Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Should under 8s play competitive games?

The move by the English FA to ban competitive soccer for under 8s will be a disappointment to coaches up and down the country who have been preparing for league soccer for a couple of seasons. I think it is a good idea but coaches need advice and guidance over how to play what would amount to friendlies.

 Here at Better Soccer Coaching we have constantly been telling coaches to put the fun back into soccer and the skills will follow.  I would like my under 8s to be playing competitive matches but then I have prepared them for it.

 I am also blessed with strong supportive parents who do not chastise and shout at matches. But I am one of the lucky ones. There are also matches I attend where the opposition are hostile and the parents shout, so something has to be done to control it.

 Will this be enough? Will parents and coaches stop shouting at players and at each other? I hope over the summer the FA adds to its blueprint and gives coaches something to aim for with a skills charter.

 My head says it’s a good thing, but my heart wants to see under 8s with a winner’s medal.

David Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching


More dodgy predictions
June 27, 2008, 9:44 am
Filed under: Dwyer Scullion | Tags: , , , ,

I’m getting good at this.

For years now, at the start of every Premier League season, I predict with utter confidence that “this will be Liverpool’s year”. I’ve been saying that every year for about 18 years or so.

Now, a supersitious person might believe that I was jinxing them. Not me. I’m a philosophy graduate, and a student of formal logic. I don’t do superstition. Much.

Early on in Euro 2008 I predicted that Italy couldn’t win playing the way they were. Then they started playing well and I predicted that they might indeed win after all. Then I changed my mind again. That’s my prerogative.

So here are a number of scattergun predictions for my football year ahead.

1. Italy will not win Euro 2008.

2. Liverpool will not win the English Premier League.

3. Chelsea will win the Champions League.

4. Hook Norton Under 9s will improve as individuals and as a team, will win lots of matches, lose lots, and have a lot of fun along the way.

5. Lots of Dad supporters around the world will make utter fools of themselves by yelling at their offspring and referees during matches in the mistaken belief that displaying their comprehensive understanding of the game in such a vocal manner will impress the other parents (and mums in particular) and confirm their masculinity.

6. A hapless Premier League manager will get the sack for losing to Arsenal.

7. England will win a couple games and Fabio Capello will be deified as the saviour of the nation.

8. England will lose a couple of games and Fabio Capello will be vilified.

9. Hundreds of thousands of committed volunteer grassroots coaches will spend millions of hours learning what they can about their craft and doing their darndest to take the game forward and make a difference to the lives of young and old players around the world.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

The best and the worst (so far)

We’re almost at the half way point of Euro 2008 and as my good friend Sian would say, I’m loving it. Time then for a quick half-way-stage pub-list.

Match of the tournament (so far)

Got to be Turkey 3 Czech Republic 2 for sheer drama, and for Petr Cech dropping a clanger right on the toe of Turkish player Nihat to score the equaliser.

Other candidates include Croatia 2 Germany 1 for the Croats spirit, Slaven Bilic entertaining us all from the touchline, and for the guilty schadenfreude of any German defeat (with apologies to our German readers).

Team of the tournament (so far)

The Netherlands – might have been tempted to protect their early leads against the mighty Italy and France, but where’s the fun in that?

Players of the tournament (so far)

In no particular order:

Deco, Portugal – he has it all – he can pass anywhere, he has great vision, he can tackle, he can dribble, he can score, and he runs the games he plays in. However, it will be interesting to see how he and Portugal cope with tougher midfield opponents against Germany in the quarter-final.

Andrea Pirlo, Italy – has many of the same attributes as Deco. If he had a better striker to aim for than Luca Toni, Italy might not have made such heavy weather of their first two games.

David Villa, Spain – you get the feeling he won’t miss if he gets half a chance. Along with the god-like genius of Fernando Torres, the best strike partnership in the world at the moment.

Wayne Rooney – only joking, couldn’t resist.

Most irritating player (so far)

Cristiano Ronaldo – just because.

Referee of the tournament (so far)

Howard Webb, for taking a stand against outright cheating and awarding a penalty to Austria for holding in the penalty area in their match against Poland. At last someone has the guts to uphold the laws of the game.

Worst prediction of the tournament

Dwyer Scullion, predicting that Italy couldn’t win the tournament with their style of play. Since then, they’ve had countless shots and headers on target and if they had a more potent striker than Toni, they might well have scored more goals than the Dutch by now.

