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Why Wenger Wunderkind and Brit Pack Failed under Arsene Wenger
Merlion96 (IP Logged)
11 September, 2018 06:02
Hi Padre, not too sure it is suitable for an article.
But you have my permission to turn this into a feature if it is suitable:

There is an interesting book “Barca: the making of the greatest team in the world” [2012] by Graham Hunter.
Salient extracts [in blue] from it gave clues on what went wrong with Wenger Wunderkind and why after more than a decade, his Youth Project was a dismal failure and never fulfilled his dream of building a title-winning team from academy to senior team like Ajax 1970s or Guardiola Barcelona 2010s.

#1 – Failure to lay a firm foundation

The Dutch influence, starting with Rinus Michels, was strong at FC Barcelona.

When Johan Cruyff and Charly Rexach returned to coach FC Barcelona in 1988, they laid down the vital foundation for both the immediate and long-term future to what we knew FC Barcelona today.

Cruyff and Rexach knew from the start that the youth system will not be productive for years to come. They adapted a two-prong approach. For the senior team, they bought players who fitted the one/two-touch Ajax mould and who either pressed superbly or opened space well.

They built a team which, initially, had footballers who knew the technical requirements of their position and how it related to those of their team-mates. Then, they began to learn to switch positions mid-match, winger became centre-forward or false “9”, full-backs became wingers, the pivote, in front of the back-4, dropped in as auxiliary centre—half, etc. – it was fluid, it made marking Barcelona’s players very difficult.

Cruyff and Rexach were re-educating star footballers with a system of rules, particularly regarding positional play, which was strict, innovative and which would outlast them all. Some understand the positional, one-touch, space-creating, overlapping, space-squeezing rules slightly better than others.

Contrast that to Arsene Wenger. After the dismantling of the French Spine, Arsene Wenger never continue to be innovative with his “one-touch one-pass breathe-taking football” and became a follower of other people’s tactics, especially trying very hard to emulate FC Barcelona, but never developed or buy those players that needed to play Barca style.

This was rammed home to us during pre-season games with Athletico Madrid and PSG where their youngsters were equipped with superb technical skills, spatial awareness and finding players with one-touch one-pass football. Closer to home, in Wolves vs Man City, those Portuguese players played one-touch one-pass football with their closed control and intelligent running into space – positional awareness that Arsene Wenger never developed into his youngsters.

#2 – Failure to nurture youngsters to play Barca possession football

“Barca: the making of the greatest team in the world” [2012] by Graham Hunter

The sporting infrastructure of La Masia had been functioning for only seven years when Cruyff arrived.

Cruyff told his employers that:
a) Every youth level must be trained based on the same concept and in the same 3-4-3 formation

b) The top kids needed to be pushed out of their comfort zone and played at an age group one, or even two years ahead, and
c) That the jewels of the youth system, needed accelerated promotion into the first team.
They worked on positional play, one- or at most two-touch circulation of the ball, the concept of the sweeper-keeper, squeezing space – all principles which have thrived under Guardiola and Rijkaard.

This strategy, plus an adherence to all his teams playing attacking, creative, rapid football based on pressing and accurate passing is his most enduring legacy.

Then Guardiola took over and evolved to the 4-3-3 system.

Everything Barcelona looks for in a young player reflects the skills required to play in Guardiola’s first team

How is his first touch?
Can he retain possession?
How quickly can he read situations and how is his decision-making under pressure?
Can a winger play off either foot?
Does he press when his team does not have the ball?
Does a centre-back have the technical ability to start attacks?

The most basic but important task in football base is to get the right kids into the system. You can’t afford to get it wrong. They must be players who are compatible with our system. Pretty much from when they are little kids you are adapting everything about them so that they excel at the Barca style of play. That’s the key – capture the right lads, as early as possible, so that they spend years learning everything which must be second nature before, finally, they get to the first team.

If a kid gets into futbol base system at Barcelona around the age of 10 and makes his debut for the first team aged 20, he should have amassed something upwards of 2,300 training sessions. Vast chunks of those 3,070 hours will be spent on routines which train possession retention.

