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Spain's brilliant message. Will it be heard in the USA?
by Paul Gardner, July 3rd, 2012 3:17AM

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TAGS:  european championship, men's national team, spain, youth boys


By Paul Gardner

Not for a long time -- not since the days, going back three decades, when Brazil was at its best -- have we seen soccer presented in more glittering garb than the version presented by Spain in the Euro 2012 final.

This was wonderful to watch, delightful to see, almost too good to take in. No doubt it felt altogether too much to the overpowered Italians, who did not deserve to be the sacrificial victims of this master class. For them, as Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque so generously remarked, nothing went right. Injuries, having to play a third of the game with only 10 men -- such drawbacks leave plenty of room to sympathize with an enterprising Italian team. But they cannot obscure the truth that Italy was comprehensively outplayed.

No other team at Euro2012 could play soccer at the level set by the Spaniards. In fact, Italy, in the final, was the only team that tried. Portugal, France and Croatia had all opted for the negativity of a packed defense -- as indeed had Italy, when it tied Spain in the first of its group games. And nobody, whatever their tactics, beat Spain.

We are now looking at Spain as arguably the best team the world of soccer has ever seen. Better than the Hungarians of the 1950s, better than Brazil of 1970. Maybe. Up at the same legendary level, for sure.

What makes them so good? Patience, for a start, infinite patience and faith. It’s taken a long time for Spain to climb to the top, and its meant decades of bitter disappointment, and a really quite extraordinary history of bad luck and being victimized by poor referee decisions in crucial games.

I recall, 16 years ago, sitting in London’s Wembley stadium, watching in disbelief as England ousted Spain from Euro-96 on penalty kicks -- a game in which Spain had had a goal disallowed for a non-existent offside, had seen not one, but two, clear penalty claims ignored, and then suffered in the shootout as England’s goalkeeper was permitted flagrant movement as he made the crucial save.

Throughout trials and tribulations of that order, Spain has always stuck to its style, always played a game based on ball skills and close, on-the-ground passing. It has always been good to watch, but of course that soon became a criticism -- what’s the good of looking good, or “playing pretty,” when you don’t win anything?

Now Spain has won more than anyone has ever done before -- with three consecutive major titles. There can be no arguments -- this is one of the greatest teams of all time.

What happens next? Does the soccer world acknowledge that the Spanish have got it right, and try to play the game the Spanish way? A nice thought, but don’t put your money on it.

The analysts and the highly-qualified coaches, backed up by the latest in technological gadgetry will now spend a lot of time and money dissecting the Spanish style and what makes it work. Their answers will be elaborate and clever and maybe persuasive. And, it is safe to say, most of them will be inadequate, if not downright wrong.

Coaches always analyze the game from the coaches’ point of view, putting themselves at the center of everything and thus giving themselves a starting point that is bound to lead in the wrong direction.

An even worse reaction to the brilliance displayed by Spain -- and Brazil -- is to simply dismiss it as beyond reach. This has been the English attitude for as long as I can remember. Unable -- or, more truthfully, unwilling -- to match the skill levels, reliance is then placed on tactics and on non-soccer specifics like fitness, and grittiness.

It is 46 years since England last won anything. And Spain now rules the soccer world.

There ought to be an overwhelming message there for the USA, a country that is looking for a style and that has all the youth training resources necessary to develop one.

This country is in an absolutely ideal position to develop a style of soccer based on the Spanish model. We have the talent here, at the youth level, without any shadow of a doubt. Of course we do. And right next door to us, we have a soccer-playing nation that plays the sport in the same way that Spain does: a version based on ball skills. Mexico is not up to Spain’s standards  ... but it has pulled off some remarkable achievements at the youth level recently, including last year’s Under-17 World Cup.

Why is it then that we have a national team that displays absolutely no style at all? Why does Jurgen Klinsmann go searching in Germany for talent -- and not particularly impressive talent at that?

When complaints are made that, given all the time and the money that has now been spent on youth development in this country, we really ought to be producing better players, what answer is to be heard?

Only one, really. That there is a formidable influence at work in youth soccer in this country that belittles skill and emphasizes strength. Nothing more complicated than that. Where that influence comes from, and what keeps it so influential, is a topic for another day. But I don’t think there’s any secret involved.

That influence needs to be eliminated. Possibly the curriculum devised by Claudio Reyna for the USSF is meant to do that. It may -- eventually. I don’t think we should be dealing in “eventually” in this situation. Now is what matters -- because we’ve waited long enough. And because right now, set in front of us, in all its dynamic glory, we have the superb example of Spain ... the best team in the world.

That is where all our efforts, all our coaching routines, all our soccer ambitions should be focused. I’ll admit that I do not, any longer, see this as a slow process. I think something needs to be done quickly -- brutally if necessary -- while we have before us this superb example for us to follow, and that we need to make a much stronger effort to learn from the Mexicans.

When I said brutally, I meant just that. I mean getting rid of coaches who do not believe in the path I’m outlining, who cannot understand it and therefore cannot teach it. We have been trying the other way, or the other ways -- all of which tend to put the physical side of the game first -- for far too long, and we are not making anything like the progress we surely should.