Feel free to agree, contradict, ridicule etc. I’ll have another stab at this completely futile exercise after the final.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Euro 2008 – and the winner is…?

Greece won Euro 2004 scoring a mere 7 goals along the way. I suspect Euro 2008 will be won by a team scoring a lot more goals.

Arrigo Sacchi (former AC Milan and Italy coach) predicts that the tournament will be won by the teams with the best individuals rather than the most organised or systematised. Slaven Bilic, coach of Croatia, agrees, saying “Systems are dying. It’s about the movement of 10 players now.”

Results so far would seem to bear this out. The domestic European competitions and Champions League commitments are so hectic these days that international sides rarely get the chance to get together to work on specific systems or styles of play.

Greece’s Euro 2004 victory was the result of an extremely well-organised but not particularly gifted group of players following their coach’s instructions to the letter, stopping their opponents playing, and nicking the odd goal to secure victory. You can’t fault their approach. It’s not a million miles away from what Italy have done so successfully for so many years (with all due respect to Italy’s great players, and Greece’s for that matter).

So far both Greece and Italy (the reigning Euro and World Cup holders of course) have lost their opening games. In both matches both teams attempted to play their traditional holding games and both teams failed to score, Greece losing 2-0 to Sweden and Italy losing 3-0 to Holland.

That’s not to say that tactics and formations aren’t important. But the teams who are doing well are made up of players with all of the following three key attributes – the ability to follow tactical instructions, high levels of physical fitness, and crucially, a willingness to play at a high tempo and attack, attack, attack.

No team in Euro 2008 is sent out to play without specific tactical and formation instructions. But the successful teams are the ones who will allow their most gifted players to fully express themselves – the teams that are less concerned with the opposition and more concerned with doing their own thing.

That’s the way it should be. That’s why this has been such an entertaining tournament so far, and that’s what I hope to achieve with my own young teams in the future. Just tell them to play their own game.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Greece or Italy go on to win the whole thing. That’s called hedging your bets.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Any value in formations?

Slaven Bilic, Croatia national team manager (and former Premier League player) last week said that he believes formations to be dead, ‘with successful teams essentially being about squeezing space and attacking in numbers’.


I’ve wondered about this myself. If you have a team with players of the quality of say Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney etc. at Manchester United it’s a fair question to ask how important formations are in that scenario. Throughout the English Premier League season just finished United’s tactic seemed to be Attack! Attack! Attack! It’s thrilling to watch, even for a Liverpool supporter.


However, Rio Ferdinand in a recent interview confirmed that there is indeed a bit more to it than that., describing ‘formations as important to us’. I had always assumed that United started 4-4-2 and just let their flair forwards roam pretty much where they wanted, but Ferdinand reveals a more thoughtful approach.


Without going in to too much detail, Ferdinand describes a mobile 4-2-4 formation depending on whether or not they are in possession. However, he also reveals a 4-5-1 formation in some of the tougher away games last season – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. There’s also a different approach again in European competition which is closer to Chelsea’s favoured 4-3-3, with one up front and two wide men.


For me, ultimately it’s about the players. If you don’t have the players who can adapt you end up playing with one formation regardless of the team you’re playing against. That’s the difficulty faced by many of the second tier Premier League sides. The players may have the same skill and fitness levels but they don’t necessarily have the same ability to understand the game in real time and adapt their role and formation according to the coach’s instructions. I really think that that is what Sir Alex is looking for in his players as much as anything else – a good soccer brain and the ability to follow orders.


As far as United are concerned I’m a little disappointed with this information. I had hoped to be able to dismiss Sir Alex’s contribution as buying up all the top talents in world football and sending them out on the pitch with as flea in their ear. And there are many who believe that the real tactical nous in the United set up comes from assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.


But that would be churlish. Ferdinand, and others before him, reveal Ferguson to be a master tactician. Personally, I remember the master stroke he pulled in the 1999 Champions League Final in which he played Ryan Giggs and David Beckham out of position until the last 10 minutes, then switched them around and scored two goals to steal the victory from Bayern Munich.


It will be interesting to watch the impact of formations and tactics in Euro 2008. There is a huge amount of talent on display and some of the finest players and coaches in the world are pitted against each other.


