Michael Beale – Rangers FC 1st team coach, caught up with the team at academysoccercoach.co.uk
I recently caught up with the team at www.academysoccercoach.co.uk to discuss the launch of the exciting ASC cloud service, life in Scotland, Rangers FC and much more….
See below for the interview.
Hi Michael, how is life in Glasgow?
Im really enjoying Scotland and my family has settled really well into the Glasgow area. We live about 30 minutes away from the city and in a small village close to Loch Lomond. It is a great base for the children to grow up and have exposure to an outdoors lifestyle with the beauty of the countryside. The people have been great to me and we are very happy here.
How about your work inside the club?
Rangers is a fantastic football club. The facilities are second to none and the expectations placed upon the team are huge. But that’s where the excitement comes from, the demand to win. Each club is made up of different people and they often determine your own personal experience. The people inside the club create a fantastic environment and the fans I’ve met have been so supportive of me personally. I feel privileged to work for this club each day. I also have a lot of friends within Scottish football and therefore I’m very settled and happy here.
How do you find the football in Scotland compared to your previous experiences in England and Brazil?
I am really enjoying football in Scotland. The stadiums are very traditional with the fans close to the action. The atmosphere at Ibrox and stadiums such as the two Edinburgh clubs, give the game a real edge and this energy carries onto the players on the pitch. The style of football is driven by the passion and culture of the people and that is very important. It’s a league that is all action, physical, robust and players need to have a certain mentality and grit to be successful on a consistent basis in this league. I have also lived and worked in Brazil, where people would ask me about the level of the league compared to England for example, but each league is different and has its own puzzles to solve based on the culture, style of play and way of refereeing. What I can say, is that the managers in Scotland, manage their clubs very well and on extremely tight budgets. I believe these conditions are why this league historically has developed so many good managers as they need to have an eye for detail and also develop themselves, their players and staff within tight financial constraints. I believe this league currently has excellent managers who are real assets to their clubs. Also, the form of the big two teams in Europe this season in beating some huge teams is a testament to the level they are currently playing at. So that is another positive for Scotland and Scottish football. This must be promoted more and confidence gained from it. The focus on the rivalry between the clubs will always exist but it should never be overlooked how well each team has represented Scotland across European competition. This will bring positive attention onto the league and also finances back into the Scottish game.
Speaking of the Europa league – if it is cancelled, how will you look back on the memories of this years tournament?
With huge pride and with fantastic memories of our fans travelling across Europe to the various countries enjoying themselves. The following we have for the away games is incredible and I hope we have given them great memories and performances to be proud of. The players have been brilliant throughout and deserve huge praise for the performances against teams such as Midtylland, Legia Warsaw, Feyenoord, Young Boys, Porto, Braga and Leverkusen. These are the teams we want to be playing regularly. The same goes for last season against the likes of Villarreal and Spartak Moscow. The last game vs Bayer Leverkusen was a harsh result for us. The game had very few clear chances for either team and the penalty decision was a big moment. We then had a fantastic chance with Alfredo Morelos to equalise at a time when we were playing well in the match and again at 2-1 we had opportunities to equalise. But they are a top team who have beaten Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Dortmund in the last few months so we know its about taking our opportunities at this level and being more ruthless. In Kai Havertz they have a very classy player who at 20, has a wonderful future ahead. I hope we get the chance to play the second game. We feel that we can play better than we did in the first leg and we want a chance to play them again. It’s important for us as a group.
How do you feel about the leagues being suspended around the world?
I think that the most important thing is to ensure that the health of fans, players and staff is at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts and decisions. I think stopping is the correct thing to do. Health and safety of loved ones is much more important than football at this moment in time. For example, if we play at home game, then it’s 50,000 Rangers people that are at risk and that’s a dangerous thought. No one actually knows where this is going and how long it will take for this virus to be removed. Talking about professional sport at this moment is irrelevant in the bigger picture of people’s health and safety. People are losing their loved ones, businesses are also being ruined. So its a time where we have to push football to one side and concentrate on other areas of life.
Would you like to see the leagues finished behind closed doors?
No – Playing games behind closed doors still exposes the 22 players and staff to an unnecessary risk and also loses the essence of what football is all about which is entertaining the fans inside the stadium. I hope we can finish the leagues and bring a true and fair ending to this season, but I’m unsure if we will get that opportunity.
What are your thoughts on how the leagues will continue or be finished?
Ultimately, the ideal scenario is that the leagues will be continued on a weekend and week night basis through April and May. For this to happen the European competitions might need to stop, especially with travel bans in place. I cannot see how the Champions League will be completed or the upcoming International fixtures which then also puts Euro 2020 into doubt. But with the current situation, my guess is that it’s likely the leagues will be cancelled and pre season will commence as normal in June/July possibly without tours/training camps etc overseas.
How do you determine final league positions?
This is the impossible question to answer. Everyone will have a different opinion that is somehow biased by their own clubs situation. Maybe each league will give the member clubs a chance to vote on the outcome. So for example, Liverpool being so far ahead isn’t a hard decision to vote on as its 20+ points…… but it’s the other end of the table where the issues lie and relegation can have a huge impact on clubs, player contracts, careers and even the future stability of the whole club financially. The same can be said for promoted clubs in a positive way. So we are in a very difficult place that no one wants to be in and that you cannot plan for. Promotion and relegation is the big concern. Unless the leagues can be split in a fair and equal way. So a league with less teams like Scotland can decide to not predict into the future – but go back to a point where each team has played each other twice and use that as a fair reference of the teams level over the equal part of the season. If the positions are the same now as at that point then I think it’s a fairer reference point as each team has played each other twice. But, we must never determine relegation based on a points total where each team has played a different mix of games/opponents and nothing is mathematically decided. This would kill all sporting integrity.