Let them hear Oliver Cromwell’s famous words, from over 350 years ago, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.”



56 comments
  1. nikki barratt
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 7:04 a.m.
    Well, i couldn't agree more. Although i think the problem in the US is deeper and more widespread. people here just don't "live" soccer. Too many coaches don't even watch "football", let alone players. The pay to play model is just wrong...... Too much parent involvement..... we moved our own talented youth player to Cameroon where he can play twice a day, at recess and pick-up games, as well as club games. In the summer we bring him "home" and let him play here, but the skill level is weak.....

  1. Soccer Bloke
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 7:47 a.m.
    The problem with USYS soccer is that is a system organized around cups and trophies. A team of 12-13-14 year olds that plays like Spain will have to accept that on occasions it will lose games and against a team that deliberately selects physical players and plays a pack in and counter-attack soccer based on speed and power. (Like most DA and College teams in fact.) Accepting that is hard for coaches dealing with parents who count up Gotsoccer points and are obsessed winning this or that Cup. It is far easier to stop a team that emulates Spain's style from playing than it is to play like that oneself. Earlier this year I believe the US ID2 u14s actually beat Barcelona's 14s. To me this only proves we are picking the wrong players and playing the wrong style. If Barca had want to beat the American boys, they could have simply driven around town picking up bigger kids from the playgrounds. In another 2-3 years if the same two groups of boys play each other Barca will win handily

  1. Walter Bustamante
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 7:54 a.m.
    Great article Mr. Gardner, I will always thank you for your support when Firmanni did not give the chance to be part of the team. I am going to coach passaic community college and I will impose my style.

  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 8:28 a.m.
    Portugal played an open game until the extra periods, and did not park the bus. Their ability to pressure up the field is what kept them in the game.

  1. Scholes Scholes
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:05 a.m.
    Spain were great but best team of all time???...Brazil had so many legendary players in '58, '62 and '70....that could play in any era....in addition they had the greatest player of all time...a forward that scored all types of fantastic goals...dont discount Pele...the brazilian's or the contributions they made to the sport...they were unbelievable...it's not comparable

  1. Scott Baxter
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:07 a.m.
    We have an extrinsic reward based system of soccer. Just look at iSoccer & Coerver with the patches and bling when you can do so many x's of a skill in x amount of time. They are selling a commodity instead of coaching. We need coaches to learn how to have autonomy-supportive behaviors to nurture the athletes self-determined intrinsic &extrinsic motivations. We need to teach coaches to be teachers. Coaches need to know about learning theory, and leadership strategies. Just yelling from the touchline is not coaching.

  1. Joe Hosack
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:10 a.m.
    Thank you for your plea! Yep - the bigger brain always wins in the end. We can adapt now to Spain's excellent example or continue the heartache that exist today. There is a real dicotomy between those coaches having 20 years or more of experience and those with 15 years or less. When you've had success playing like a thug and coaching others to play as such, that success validates the behavior and reinforces the behavior. I'm afraid we will have to wait for the older's extinction! The most recent experience of the MNT also proves this point - " Jurgen Klinsmann wants the U.S. national team to get nasty, starting with Sunday’s exhibition match against Canada. He’s tired of his players being nice guys. The former German star, who took over the U.S. team last summer, said after Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Brazil that the team was too reverential toward the Brazilians and needs to play with more moxie and aggression. “We need to get an edge, be more nastier,” Klinsmann said. “Maybe we’re a little bit still too naive. Maybe we don’t want to hurt people. But that’s what we’ve got to do. You’ve got to do that at the end of the day. So we’ve got to step on their toes more and get them more frustrated and make a case with the referee maybe as well.” Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/02/2829964/jurgen-klinsmann-says-us-team.html#storylink=cpy MAYBE WE SHUOLD PLAY MORE LIKE SPAIN. INIESTA , XAVI, TORRES ..... EVER NASTY?

  1. Gene Jay
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:19 a.m.
    Agree with all the above--for once! Have coached lots of youth soccer, and guilty of the same-focus on winning and mostly (but not alwaysa)choosing the strongest players. Real problem for me was the selection decisions begin at 7 and 8 year old level. If a kid does not get on a team early, very hard in the US to make a quality team at 13/14 years of age. It happens-just very difficult. When we have a culture of 'don't worry about goals, just worry about holding/dribbling/passing the ball', the USA will have great players like Spain. Good luck with that!

