How Spain Develops Their Style of Play

Today’s article is a blog post from Paul Grech and his blog, Blueprint for Football.  The blog post is an interview Grech did with Jordi Pascual, the author of our books, Coaching Spanish Soccer and Developing a Style of Play.

Given that he had a team that contained the talents of David de Gea, Thiago Alcantara, Iker Muniain and Isco, it is tempting to assume that Julen Lopetegui’s job as the Spanish Under 21 manager is a fairly easy one. Yet there was more to Spain as they won their second consecutive European title then a collection of talented players; their typical play based on short passing and intense pressure placed those talents in a position to excel.

Again, the temptation is there to generalise and assume that a Spanish national team playing that kind of football is a given; that it is automatic. Yet it is not. Players spend only a fraction of their time with the national team and during such restricted time-frames it is practically impossible for them to ‘learn’ a method of playing.

So how do Spain manage to play in that manner? An explanation was provided in part by Lopetegui himself who said “We have a crystal clear philosophy on how to play football…ultimately for all Spanish national team football we want to have many players near the ball, and we want players with great technical repertoire. That is why we include players with these qualities.”

That then is the secret: a system built around a specific type of player and a type of players that make the system work.

The starting point, however, is to have an idea on how the team should be playing.

“For me, it’s the basic,” says Jordi Pascual a Catalan coach who has written books about the Spanish style of play. “If a coach doesn’t have a very clear idea about how his team is going to play, how can he prepare the activities when training? What is he going to say to the players? Of course, it’s clear that you have to know the players that you have, as not all them can play the same way. But it’s not “this” or “that” style. It’s to have “A” style, no matter which one.”

Pascual is a coaching veteran with the current one being his 24th season as a coach. “I started coaching when Johan Cruyff arrived at FC Barcelona. So, the “Dream Team” and the “possession style” is the biggest influence I have had,” he says.

What he has learned, he is trying to share through his books. “It’s about developing a way of playing,” is how he describes his latest contribution Developing a Style of Play. “That means that from the moment you choose a style (whatever it is: possession, counter, direct, etc.), with the formation used, roles and responsibilities of players and the way of training it. I’m always going on that the training has to be according how you play. This means that the exercises, activities, drills have to be prepared accordingly. Train as you play.”

As the Spanish experience highlights, it is not simply a case of deciding a set way of playing and enforcing it on players. “The most normal thing is to look for players that fit to the idea (style), but you’ll have to adapt. More or less, but you’ll have to do it.”

This also requires flexibility so that systems can be change when new players come it. “You always have the “big picture” in mind but at the same time adapting it to the new players you have. Not all wingers are the same, as not all central midfielders or players in whatever position. So, you have to adapt.”

Nor is it possible to simply copy what the Spanish or the Germans are doing. “Nothing can be copied,” Pascual confirms. “You can take ideas from here or there but finally you, and your players, of course, will make an “own” style. It can be similar to this or that but it won’t be the same as any other. Always we – all of us – have to adapt to what we have.”

Adapting and realising what their way of playing was certainly helped the Spanish evolve from the historical failings of the Furia Roja (Red Fury) to the success of tiki-taka.

“I think that the key point was to believe in the model: “this is what we do and we are not going to change it”. Add to this some players incredibly gifted to play football plus some coaches not being afraid to put young players in the squads and, probably, you’ll have the answer.”

As Pascual noted, it helped that Spain began developing some fantastic players. “I suppose it has something with the players,” he says as he tries to determine how come so many creatively brilliant players emerged. “Spanish people are, in general, smaller than in other countries of Europe so, they have to use the “weapons” that they have: ability, gamesmanship, etc. Also, football has been played for many years in the street. But, of course, I think there are many different aspects, as can be good coaching or the classical ‘latin improvisation’”

What is certain is the lack of attention devoted to the physical strength of players. “What importance do I give it? None. Football is a global concept. This means that you can’t separate technique, tactics or the physical. All go together and must be trained together. You play football, so you have to train football. In this aspect, I’m a big fan of Mourinho when he says that a pianist doesn’t do laps around the piano for warm-up, so, why should football players have to run laps around the pitch?”

Jordi Pascual holds UEFA “B” and UEFA “A” licenses, together with a “Monitor Course” (similar level to UEFA “C”) awarded by the Catalan FA. He also holds a Degree and Masters in Management of Clubs attained at a private coaching school in Barcelona. He is also the author of two books Coaching Spanish Soccer and Developing a Style of Play.

“This interview originally appeared on Blueprint for Football, a website aimed at determining what it is that leads to success in youth football.  Paul Grech is also the author of the free bi-weekly newsletter Blueprint for Football Extra.”

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One Response to “How Spain Develops Their Style of Play”

  1. HytOntGAlMy soccer roots begin at 4-5 yrs old playing
    street soccer in a little town “San Jose de Chila”
    Michoacan, Mexico. Growing up the scrimmages
    got bigger, using coke cans as goals, a flat volley
    ball ball, and the 1v1 challenges were popular to
    to proved who was the local youth star player. I
    Played bare foot , without clothes, just wearing my
    underwear, otherwise, my grandfather who care for me and and my brothers punished me with a
    belt for getting my clothes dirty and ripping off my
    “Guaraches” leather shoes. A few years later ended
    in central California in 1981, in 1986 in Central Park
    in Amsterdam U19 Cup in Holland scoring hat tricks
    and unfortunately played my youth developing prime
    without a professional MLS league like we do now
    n the USA. However, the great coaches like
    Bilardo, Johan Crujff , Parreira, and endless list
    of world class players shaped a 30 year training
    and coaching career in youth soccer in California
    capitalizing with system of training called
    “3DMetric Skills System. Very similar in what this
    Interview with Jordi describes. Youth players
    With the ability to play under pressured , hold
    on to the ball, pass in triangle transitions ,
    make individual virtical attacks, and play the ball
    to the supporting over lapping players. Adding
    high pressure in the opponents defensive zone ,
    and being able to keep the ball on the
    defensive zone with the “tiki taka” philosophy.
    To develop the “tiki taka” blue print player and
    the system of play takes years and years of
    pattern drills to blend the individual skill into the
    team skill to attack and defend without losing
    shape, color, speed, control, rhythm , power,
    and skill as a team. Every player is different to
    handle a ball offensively and defensively but
    the geometry of the soccer field and dynamics
    of a round soccer ball in movement is the same
    to changed directions. That’s where a wise,
    experience coasch , finds the magic to replaced
    “tiki taka” players with new youth developing
    “cantera” players. Im foreign, born in Mexico
    , now a US citizen, but master the same
    “Tiki taka” spanish philosophy playing and
    studying a vast number of world class players
    , coaches , but at the same time can reverse the
    reverse the philosophy and counter attack it
    with the player who is not born with the same
    soccer characteristics to play “tiki taka”. Its an
    Interesting twist that i managed to discovered
    by trial and error in a 30 year soccer youth
    developing experience managing different levels
    of players, teams, and leagues.

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