Craig Foster spent a week at FC Barcelona observing how the juniors are trained and passes on some of his key discoveries.
Football behaviour and intent
This game is of Under-9 level. Here you will recognize the kids line up, shake hands and form their team huddles (just out of shot had also clapped the crowd). The children are already learning the concepts of respect for the opponent and the concept of team over self, but also that the game is a spectacle, and the crowd and parents should be thanked for their support and, later, patronage.
Once the game begins, watch the manner in which the two teams immediately create structure and use the width and depth well, playing easy back and around to keep the ball.
The kids are playing a 1-3-2-1 system with very well defined and trained movements and tactical concepts appropriate for the age, such as switching away from pressure, using the space well, the keeper playing as an extra outfield player, using the lines of the team well and arriving at the target with an understanding of the different ways to finish.
The yellow team press immediately, recover the ball and proceed to switch the play three times across the defence before pressing again, switching the playing into midfield, out to the weak-side winger and a producing a shot off target.
All the hallmarks of the football in years to come is already present - phenomenal, and beautiful to see.
This is a proper football learning environment, where the children are taking another step forward every day and every match, always being pushed to the limit of their abilities.
The educators are not always quiet during the matches, however their instructions are always based on the objective of the particular match and related to precise player roles. They do not ever berate the children, complain to referees or mistreat the children in any way.
In fact, at Barca, the educators are taught that the psychological wellbeing of the child is paramount and immediately after any match, this is the primary consideration. If they have won, some praise is given but challenges issued for further improvement and work to be carried out. If they have lost, care is taken to administer positive messages, particularly for those children who have made the inevitable and vital mistakes that make up the game of football.
Applying principles without fear or retribution
I like this video because it shows the blue defender winning the ball close to his goal, and instead of hoofing it away as people would be screaming for him to do in Australia, he calmly passes it back to his goalkeeper.
A mistake ensues and the yellow team almost scores but you will hear nothing from the bystanders, as it is important for the young defender to know he should continue to play in this manner, without external pressure.
Then the yellows take the corner, short. No long cross for a fighting header, rather a chance to pass their way through.
The blues recover the ball and make their attacking transition the length of the pitch to almost score. Beautiful, and so many lessons for the kids in just a minute of play.
Opening the Field
Barca kids are taught to open the field and close it according to the moment, and this video is a great example. Watch how the yellow team takes a throw-in on the left side and patiently transfers the ball to the other side of the field.
Watch the right-sided defender open up as the ball is travelling to his central teammate from the other side and how the winger moves away to give him space by running up the field.
Recognising the blues have closed well, the right defender turns out and changes the direction of play. Beautiful.
See how the No. 9 is using the maximum depth of the field to open space for his midfield and is always providing a line of pass that the defender now plays with an outstanding penetrating pass.
The No. 9 plays to his midfielder and a transition is made to lose and recover the ball, where the right defender is able to open the play again out to his left winger, who has maintained the width of the field very well.
All of this is only possible with an understanding of positional play and of space, even at such an early age, and through an exceptional level of football education that is the result of 30 years of work and thought.
A few things to keep in mind
These children only train two times per week, for 75 minutes each time. In Australia, many of ours are training four, five, six times, yet the Barca kids are playing exceptionally cognitive football.
What does this mean? That time does not equate to quality, and this clearly shows that we are decades behind the best, since we are doing 10 times as much, for a thousandth of the benefit.
The reason for pointing this out is simply to ensure everyone understands that the imperative in Australia is to introduce greater knowledge in our coaches. This is the only key.
We have the environment, weather, aptitude, spirit, desire, character and will to succeed in football.
But the only path is through a new generation of youth educators who can apply what you have seen in these videos, both on and off the field.
Meet Our Bloggers
Fondly known as 'Mr Football', Les has been directly involved in all
the major events covered by SBS Sport, including five World Cup
football tournaments. Follow @lesmurraysbs on Twitter.
As SBS’s chief football analyst, Craig provides expert opinion and unrivalled insight. He has also represented the Socceroos and played abroad. Follow @Craig_Foster on Twitter.
Considered one of Australia's most gifted players, Ned Zelic represented the Socceroos 34 times over a decorated career that spanned Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom. Follow @NedZelic on Twitter.
After years playing abroad and a 20-goal career for the Socceroos, David turned his hand to football punditry and is a beach football fanatic. Follow @zdrila on Twitter.
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Philip Micallef is a football writer with almost 40 years of experience. He has worked for News Limited and now SBS. He is a long-time follower of AC Milan.
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