  1. coach chico
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:35 a.m.
    Great article Paul. After reading your article, 2 issues come to mind from my past as a member of the US national team and as a coach during my stint in the Houston area both few years back, one longer then I care to mention. The first one brings back another name to the equation, Hugo Perez. You mentioned that Spain has been playing its amazing style for a while now,almost like knowing were you going to be before the play develops..like reading your mind. This is the thought I want to instill in you and your readers. "like reading the mind of the player keeping the ball and what he is going to do next". Well back to Hugo, I remember many times that we would be chosen together to play olympic and/or world cup qualifiers games and every time we would be practicing and warming up together with a keep away game, Hugo and I would keep the ball away from other players for what seemed long periods of time. Remember, we were only 2 players in a group of 11 vs 11 playing this way. We did not have the buy in from the rest of the team and from the coaches of that era to say the least. (Walt, Alkis, Lothar ,and Gansler to name a few) As soon as the "tactical" session started during practices, Hugo and I were split up never to play together tactically again, specially in the games. Remember, as Hispanic players, we were a defensive liability. You can't have Hugo and Chico in the starting team playing along side each other 'who will defend" were some of the comments from coaches and players. I hope to believe that we have such players today, like Hugo and I, but I guarantee you that as you mention in your article, the coaching philosophy "German" of our national team coaches and USSF officials would be very hard to crack.. As for my other point with my stint in the Houston area, thousands of young players were being trained by coaches that have not change their style of play for decades as well, influenced by the many of "English" coaches and club's governing boards teaching our youth. They all have the same prejudices of hispanic players. To make my point, there is a club team, I hope is still there, called the "Houstonians". Yes, the team was made of young players of Mexican ancestry. I remember playing against them with great suburbian teams and getting our asses handed to us every time, in all age groups. They will hold on to the ball for what seemed an eternity, passing and dribbling our teams to ridicule and exhaustion. In addition, I think the Mexican national team is doing the same to all of our teams right now, would you agree. If you have not heard of that Houston team or other similar inner city teams, well that answers my point and our predicament with our American style of play. Finally, I can't believe that when I started writing down my comments it would take this long to write. Sorry about that, I hope I made this couple of points worth its time on my laptop. Chico

  1. coach chico
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:42 a.m.
    Dear Paul...just noticed that I did not add my last name to the article from coach chico..This is Chico Borja Thanks

  1. Albert Harris
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:48 a.m.
    Bill: I would say rather that Portugal's pressuring up the field had some results but could not be sustained which resulted in Spain's taking over the game in the 2nd half and extra time. It was still a system built more on defense first and then get the ball to Christiano and pray for a moment of genius. Mind you, not a bad plan when you have a player of that caliber. The problem is that Spain has a team in which every player has such exquisite technique that high pressure wears out the opposition since Spain can control it and make you chase which wears you down far quicker than they do. Whatever your rooting interests though, I think we should all enjoy Spain because a side like this comes along once a generation and we're not likely to see their like again for another 40 or 50 years.

  1. Mike Murray
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 10:46 a.m.
    Mr. Gardner has been pounded by so much criticism over the years that he must find the showers of praise in these comments refreshing indeed. Spain's style, though occasionally prissy and boring, is mostly beautiful, but the fact that it's also victorious just now has as much to do with the quality of the Spanish players as it does the beauty of the Spanish style. Let's not get carried away with purist homage to any single style of play. Good coaching and player development always adapt themselves to the abilities of players and do not straight-jacket themselves in any one system, whether it's English hardball or Spanish dancing.

  1. Amos Annan
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 10:47 a.m.
    How about a simpler explanation: Spain just has more talent at this point in time.

  1. Walt Pericciuoli
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.
    Paul you have been preaching this message for as long as I can remember.You are 100% correct.I am with you all the way, but what can we do about it? It's at the highest levels of US Soccer that does not share the same vision.Yes,we have devoted enough time and money and should be seeing better results by now.Don't tell me its' a slow process and 20 years from now we'll get there.That's what I heard 20 years ago.I don't blame Klinsi.Not one of our best US players over the past 20 years were developed by the Academy system or by the "super clubs". Klinsi is working with what he has.He has to focus on getting us the the WC 2014.That will be a major accomplishment based on what I see as our current talent pool at all levels of the national program. He can't turn his attention to player development until he has gotten us to WC 2014. That will be the only way his contract will be extended.Then he may be given the time to implement the training programs that will align with his vision of the game.My faith is that he sees the game as I do that is in the way Spain and the great teams of the past played it. A good start would be to get rid of all the Academy clubs except for the professional club supported academies.We must get rid of the pay to play system at the higher levels.All other soccer should be considered recreational.All youth clubs should be part of the player development program and the scouting system.Players that are developed at the youth level should be and must be passed on to the professional academy programs. The smaller recreation clubs should be compensated for players that are promoted to the Academy teams.The clubs should be looking for and training the kind of players that will change the style of play that will fit our "new vision".We all have to be part of the system.

  1. Kevin Kelly
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.
    Paul: You have to get out more. It has already started. Come to California and watch some club youth soccer. http://blog.3four3.com/2012/03/23/a-phenomenal-soccer-education-in-12-minutes-video/comment-page-1/#comment-22142 Barcelona just opened an academy in the U.S. We have to be patient. If the soccer powers in the rest of the world can't match Spain--we can't expect the U.S. to do so in 20 years. Spain revamped their whole youth and club systems 10+ years ago and this is that generation.

  1. Kevin Kelly
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.
    By the way, for those ripping on Klinsmann for choosing German/US players, he has also made it clear that he thinks highly of our Mexican league players as well and has given them much more time than Bradley did.