Please feel free to post any tactical observations on this site as the tournament progresses.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching



The Value of the Captain’s Influence
A lot has been made in the British press about the new England manager Fabio Capello picking four different captains for the friendlies his team has played in over the past couple of weeks.All his choices have their own attributes that they bring to a soccer team. My personal preference is David Beckham. He should never have been left out during the Steve McLaren era. It was quite significant that two years after his last appearance as England captain Beckham was given the captain’s armband against Trinidad and Tobago in front of the vice-president of FIFA, Jack Warner.

Warner admitted he would have been strung up by the Trinidad crowd if he hadn’t got Beckham to the match. Warner is also part of the team that England hopes to impress to get the vote for the 2018 World Cup finals. That is what Beckham brings with him – something that extends beyond his performance on the pitch.

So what do I look for in the captains of my youth teams?

I want something that extends beyond the pitch to the players and parents that watch every week.

Well, whatever the text books tell you the first thing you need your captain to be is a good player, but not necessarily the best player. He needs to be good for young players to accept that he is the captain and look up to him and take orders from him.

On many an occasion the best captain has been my own son, but standing in front of your players and parents and saying your son or daughter is the captain can cause all sorts of problems for you and for them.

So who’s left? I’ve written a lot in Better Soccer Coaching about this, so here’s my blueprint.

You need a good communicator, a leader, a key decision maker and someone who puts your ideas into practice on the pitch.Not so easy when they are 7, 8 or 9 years old.

I go for a good talker; someone the other players like and, just as important, he knows and likes his team-mates; someone with a lot of confidence, and someone who can give confidence to his team-mates; someone whose head doesn’t drop when you go a goal behind, and he can also gee up the other players whose heads do go down; someone who is willing to take a penalty, or take a throw in or even a goal kick.

I like my captains to be able to talk to the referee and stop his team-mates from showing dissent.

It takes time to find him but every team needs an inspirational captain.

Stand up David Beckham.

David Clarke, editor, Better Soccer Coaching



Fabio Capello to Save English Football
Fabio Capello was appointed England national team manager on 7 January 2008. Fabio has an almost perfect soccer CV. He has played for and won trophies with Milan, Juventus and Roma, as well as the Italy national team. He has managed and won trophies with Milan, Real Madrid and Roma.So we know he’s good. But what is he worth? Well, his annual salary is £6m (around US$12m). That’s around £13,561 a day. Give or take. Plus expenses.

And what does he do to earn his salary? Well, he watches lots of matches. He appears before the press every now and then. He fires and appoints other coaches and assistants on a regular basis. He does the occasional photo opportunity to help with his and the FA’s public profile.

Oh, and occasionally he gets together with the England players for a spot of coaching before a friendly. A total of five days since his appointment in January. At a cost of around £2.5m to the FA. He picks the team, he calls the tactics and he makes the substitutions.

And what of his coaching style? What is he bringing to the English game? The word most often associated with Capello is “discipline”. Predrag Mijatovic, who played under him at Real Madrid describes him as “A painful but necessary medicine”. Roberto Carlos at Real said of Capello’s style “There will be no spectacle, it will be 1-0…But the team will be there, correctly set up and balanced on the pitch. And always winning.”

I really hope so. I’m as disappointed as the next fan that England aren’t at Euro 2008 (and I’m Irish!). And maybe Capello can secure qualification for World Cup 2010. Clearly, the FA believe that if he can his astronomical salary will have been worth it.

But here’s the thing. Forget 2010 for a minute. What about 2022? If England are successful at that tournament it will have been down to the likes of you and me as youth coaches. Somewhere out there on the playing fields of England are the future generations of Steven Gerrards and Rio Ferdinands. Hopefully they’ll play a more expansive and open style than we’re used to from Capello. And we’ll have done it for a heck of a lot less than £6m a year. And we’ll spend an awful lot more time with our players.

That’s not me being bitter – that’s me being proud of what we’re doing for the future. I’m realistic about the commercial imperative of steadying the England ship and hiring the best available coach at whatever cost. In the short term England might even win something. But the long term is down to grassroots coaches doing it for free week in week out, year after year.

The FA know this. Let’s see some more support. Let’s see some action.

Dwyer Scullion, publisher, Better Soccer Coaching