How Spain left their nearly men tag behind

SPAIN’S meteoric rise to the pinnacle of world football owes much to an Iberian back-to-basics coaching revolution, according to a man with one of the best CVs in the business.

A decade ago Spain rivalled England as big tournament flops, but they arrive at Wembley for Saturday’s friendly as undisputed global frontrunners, having swept all before them at the last World Cup and European Championship.

Manager Vicente del Bosque also has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, with even the outrageously talented likes of midfielders David Silva and Cesc Fabregas limited to cameo appearances.

The secret? Raymond Verheijen, the outspoken Dutch coach who has worked at the last six major international tournaments, for Chelsea and Manchester City and now assists Wales boss Gary Speed, believes he has the answer.

“Over the last 10 years you can see a change,” Verheijen (right), who has also worked with Barcelona and Malaga, told City A.M. “Spanish coaches have a really good feel for the essence of the game. Instead of introducing all kinds of fancy things from outside of football they have gone back to basics and focused on what coaching football actually means.

“The technical skill, the passing game, decision making. They have put all these football elements in the right context. Passing game is first decision making, and then skill, because first you have to make the decision and then you have to execute it.

“They focus on decision making in every single exercise. They don’t isolate technique training. They have also structured it in a good way, going from simple to more complex in later ages.”

Verheijen, with long-time mentor and former Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, hopes to bring some of their accumulated wisdom to British coaches with the launch of the UK Football Academy. The first symposium takes place at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in February and will, he says, offer specialist modules for coaches of all levels.

The 40-year-old is reluctant to add his voice to criticism of British coaching, but does concede there is a need to “catch up” with European rivals such as Germany, whose own coaching revolution has spawned a generation of talented and trophy-winning youngsters.

“I think the level of coaching in the UK is not low. But there is a golden opportunity for UK coaching to catch up with Spain, or Holland,” he adds.

“In general terms there is a need for coaching in the UK to improve. Especially in relative terms – not in absolute terms. In Holland, Spain and Germany, my experience is that it goes quite quickly. Coaching in Germany has developed very quickly over the last 10 years. They have so.”

Raymond Verheijen is the founding director of the UK Football Academy. For further information or to book places on UKFA courses, visit: www.ukfootballacademy.net