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.
    Mr. Gardner hits the nail on the head. The physical side of the game, which we hear a lot about at all levels, is an easy and tempting shortcut to take when you don't have skill, and for many it is the only game they know. How many times do we hear players and coaches emphasize "winning the 50/50 balls"? We should emphasize minimizing 50/50 balls, as Spain does so spectacularly well! But it is so much easier to teach kids to run into other kids, to upend them with sliding tackles, and to otherwise intimidate more skillful opponents. It is much much harder to teach skill. And herein lies the real difficulty: though physical play cannot win at the highest levels, it is capable of hiding many sins. The Netherlands took their physical game to the WC 2010 final, where it ultimately failed and produced the ugliest spectacle I've seen in this sport. The same Dutch team came to Euro 2012, minus the physical, and did even worse. So coaches will continue to preach physical, and thousands of players and spectators will know no better. But if we really want to go to the next level, it's time to put an end to all the "nasty" talk. You need skill. Not only will we need coaches to teach it, but we also need referees who understand how to call a game. It's worth the effort. This final shows us the Beautiful Game in all its beautiful glory.

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.
    Many coaches in our soccer community believe that the US will not reach its true potential without a major shift in the way that we are training players, top to bottom. The problem is finding someone or some group in the US to step forward and advance the criticism mentioned in Paul's article. I thought this might happen after the men's side failed to qualify for the Olympic games, not because we were supposed to see beautiful, artistic soccer during the Olympics but because the Olympics is a popular event in the US even to the occasional soccer follower. Nothing. Excuses but no visible action. A small group of influential, American soccer personalities who are not tied into the present soccer powers that be, and who believe that Paul's concepts are correct, need to get together and step forward with blunt, major, public criticism of the way that we are now training our players. Quickly, set up meetings, get ideas from coaches and players about change, sketch out a very simple plan, advance it publically--be critical. This can be done quickly by using electronic media rather than waiting for in-person meetings to be scheduled. If this doesn't happen soon, we will remain in the doldrums for years to come. Our system of training players, our system of forming youth clubs and teams is not working in the US. As hard as it is to say, we won't achieve our true potential as a soccer nation in this generation without quick, public, critical action by a few influential leaders in our soccer community. Dan Minutillo

  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 11:48 a.m.
    It still comes down to coaches choosing players based on their coaching style requirements. Until coaches start valuing soccer IQ over lung capacity we will always lag behind. It may be sporadically happening, but the personnel that get promoted to national U teams aren't those coaches. Here's my example: I've refereed many girls teams and the best possession side I've seen is Santa Clara Sporting's U16 (now 17s). The last missing piece for them is a dominant striker, but how many do you see in the girls game, and at that specific age? With 2/3rds of possession they could be scoring goals by the boatload but without that missing piece they don't. Their coach has a small indian girl who has brilliant awareness/vision/touch. She will never be invited to a U camp, never get the exposure she needs to get to the next level, because that team hasn't won a state cup, or a surf cup, isn't in the ECNL. US coaches have a values problem, not a skilled player shortage. We should be choosing coaches that can beat Japan, Germany and Brazil, not pound out a win at the local CONCACAF derby.

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.
    First of all to respond to Chico Borja. Yes the Houstonians are still in existance. There is no doubt when they started it was a model program that should have been embraced and immulated throughout the US. But again there was a lack of vision, courage, and risk taking to implement this type of program throughout the inner cities of America. We need radical change. Again I stress the word RADICAL. The status quo of American soccer has come to a passe. We need new leadership, with a new vision, and a master plan that will create a new system that will take US Soccer to another dimension. When I was in Spain 1 1/2 years ago. The president of the Spanish FA told a group of us that one of the main reasons that Spain won the European Cup and World Cup is because in the mid 80's he implemented futsal in every school and in every park throughout Spain. What you saw on Sunday was futsal on grass. A la machine. FIFA's new mantra for futsal is "Futsal is part of Futbol". US should embrace this concept not because it Spainish, English, or Brazilian but because it is FIFA. Soccer in the US has come a long way but it has a long way to go and a real long way to go if we don't shake things up. That is why we need a soccer REVOLUTION in the US so we can progress much faster. This revolution has nothing to do with coaching. This revolution must emphasize a playing environment and not a coaching environment. I propose that we build 30,000 futsal courts to start with. So kids starting at the age of 5 can play for free, 7 days a week and least 3 to 4 hours a day. This is where the revolution must begin. We must create a sandlot playground experience for our kids. If we don't do this ASAP. Then US soccer will continue to be predictable, one dimensional, boring and Klinnsman or who ever else becomes the national coach will continue to go to abroad to find some player who has American blood running in his vains. We must look at a soccer field as a canvass and the players as artist like Davinci, Dali, Picasso, El Greco, or a Frida. But to create these artist you need to create a streetball/sandlot/playground environment for kids so they can discover how to express who they are. Enough with fancy shoes, pretty uniforms, nice fields, tons of tournaments, a closet filled with coaching books,dvds, and curriculm. We need a REVOLTION. Then one day US will play more beautiful then Spain, Brazil and Argentina all put together. But it is going to take conviction to do this. Something that our society has been lacking for a long long time. Thank You Paul for having the courage to speak your mind and to give another insight in how the beautiful game can be demonstrated. Thank you Spain for protecting and keeping the beautiful game alive. Go USA!!!!!

