Louis van Gaal: Biographie & Vision

Louis van Gaal, Robert Heukels, 2010, Visie Sport
http://www.amazon.de/Louis-van-Gaal-Biographie-Vision/dp/3000321837

Biographien von aktiven Trainern und Spielern sind ja in den meisten Fällen gepflegt langweilig und werden deshalb wohl kaum in diesem Blog erscheinen, es sei denn andere Bücher über Fußball sind irgendwann abgegrast. Mit van Gaal’s Biographie mache ich allerdings eine Ausnahme, weil sie nicht nur die Biographie enthält, die van Gaal-Fans wahrscheinlich nicht viel Neues erfahren läßt, sondern auch ein zweites Buch über seine Vision darüber, wie seine Mannschaften spielen sollen und wie er trainiert, um so so spielen lassen zu können. Dabei erläutert er nicht nur die technischen Aspekte, sondern auch seine Menschenführung und wie er den Teamgeist fördert. Dieser Teil dieser zwei Bücher ist extrem interessant und läßt viele Skandälchen, die von der Presse gern aufgegriffen wurden, in einem anderen Licht erscheinen. Bei van Gaal steht immer das ganze Team im Vordergrund und Extravaganzen, die einzelnen Spieler herausstechen lassen, unterbindet er konsequent. Er erwartet, dass Spieler jeden Tag alles geben und willig sind Neues zu lernen, auch wenn sie am Ende ihrer Karriere sind. Spieler, die nicht in dieses Format passen, wechseln schnell den Verein. Gerade jetzt werden ja auch bei Manchester United Stimmen laut, dass sein Training zu eintönig ist. Das verwundert nicht, denn regelmäßige Wiederholung der Passübungen mit leichten Variationen gehören zu van Gaal’s Training, um das Passspiel bis zur Perfektion zu beherrschen. Ohne perfektes Passspiel ist van Gaal’s Spiel, welches darauf aus ist, den Gegner durch schnelle Ballzirkulation dazu zu bringen eine Lücke entstehen zu lassen, nämlich nicht möglich. Solche Dinge werden relativ schnell klar, wenn man van Gaal’s Buch liest. Auch, dass seine Arroganz lediglich damit zu tun hat, dass er sich nicht reinreden läßt und sich vorbehält, die letzte Entscheidung zu treffen, wenn es um Dinge geht, die die Mannschaft betreffen. Auf der anderen Seite lernt man aber auch, warum ihn die meisten Spieler zu schätzen wussten, denn erstens hat er eine klare Idee, wie er spielen lassen will, zweitens erwartet er, dass die Spieler ihre eigenen Entscheidungen treffen und er möchte auch, dass sie mit ihm diskutieren, was das beste für das Spiel ist.
Alles in alles ist das Vision-Buch äußerst wert zu lesen und die Übungen werden im Detail beschrieben, wie in Coaching-Büchern, so dass man sie auch selbst anwenden kann. Die Biographie ist eher Standard, eine chronologische Aufreihung seines Lebens, bei der er aber immer logisch und kontrolliert berichtet und nicht wirklich Einblick in sein Gefühlsleben gibt.

Biographie: 3/3
Geschichte: 1/3
Hintergrund: 0/3
Taktik & Spielphilosophie: 2/3

For the Love of the Ball

The history and methods of the FC Barcelona youth academy

Albert Folch, 2013, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
http://albertfolch.wix.com/introtobiomems

