it. It is what it is.
It is said that, in the not too distant future, Xavi could be the ideal coach for Barça. I do not doubt it, but I doubt that he will return with this board in charge and I doubt, even more, if he can apply positional playing considering the changes made at the club. If you think he could do it easily, you just have to look at Guardiola's struggles to teach his players at Bayern Munich and now Manchester City.
Barça will continue to win competitions, even when Messi leaves. We will play in a different way, with different players, and, with a majority of outsiders. But we will win, for sure. At the end of the day, the vast majority of the members and supporters only care about winning at any cost.
Now, the football that marvelled the world we won't be seeing it again anytime soon, maybe never again, In the age that many haven't learned that positional play is the real reason for the club's success since Cruyff became our coach, not something called "tiki taka".
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Jordi Pascual
A Barcelona member since the 70s, Jordi is one of our founders with his immense experience and knowledge as a football coach.