  1. Paul Lorinczi
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 12:17 p.m.
    Chico - Your comments are quite interesting. Klinsmann has given our Mexican based players more opportunity than previous regimes. The strength of the US is our diversity. We can not be Spain. I agree with Klinsmann that we need to create an American style that is inclusive to the American, Caribbean, Central and South American, Asian talent that exists in this country. Our strength is our diversity. When we embrace this and rid ourselves of the English influences in our coaching and game, we will be a world power in the game. The 30 year reset is happening right now in the US. The next 30 years should be interesting for us.

  1. Juergen Grabi
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 12:48 p.m.
    Let's face it, Youth soccer in the US is a big racket. As long as you have the 'pay for play' system in its current form this country will always lag behind the rest of the world. Just think of all the talented players that never get the opportunity to even participate because Mom and Dad can't afford to pay $3k-4k per season. In the rest of the world soccer is a poor man's sport. Look at the make-up of most national teams and you will see that most players come from a working class background. Soccer for most of them was a way out of poverty and that was the driving force. In this country, soccer is primarily played by kids from the suburbs who oftentimes don't know how to handle adversity.

  1. Will G
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
    All of you have very valid points, however I think everyone overlooks why Spain has created the machine they are today. Yes they have individual talent, but they aren't any more talented than the other teams that reached the quarterfinals. Their success has EVERYTHING to do with the system they play. If you had to pick the 5 best "on the ball" players in this years Euro, would anyone from Spain make that list? Maybe Iniesta? It is what they do off the ball that makes them so great. It is the fact that most (if not all) of them have been taught to read the game in the same manner that makes them special. All the soccer experts want to preach skill, creativity and in some cases trickery. Spains skill comes into play with the fact that they each have a first touch that is world class. Their creativity rarely comes from on the ball, it comes from players off the ball. In fact, many were describing their style as boring and too technical during this tournament. I believe those who did are crazy, but in reality I think they were talking about the lack of 1 v 1 soccer in Spains system. To cut this post short, our concentration needs to be on teaching our youth the game. By game I am not just talking about tactics, but the creativity to see 3 or 4 steps ahead of what is presented at the current moment. Most coaches time and effort is spent 99% of the time on the ball, but this is not where Spain sperates themselves from the rest of the world.

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.
    Will G there is a segment in the book call The Talent Code where the writer ask the futsal coaches why are you sitting there just drinking your coffee and not out there coaching the players. The coaches anwser was we don't want to screw them up. We just let them play. The moving off the ball, first touch, and all that other stuff that you mentioned is not going to from coaching. It is going to come from playing barefooted, half naked, playing on broken glass and rocks. In the words of Carlos Santana. Just let the children play.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.
    Lots of good comments. I knew futsal was a key component of Brazilian success (historically), but didn't realize that Spain had put such a focus on it (thanks, Cony). Particularly in urban areas, field space (especially smooth, playable grass fields with grass that is cut) are hard to come by, so hard courts for futsal would solve that problem, and futsal really does teach touch and skill. Will G, I disagree with your "best on the ball" players not being Spanish, but agree with your larger point; the Spanish players are not good because they have fancy dribbling moves (like Ronaldo), but because they understand the flow of the game. But I would argue that though they often play simply (as in not fancy, just short, quick passes), it is still highly skilled. The way they let the ball come across their body, lean one way, go another, turn on a dime, etc., is highly skilled. And I think the way to achieve players of this caliber (Amos may be right about this Spanish team) is to maximize player participation, especially at the younger ages. Maximize unpressured games with lots of touches on the ball, no focus on winning (and keep it cheap). Keep the kids happy, playing hard, and having fun. Retain that focus until at least age 10 (many games where players try to win, but no standings or winner take all tournaments). Then allow players to compete against other clubs, but retain time and space for pickup games, especially against older, skilled players. And coach Chico, great to see you're giving back to the game. Having people with your pedigree pushing for skill oriented playing has great value.

  1. Ron kruse
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 2:50 p.m.
    Thanks so much for all of your insight. I am a youth soccer coach. I coach recreational as well as club, i guess what people call pay to play soccer. I tell my players that 80% of the game is played w/o the ball at your feet so if you want the ball, they seem to think that if they don't have the ball they are not playing, you have to think about what the player w/ the ball may do and how your decsions off ball can influence that decsion and help move toward the target. I also observe many local games and i see alot of coaches yelling at players on the pitch and telling them what to do. I believe this is a huge problem that has a long term negative effect on a plyers creativity and ability ot think for themselves. I very rarely tell my players what to during a match. I do ask them questions that lead them into macking decisions for themselves. I am also makig sure my players have a mastery of the first touch and get their eyes up so that they can make a decsions on what to do next. I love to read all the comments and would greatly appreciate more details on how i can improve my players and my coaching.

