Saul Isaksson-Hurst is an experienced premier league academy coach having spent 6 years at Tottenham Hotpsur FC and 4 years at Chelsea FC’s Academy as a Foundation Phase skills specialist and is founder of mypersonalfootballcoach.com where he is director of coaching. Saul talks about the importance of culture and the role it plays in player development in different clubs and countries.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled a lot during the last few years. I was recently at Dinamo Zagreb making an episode of ‘Inside the Academy’. One of the most poignant take aways from this trip was the culture of technical excellence that ran through the entire club. I watched sessions from U8 up to the Reserves team. Every age group included a 1v1 duel element in their sessions. In speaking to the coaches they all sung from the same hymn sheet, 1v1 was such an important part of their clubs culture or ‘DNA’. When looking at the type of players Dinamo develop its not surprising…Dinamo players are synonymous with technical excellence and 1v1 capabilities all over the pitch. It made me think about clubs and federations and why certain clubs/countries develop certain types of players?
Going back a few years now I was having lunch at St Georges Park whilst on the Advance Youth Award. At the time I was a Chelsea coach, sitting with a good friend of mine from another club and the then England u16 coach Dan Michicchie. My Colleague asked him if he ever “saw a player and knew he came from a club?” He said yes… Spurs. Dan was talking about the technical ability of the Spurs players. I understood this as when I worked at Spurs and also after, I could look at the Tottenham Foundation players and tell the difference between them and players from other Academies. They were so much better on the ball and just moved differently. This was a result of the emphasis on ball mastery from the very youngest ages. Players like Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp reinforce this. I remember having a conversation with a senior manager at Spurs and we said all our players could and should be able to play midfield. They all had the technical capabilities.
When I look at Ajax, Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham Hotspur, there are similarities in their philosophical approach. From the youngest ages, ball mastery and 1v1 are key. When you look around Europe you will see a similar emphasis on 1v1 at some of the best and most productive talent hotbeds in world football (see pic). It’s logical that if you want your players to have these desired attributes, make sure they are a priority and a key part of your clubs DNA.
Whether you work in elite football or the grass roots game. Make sure you create a culture within your club that fosters and develops technically excellent and creative players. Give your players time on the ball and don’t be in too much of a rush to formalise and constrain your players in the shackles of the adult game… Master the Ball Master the Game.