Seeing Jack Grealish complete his £100 Million+ move to Man City is not only good for English Football at the highest level but importantly for player development in grassroots and Academy football. Seeing Grealish who loves to stay on the ball, dribble and create problems embraced by Guardiola and combined with Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden. 3 of the most exciting attacking players in Europe at the moment… 3 players who can play quickly but can also get on and stay on the ball under pressure. 

Sancho joining United is another example. The ability to break lines with the ball at your feet… A key attribute of the top attacking players in world soccer! As fans we also love these players… We yearn for them to be in our teams.

Jadon Sancho - Borussia Dortmund

Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund

As player developers, we have to look at this and try and understand what environments give players like this the best opportunity to develop. Also importantly often why are we often so resistant to give young players the opportunity to develop these traits by making mistakes?

It was great seeing Jamal Musiala excelling for Bayern Munich last season and Germany in the Euros, it filled me with lots of pride. In my first season with Chelsea’s Academy I took the U10s which included Jamal. This was an extremely talented group and thought of highly by everyone in the Academy but Jamal and one other were the stand out players for me. Jamal was and still is ‘a dribbler’ he used to play his own game and love trying to beat as many players as he could. He used to drive some of the other staff at the club mad as they’d often say to him ‘get rid of it’ ‘move it quickly’ or … ‘he just needs to learn how to lend it’. I was the opposite, I used to encourage him to keep on going…keep on trying to beat players. 

Jamal Musiala – FC Bayern Munich

Pep Guardiola was once quoted as famously saying…

‘Can this guy dribble? I only want players who have that skill so that’s always what I look at. I want full-backs and central defenders and midfielders and inside forwards and wingers who can dribble because you can learn control and good passing…so yeah dribbling that’s the key’

This is ironic on many levels as the reason why we maybe don’t produce/develop more dribblers is that many youth coaches try and model their teams on Guardiola’s teams. Quick play and possession is the key. Also, I think the danger of youth coaches basing all their training programmes on rondos and positional play is it lends itself to organised quick play. Particularly in the foundation phase, we want a bit of freedom, chaos, individuality and creative play. I’m not saying don’t use rondos or positional games but balance it with games that encourage players to stay on the ball.

Are we brave enough to accept/realise that football at the youngest age groups doesn’t have to look like first team football? The messy training/games will actually lead to more creativity and quality in the long term?

‘A successful 1v1 beats and tactic/formation’ (Ajax Academy)

This saying from the Ajax academy sums it up for me. We celebrate players who have the ability to break lines with the ball at the highest level. These game changers are the ones who win games but the irony is when players in the youth football environment try dribbling and lose the ball coaches often scold them or encourage them to ‘play it quickly next time’.

Jack Grealish – England vs Denmark

If we don’t give players the opportunity to make mistakes and hone their skills…how do we expecting them to develop this. Are we excepting the finished article in the Foundation Phase (8-11 Years)?
Also, with the danger of sounding like a broken record… how important is winning the game at youth level? Particularly in Academy football where each game is a friendly anyway?

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time at Hale End, Arsenal’s Academy training ground as Arsenal are utilising the MyPersonalFootballCoach app within their Academy. I watched a U10 game recently between Arsenal and QPR. I was astounded, this was one of the best academy games I have ever seen in terms of individual development and brilliance. You could see both clubs have a clear philosophy and identity around individual development. Every time a player received the ball their first intention was to go forward and to beat a player. Some of the skills, bravado on the ball and the goals were simply sublime. I have never seen a fixture when both teams had a similar intent.

The Head of Coaching at QPR is my old boss at Spurs and mentor Chris Ramsey so I know that they have one of the most progressive methodologies in the country. It was fantastic to see Arsenal with an identical approach that encourages individual brilliance and creativity over team outcomes and possession within the foundation phase. This lays the foundations for effective team play when players get older.

Many academies claim to have an individual focused programme but when it comes to games there is a clamour to win and play ‘pretty’ Possession football. The question is, is this really individually focused or simply coach/adult/ego orientated? I think we need to understand that youth football is different to adult football… Also the Foundation Phase is markedly different to the Youth Development Phase (12-16 Years). Give the players freedom to be individual and creative…

Let the dribblers dribble!

Master the Ball… Master the Game