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 3:04 p.m.
    We need to take everything that is good in sport and utilize it if it makes common sense to our Usonian way of thinking. We are not just Americans. We are also Usonians. People of the United States of America. We need to develop a Usonian Way. Just like Frank Lloyd Wright created the Usonain Way of Architecture. But we need gather people throughout our country and even from other countries to sit down and develop a 21st century master plan which is called the Usonian Way of Soccer. Chico, Paul, Hugo,Claudio,Wynalda,Balboa, Amaya,CJ Brown,Howe, Perkerman, Bianchi, Lozano, Medrano, Sagatume, and there our others should come together and brainstorm a new direction for US Soccer. The time is now!!!

  1. Andres Yturralde
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 3:10 p.m.
    Great topic, Paul, thank you. Awesome comments as well--I definitely picked up a couple of things. A special thanks to Chico Borja for taking the time to share some of his expert knowledge. Que viva el futbol!

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 3:55 p.m.
    WOW, and heartfealt THANK YOU, MUCHSIMAS GRACIAS Paul, and Chico Borja for one positive article and insightful comments, all around! As a former contributor to SA, and an avid reader of the magazine (jeez, going back now to early 1970!) this is one of the better articles and comments I've read, and most amazingly, we are all seemingly on the same page!!! It will take yet a few more years before we adopt our "own style," whether it be a diversified combination, i.e. Spanish, Latino, Asian, German, yet I do have hope now and hope spring eternal. As for the country in general finally awakening to el jogo bonito, futbol, fussbal, soccer, etc., of the many pk,aces I've been, I've heard more and more people talk about Sunday's game - surprising to me 'cause stores, print shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, etc., people HAVE been talking about Spain and the game. So, to reiterate, thank you one and let's PLAY ON!!!

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 4 p.m.
    Ooooops! To clarify my last lines from above, the places I've patronized, for the most part, people from all walks of life, and many, many of them admit they either don't watch sports, or could care less, yet spoke in amazement of Spain's masterful game! Some even commented that they thought our sport consisted only of kick and run, and yet they were positively exposed to "el jogo bonito!"

  1. Karl Ortmertl
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 4:42 p.m.
    I agree totally with Paul that Spain's way is The Way. Skill and fundamentals in any sport will always win out in the end. You get out what you put in. The problem I have is that in no way do I see this happening in America. I doubt that anything but a tiny percentage of American kids even watched Spain play. How are they going to emulate how Spanish players play if they don't have the interest to watch. The last thing that soccer kids in this country are watching on TV is soccer. It's not cool. A zillion other things in this country are much cooler for kids to throw themselves into - in their eyes. You can play it, but you don't take it home with you. Parents and coaches are another disaster area. They don't care about soccer. They care about their kids winning - winning at something they (the coaches and parents) barely understand and don't care much about. Unless Americans get a cultural brain transplant, I see nothing happening.

  1. Aris Protopapadakis
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 5:22 p.m.
    Amen. And while we are at it, we could also get ride of the Anglo-brainwashed TV commentators who STILL be little the "excessive passing" etc. All through the season, while they would applauds Barca goals, when things weren't going well they would go back to the saw "too many passes," "get it to the wings and cross," and the like. Because of their position, it influences how the young who watch the game perceive it.

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 5:54 p.m.
    Karl, you make some great points but I don't agree with your conclusion. We can affect change in the US without a cultural brain transplant. Just after reading Paul's article, I contacted a few friends that have played on the US MNT, in college and also have had some experience coaching youth soccer in the US. Later today, I'll contact a few "thinking" coaches who understand the need for change in the US. We will put together a group of about a dozen players and coaches who are truly interested in improving US soccer, who understand the need for change in the US, and, who are very vocal. I'm going to link them together electronically in a private forum so that they could share ideas, criticize and comment on ideas, and come up with a very simple, easy to understand plan to move the US toward the Spanish model of training and play considering the present state of US soccer and US culture--in other words, the US is not Spain so the approach to change needs to be different here than there. I'm going to moderate the discussion as it goes on from day to day and draft a very simple plan which notes areas of concern as a starting place and then proposes changes in direction based on the discussion. Once written, the plan can be disseminated to the present US soccer "powers that be" privately and publically through social media, soccer web sites, etc. including youth coaching directors for influential youth clubs across the country. This might be an exercise in futility considering that such "plans" have been provided to US Soccer and other groups before but it's worth a shot and, at the very least, should get a few US coaches thinking about change. Paul hit the nail on the head as Ramon (above) said but we need to do something about it. Dan Minutillo

  1. coach chico
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 5:54 p.m.
    @ cony konstin...Great point Cony...I played the FIFA FUTSAL World Cup representing our country (USA)in 1993 in Hong Kong. We finished 2nd, at that time the best finish by a a US man's team ever. I know is FUTSAL but it felt great. To the point, we played Spain in the tournament and you are correct, they were playing a similar and yet more complicated style of play as compared to the Spanish outdoor team we enjoy today. When they played us, we got a first look of their magic. The Spanish team passed and moved without the ball with a since of synchronization that will rival the Spanish National team and Barcelona's teams of today. (I would love to watch a game of the Spanish FUTSAL team vs. the current European champions. Could you imagine) could this prove your point Cony... By the way, Spain has a very successful professional FUTSAL league made of teams representing the current outdoor teams, like Barcelona, Real Madrid and others.. Most of the schools and colleges have FUTSAL teams as well..Combine all of these opportunities to play FUtsal and you have yourself a national style of play. There are some Futsal leagues that are growing at our mists, but not enough. Thanks for the insight..Chico Borja