It is part of the Barca ethos that the possession they hope to dominate by having better first touches, quicker and more accurate passing and constant, intelligent movement should not be sterile possession. It has nothing to do with beating the other team into submission, everything to do with seeking superiority of numbers, establishing a key player in space with time to see a killer pass and then taking advantage of the anarchy caused in the opposite defence.

Xavi: “We are always looking to out-number our opponents, two against one, so if Puyol is on his own with the ball, I’ll say, ‘Bring it up, bring it up1’ He’ll bring it up to the point where the guy marking me is forced to break away and press him, so now, we have two of us against one and I’ll shout, ‘Puyi! Puyi! Puyi!’

‘You see, if I stay behind the guy marking me, I’m no use. I have to keep the ball, I’ll tell [Dani] Alves to get into position and I move towards his full-back. We just keep passing and passing and passing. We keep attacking.’

Of paramount importance in the development of a Barcelona footballer is a simple possession drill called the rondo. You’ve seen it. Perhaps you have tried it.

There will be a circle of players, often seven or right, with two defenders in the middle. The ball is to be passed between those on the outside of the circle without the two in the middle, who are intent on blocking, deflecting or seizing control of the ball, breaking the flow.

The first, most obvious, purpose of the exercise is to better the circle players’ ability to receive and distribute the ball under pressure with one touch or ‘half-touch’ movements.

The second is to teach the defenders how to press intelligently. The two need to work in co-ordination to be successful.

The third is that, as eventually each player takes his turn in the middle, fitness is built which is tailor-made to the Barca playing style.

The fourth is team spirit. The circle players work together to keep the ball from the defenders.

Xavi: “half-touch” rondo taught us to know who was around us before the ball arrived and to be prepared to use a flick or a cushion or a volley in tenths of a second to keep the circulation of the ball flowing.”

For all the brilliant ball control which Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and pedro possesses, the moments when Barca open teams up with lightning passing, the ball moving at the speed of an ice hockey puck, stem from the rondos.

One thing which stands out about futbol base training at Barca is that they want all their players to think more quickly than their opponents. The rondos help your touch, your passing, they train fitness and are very good technically, but what helps you most is if you are very sharp at knowing what’s going to happen and what to do next. That’s a defining trait of what is valued at Barca.

There are other vital concepts in the training of a Barca footballer. One, unusually for this team, concerns the use of the head. As Xavi explains, it is about acquiring the vision necessary to make such quick decisions on the ball.

“In Barcelona, there are many concepts we discuss at training sessions,’ he says. ‘Keep your head up! Is one.

The ball is at your feet, but you need to keep your head high. If not, you’re not watching the game. Another saying is ‘look before you receive the ball.’ That’s a really important one for shaping your stance to control first time and then knowing what move you have to make to release the ball quickly to the next guy.’

Throughout his junior career, Xavi had it drilled into his head: ‘Watch Pep, he had his head up.’ ‘Watch Pep, he always knows when to give and where to give to.’

These will be drilled in over and again to every kid in Barca’s futbol base.

His play is less spectacular, but Busquets embodies the work ethic, the control of possession and the speed of thought which once was Guardiola’s.

“Sergio doesn’t get enough credit.” Says Xavi. “He’s a brilliant player. He doesn’t dribble, he rarely scores, he doesn’t do stepovers, but what a player!

“Busi is the essence of what it means to be a Barca player. He’s hard worker with real class. The other team will mark one of us, man to man, and he’ll still use a first-time pass to get the ball right to you and you think to yourself, ‘How did he see me? That was impossible!’

The ‘third man run’ is not a tactic exclusive to Barcelona, but their superior technique and speed of passing means that few teams execute it better.

Xavi feeds the ball to the feet of David Villa, who has dropped towards him and is facing the passer, back to goal.

Villa has no intention of holding the ball up or turning. He is just a wall to play the ball off. Villa plays the ball, with one touch, straight to Iniesta, who, as Xavi was, is facing Villa.

As soon as Xavi releases the ball to Villa, he starts moving. That run takes him away from his own marker and beyond the marker who has stayed tight to Villa.

Xavi is now in a space into which Iniesta, also using a first-time pass, sends the ball.

It’s almost impossible to defend against when it’s done effectively and at high-speed.

'The more things change, the more they remain the same' Alphonse Karr.

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