When I found this book, I was really excited. Finally an English book about the famous youth academy of one of the best teams of the last 20-30 years, all information, how they shape their players, what their strategy is a.s.o. Furthermore it was written by a scientist, so I could expect some thorough analysis of the success of FC Barcelona in the last decade.
The initial euphoria soon wore off. Albert Folch has, unfortunately, not much more to say than what you can read in the newspapers of the last years, when you followed the articles about the Barcelona team. Furthermore he is not able to keep the fanboy out of the text, which makes it very annoying to read sometimes, especially the constant side blows against Real Madrid. Also the analysis, why this generation was so successful, misses unfortunately scientific scrutiny completely. The whole excitement and expectations I had for the book make me feel that it is worse than it really is, so just let’s try to separate the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the latter. You might not expect that after reading the book but FC Barcelona is not the first and only team with a successful youth academy. They are just the team which had the latest successes with players formed in their youth academy (during writing the book, because after that Bayern München just followed them 2013). I would also question that they have the best youth academy. Best is, of course, always ambiguous but a team which has to spend hundreds of millions of euros for transfers does not seem to be successful in growing their own talent. Also the argument about the high number of players in first leagues in Europe only shows that the Spanish soccer organization is extremely centralized. No other team in Spain, except Bilbao, can compete with Barcelona’s and Madrid’s youth academy, because the poaching from Barcelona is so extreme. Do they just get the best players at an earlier age than other European top teams or are the players really developed better than in any other academy? This question is not really answered in the book, because the examples for the success are always the same (Xavi, Iniesta, Messi) and other players or the drop-outs are not really examined at all. Therefore the conclusion that the Barcelona youth academy is the best is mainly based on results which automatically favor this club, the club player per league comparison makes the less centralized work in youth soccer of the Dutch or German teams automatically look worse. I would also argue that a small team fighting every year relegation with bringing young players in their team or developing players to their maximum, which failed in other clubs, might be the better soccer school, than a multimillion dollar club who just makes more use of their youth academy than other rich clubs. But smaller teams, maybe with regularly positive transfer balance sheet, are not considered here.  When you read Soccernomics you can see that the Dutch players have the largest number of players in the first leagues of Europe (although their league is not even in this elitist circle), which shows you where the best youth academies of the continent might still reside.
The other topic which is entirely missing in the book is a tactical analysis of the 2010/2011. Just the notion that Barcelona should change their style to more crosses into the penalty area, because the opponents would block the penalty area with two five player lines shows a significant lack of understanding. The possession play was not the factor which cemented Barcelona’s dominance but the counter-pressing (“Gegenpressing”). That means, that when Barcelona lost the ball they were usually already organized to put pressure on the player with the ball and they did so very quickly without leaving any gaps for the other to get out of the pressure with the pass. Furthermore their defense line was usually so high, that the ball hardly came close to their penalty area. A 5-5-0, how the author proclaimed, was the worst you could do against them, because then you just made it easier for them to counteract when they lost the ball. When they were beaten by Bayern München it was because München played the better pressing. When Barcelona’s team slowly dwindled down they still played the possession play but their pressing became worse and worse, either because the tension was not there anymore to keep the players alert, because of the successes or them getting older or the new coaches did not focus on that aspect anymore as much as Guardiola and therefore their major asset in the game went amiss. Even in this book, I think, the influence of the coaching team under Guardiola is still underestimated. He was not so good, because he brought so many academy members to the first team. The team became so good, because he is one of the best coaches and developed the players further, although they were already the best players in the world. This development of players is now totally missing and therefore also the constant influx from the youth academy is not helping at the moment.
I would like to stop here talking about the negatives and mention also some things the book does really well. Folch provides a good history of the clubs and especially the development of the youth academy. If you do not constantly screen the media for information about FC Barcelona the text provides a good overview about the last forty years.
Some aspects of the decline were also nicely catched. I think one aspect which was underestimated in the media and also from the experts is the aging of Xavi. Folch mentions that the dependency of the team from Messi became stronger and stronger because Xavi’s play slowly declined and I think there is a lot of truth in that.
Finally the biggest plus of the book is the last section, which describes how to train pre-school kids in soccer. It doesn’t matter if you want to teach the Barcelona style or not I think his descriptions help in general to explain kids in an early age how to play more structured and serious and therefore it can help to give kids a head-start into soccer.
As I said before the book is a mixed bag. If you find something interesting for you in the last paragraphs then it might be worth to buy the black and white or the Kindle edition. If you know already most of the articles about the FC Barcelona or you want to set up a youth program or academy for your own club and you seek advice how to do so, then the book probably does not provide enough in-depth information.

Biography: 1/3
History: 2/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: The Blizzard: Issue Seven

The Blizzard: Issue Four

Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2012
http://www.theblizzard.co.uk/product/issue-four/

The final issue of the first year edition of The Blizzard has again several interesting topics to present. At first the issue starts with an interview and nice portrait of Xavi Hernandez by Graham Hunter at a time, 2011, when Barcelona was at its height. It is interesting to read it in retrospect now knowing that also this dominance found an end but it is still a mystery to me why it happened. On a rational base I can understand that in the later years their playing has changed. I’m not sure if it already started in the last season with Guardiola but it was definitely the case under Villanova and Martinez, when the pressing was less strong, the movements in the last third were less effective and what was left was only the great passing and possession play but with less efficiency than some years before. If he team would have been spread over the world or the players one by one would have been retired I could understand why they could not keep their 2011 style but the team was more or less the same 2 years later when they were defeated so badly by Bayern Munich.
Philippe Auclair presents this time two unique interviews, one with Alex Ferguson which provides some insights in the thoughts of the best coaches ever in soccer history. The second interview between Jean-Claude Suaudeau and Didier Deschamps lives from the relationship between both coaches. It turns out that they are quite different, the one being an educator, not necessarily interested in the maximum success but in making the players and his team more perfect, even if it takes a long time, the other being more pragmatic seeing the need for quick successes and using whatever players or tactics help him with that.
Again The Blizzard also helps me to broaden my knowledge about English soccer with telling the story of Arthur Rowe and how he modernized the game in England in the fifties and defined a style which made Tottenham Hotspurs successful for nearly a decade. Furthermore it is interesting to read about the small clubs in London, like Crystal Palace, Millwall, Charlton Athletic or Wimbledon. The story of the small clubs which were quite successful in the past to squeeze the maximum out of their limited potential but today cannot compete anymore in the exclusive club of the Premier League, sounds a bit like the stories told for small german clubs in Ist doch ein geiler Verein. It also makes me appreciate more these smaller clubs which were for me usually just the filling material for the lower ranks of the Premier League table.
This issue is also the first one in which photographs can be seen in The Blizzard. They are form the African Cup of Nations as part of the story of Zambia winning the cup. Again it is refreshing to read about African football with more than just results mentioned. I can remember following the results of this Cup of Nations two years ago but I lost interest over time because all the favorites lost in the end and you are surprised but also partly disappointed, when the teams you know do not win, because then you cannot really understand the drama or the stories which are told in such a tournament. For example, today Aubameyang is well known to myself because of him playing for Borussia Dortmund. That he was a star and pushed his Gabon team close to getting into the final in 2012, I was completely unaware of. Therefore it is good The Blizzard tells these stories.
At the end just two votes from my side. First I can just beg the UEFA to take the suggestions of Brian Phillips serious and make the Europe League a fun event to watch. Furthermore, I consider that The Blizzard should start a Greatest Games DVD series. I would get a lifetime membership for that series immediately.

Biography: 2/3
History: 1/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3

Next book: Coaching the 4-4-2 (Nov 17th)