  1. coach chico
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
    To Dan Minutillo...look me up..We'll share our insights, analysis and conclusions Chico Borja US Nat, Olympic,and Futsal Teams and if you don't know me, NY Cosmos. Thanks

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.
    Will do. Dan

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 8:45 p.m.
    To I am in. Dan you can find me at www.tahuichi.com

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 8:48 p.m.
    To Chico I am a FIFA Futsal Instructor I know your old coach Keith Tozer. FIFA's new mantra is "Futsal is part of Futbol". My mantra is Soccer is the king of Sports. Futsal is the Queen of Sports. Beach Socccer is the Prince of Sports.

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 3, 2012 at 9:18 p.m.
    OK, thanks. Dan

  1. Derek armstrong
    commented on: July 4, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
    Paul, You said all I wanted to say and more. Soccer in this country needs a direction, you pointed out that Spain offers all of football, including us, an example. An example in which we are capable here in the USA of achieving if we choose to attempt, we have to want to. All of football should applaud Spain exploits, for its patience and especially its coaching and administrators Tragic story from Chico and something I can well believe having seen what was happening at that period. Change comes slowly by itself; I agree with Paul it needs a push. Derek

  1. Derek armstrong
    commented on: July 4, 2012 at 1:55 p.m.
    Reading the commenst you "lit a fire Paul" Getting Cony going is not hard however :)

  1. Nene Cubillas
    commented on: July 4, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
    The U.s. Soccer problem in a "Nut shell", Get Rid of English mentality(too many "Mr Shmiddies around) and adopt a "Brazilian/ Dutch" way of developing players and be patient to let the system evolve and this takes ten-fifteen years to really have an impact before you expect to see results! . Otherwise keep developing players to play at the Collegiate level and expect them to compete at a "World Class" level!.

  1. mary armstrong
    commented on: July 5, 2012 at 11:24 a.m.
    Dan , I admire your sentiments and possible action. Leadership must however come from the leaders if it has a chance. We can certainly prod and push from the trenches and eventually it might get some momentum . Individually deciding that here is an example which you can adopt in your own world is important also . That is possible now . I agree that like minded people should get together online ,dialogue has to come first before a clear direction is formed . There is no place that I know that gives coaches a chance to explore ideas with enough depth, with enough time, and with participants that have the experience to pull it together . Perhaps its time

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 5, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.
    Thanks Mary. I'm setting up the site now. Let me know if you would like to be involved in the discussion. Thanks, Dan

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 5, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.
    Chico, Cony, and Mary. The blog has been created. I am in the process of putting together an invite list of about a dozen very vocal folks in the soccer community. Over the next month or so, I will aggregate and summarize the comments in the blog into a short, pointed, "white paper" as mentioned in the blog. You can access the blog at www.blogger.com and go to "Advance US Soccer", "view" or "posts", "comment" etc. You may need to create a user name and password to get in. The blog is titled "Advance US Soccer". As I will suggest to all contributors, please merely address the question presented in the blog, no more, no less otherwise we are going to get way off target. There is no need to provide background stories or personal experience in the blog--merely provide an opinion based on the question presented. Thanks very much. Dan

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: July 5, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.
    When the Youth Game in the US is Professionalized as in Europe and Latin America, we will see change!!! http://www.uefa.com/under19/index.html http://www.uefa.com/under17/index.html "All" players in both of the above age groups are signed to Professional forms or Contracts. No pay to play, no college simply Youth Professionals. They are either competing with their "First Teams, or Reserves" OR with their Clubs Youth Teams. Most of these U-17's and U-19's are pushing for First Team spots...and mind you, all domestic competitions from LA Liga, EPL, Bundesliga, Greek Super league all the way down to "Pub Leagues" have one thing in common: PROMOTION-RELEGATION! What role does Promotion-Relegation play? If one has ever played in a league or leagues with this system you will understand. It's not only about "going down" which is TRAGIC but "going up" which is EXHILARATING AND A TRUE ACCOMPLISHMENT. So until our Soccer Governing Body gets a grip on our "Out of control system" because everyone is doing what they want to do, from experience, I would suggest that at this moment and time the COLLEGIATE GAME to our YOUNG PLAYERS. Although it is a 3 month season, it most definitely serves its purpose...EDUCATION. To answer Paul Gardner's question? Professionalize the game at the Youth Level! If not, keep it the way it is and the way it has been!

  1. Dan Minutillo
    commented on: July 5, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.
    Chico, Cony, and Mary, An easier way to get to the Advance US Soccer blog mentioned above: http://www.advanceussoccer.blogspot.com/ If you would like, please take a look at the site and leave a comment. Thanks, Dan

  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: July 5, 2012 at 6:10 p.m.
    Wow, I am amazed at all of the constructive positive comments I have read here. I don't always agree with PG, but I do on this article. Many of the comments here (I haven't had time to read them all) are so dead on. I agree with Walt that the pay to play system has to go or change drastically. In the past we have had way to much influence from the British side of our heritage. Now we need to tune into the Hispanic side and others. Spain's dominance is historical and complete. Now we see why so many teams play them defensively. I really enjoyed the way Italy attacked Spain. I believe Italy would have scored had they not gone down to 10 men, but Spain would have scored again anyways. As many of the commenters have pointed out a major problem in our youth system is the parents who want to win at all costs. I have encountered this attitude in the past. Results are more important than long term development, which requires skill development.

  1. J Perla
    commented on: July 6, 2012 at 1:56 a.m.
    How about getting the refs involved in changing the game?

  1. Jack Niner
    commented on: July 6, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.
    Thank you Mr Gardner - I could not of said it any better. Perhaps there needs to be a public discussion on where do these idiot coaches come from at the youth and college level, and who keeps supporting them. I could chime in on that BIG TIME.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 6, 2012 at 2:59 p.m.
    First, I'm certainly in agreement with emulating Barcelona/Spain, and it's great that some real soccer heavyweights have made comments on this blog. But I have to disagree with the idea that it is a bunch of coaches with British accents (or college coaches) that are preventing us from becoming Spain. I have been involved in soccer from U5 to the professional level in Western PA for more than 20 years (as a player, coach, referee and administrator); historically, western PA has focused on the physical, athletic side of the game (this is Steelers country, after all), so the culture pushes that, but most of the coaches I know emphasize skill and possession. It's not like there are all these little Messi's running around that the coaches have neglected to sign on to their teams. The problem is that players like Messi are developed by living and breathing soccer 24/7, and never being without a ball, and not very many kids (at least in this area) do that. Certainly, there will always be coaches who think Tiki-Taka is not the way to play real soccer (so some coaches can be a problem), but if we want to develop more skillful players, the greater problem is the structure (pay to play/identifying talent early and neglecting the rest) and the culture. We need to focus on an inclusive model that gets kids playing small sided games as often as possible, and keeps them playing at least until they're 14 or 15 so we can maximize the pool of players to draw on. And they need to experience an environment in which competition does not crowd out the opportunity to be creative (which requires that players not be punished when things they try don't work).

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: July 8, 2012 at 11:53 a.m.
    Well, this morning I'm headed down to Downtown LA to watch a "magic show!" These 8-10 year old magicians with the "ball" in the Unaffiliated Leagues. I'm mean these kids are "hitting" bicycle kicks, playing 1-2's with each other and "dropping" there shoulders with speed and power to get into the box!!! Just like Diego! Do you think I'd suggest for them where to go find an Affiliated Club and have to Pay to Play? Personally, there's only 1 Club in LA with its Coaching Director who I trust. Second, too far to travel for these kids. Third, 2 sessions a week won't do it...these kids want everyday! So NO, I'm just going to watch, enjoy and hope the Pro-Clubs come down and watch these matches...because if they don't Mexican Clubs are surely sniffing!

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: July 9, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.
    Is the message being spread to the US on what's going on with the UEFA U-19 Championships? www.uefa.com

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: July 10, 2012 at 12:10 p.m.
    Finally, the main question: What is the objective of the so called "Youth competitive clubs" in the United States? One might laugh at this question but it is very serious? When a Youth Club has a talent, do they simply "pass the player" to a Professional Club with "NO" fee? If so, how do the so called "Youth Competitive Clubs" survive? The parents!!!!!!! Oh, those parents. No where else in the World does this occur. MLS Clubs then acquire a transfer fee down the road for this player to move on say to a European Club, MLS Club and Player are happy right? WRONG! What happens to the Youth club where this all started? What sort of fee do they receive? 0000000000! This needs to drastically change especially with all of the wasted $MILLIONS that are going who knows where!

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: July 11, 2012 at 10:11 a.m.
    Well, seems like this forum died out. A question was posed regarding the Spaniards and their methods. If one really wants information on how things are done around the world, you need to inquiry with the leagues and clubs themselves. I personally am fortunate from my playing days in the NASL have been able to maintain relationships with former players who are now employed in Federations and Clubs from Divisions 1 and below AND who have been alienated from the "Fiasco" here in America. Oh, the latest news for Soccer America to comment on is France v Spain and Greece v England in the EURO - U19 Semi Finals. Maybe this event will allow you to comment! As for myself, my information will come from trusted and purist sources as it always has. I am disappointed yet not surprised with Soccer America!

  1. Jogo Bonito
    commented on: August 4, 2012 at 9:34 a.m.
    wow ... what a star-studed panel we had on today's show!! Seriously, what amazing comments from people that help shape the game in this country. I know things will get better and when it does, we will owe a good portion of the credit to PG. He is the head of "quality control" for the US soccer product. He's tough and won't budge an inch. We need critics like him. Thanks Paul.


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