So i believe the different leagues will be sticking close to the rule books and this season will be postponed until later in the year or cancelled completly. Whilst this will seem unfair, I’m not sure what else can be done? – but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Do you think games behind closed doors would give younger players a chance to play more?
Maybe. This isn’t something I have thought about at great detail as I wouldn’t want the leagues to continue without fans. But it’s possible due to less pressure and fan emotion that managers would give some younger academy players minutes In these games. They will be very similar to the environment that the boys play in U23s fixtures.
Are you concerned about media reports of clubs potentially struggling financially during this period?
Yes hugely… I think everyone in football is concerned about this. The fantastic clubs we have down the leagues in England and Scotland will be worried about the uncertainty of when the next game will be played. The players, support staff and the general employees who run the club on a daily basis are all living in an unknown situation. I am not sure anyone could plan for a situation like corona virus. Whilst I’m not the best placed to speak on this situation. You do have natural concerns as a football person that this could have an impact on some clubs for the foreseeable future and change the way that some operate in order to re-balance themselves financially. The impact on the transfer market, on contracts and operational staff within the clubs are all big unknowns at this point in time. The football community must pull together and help each other as much as possible. But – This is something that will hit all sports and all industries in the UK. The uncertainty leads to lots of panic and worry. The whole population needs to do everything they can to help stop the spread of the virus in hope that normality returns ASAP.
You have a deep lying passion for youth development. How is Rangers academy compared to the previous ones you have experienced at Liverpool, São Paulo and Chelsea?
Each club is different and has different challenges to overcome in developing their players. But each club demands success at first team level so probably has similar issues in regards to developing players who are ready and can handle the demands and expectations of the club. Rangers academy is in a good way and if it was in England – without doubt it would be a category 1 academy. Craig Mulholland and his staff have developed a very strong programme and the addition of Ross Wilson to the club is a huge asset to bringing everyone together with one vision. As a manager, Steven Gerrard is very open to the development of young players. As are the rest of the first team staff. We are very much united as one club. We regularly watch the junior teams play and I know the players down to the u16 age group well. I speak on a regular basis to Graeme Murty and Peter Lovrenkrands who run the u20s team and we have a number of those players training with the first team on a daily basis. We have given 8 debuts so far across the two seasons and this is something we are very keen to add too but also to get one or two of the lads playing regularly in the team when they are ready and at the level required. We are also securing strong loan moves for the players that need a bridge from the u20s to the first team. Recently 15 academy players were selected for the Scotland u17, 19 and 21 squads which again shows the talent we have in our academy. We are creative as a club to have a games programme that exposes our players to European opposition and elite teams as much as possible. This is the best way to see how we are developing compared to these big teams and nations. This has included games against Rapid Vienna, Ajax, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Atletico Madrid in the last few months. There is a lot to be optimistic about in regards to the young players at our club and our academy as a whole. Like the first team set up, it has come a long way in a relatively short period of time with a complete rebuild taken place.
What are your plans in this period? It must be strange not having a game to look forward too?
Yes i imagine it’s a very unsettling period for everyone involved in the game. I plan to spend some time with the family and also to use this break to study and develop more as a coach. To watch some old games of our team but also some other top European sides and how they set up tactically. We are always looking for ideas to improve.
What do you see as the biggest tactical change in football?
Good question. I see one key area at elite level that is changing and that is the lack of direct centre forwards and the use of more “hybrid” types. This also has a direct impact on the central defensive position and the profile of player used in this area of the pitch. The current elite goal scorers in European football are Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, they don’t play as the main number 9 but are obsessed with scoring like the main forward. We also see this in the PL with Mane and Salah for Liverpool and also in a similar way with Raheem Sterling at Manchester City. These players arrive into the areas of a number 9 to score goals, but their starting positions is often deeper or wide so they are not easily marked by the Central defenders. It’s all about the rotation and combined movements of the front three. The recent Germany vs Northern Ireland game showed how flexible the German team has become with 4 forwards rotating to disrupt the defence. I spoke to Steven Davis about this game recently and how difficult it was for the Irish team
So how does this sit with your love of wide players?
I think the position of a wide player is evolving. I have always be a big fan of wide players as i love dribbling and players who bring excitement into the game by outplaying the direct opponent. But – the position is changing and you cannot just stand on the side lines anymore, you must now play a more active role in being a goalscorer and not just a creator. The number of goals being scored by the top wide forwards mentioned above shows that you must add significantly to the team’s % of goals scored. I also think that having players in the centre of the pitch who can outplay 1v1 is another big advantage. This all links to the role of the full back, who now must get forward at every opportunity and allow the wide players freedom to arrive in central areas or to run behind the defence more often. The full backs must then be able to cross or outplay efficiently in 1v1 situations. So positional qualities are increasing all the time as the game is becoming faster, more physically demanding and technically dynamic each season
You mentioned the impact on CBs. What are those changes to this role?
I don’t think the above has necessarily arrived in Scotland or the lower leagues of England just yet. Those leagues still have big and physical centre forwards and the teams in these leagues utilise this tactic and type of player well. But in European football and in the Premier League we are seeing a change in the size and mobility of central defenders. The role is developing in order to deal with the rotation and movement in the forward positions. Therefore, speed and agility is as equally important as height, strength and power at the elite level. Players such as Fernandinho and Emre Can playing as central defenders follow on from Mascherano who did this well for Barcelona in La Liga in recent years.
Does this period away from training give you some extra time to use the ASC Cloud platform more often?
Haha. Yes it does! I’m never too far from my computer or without a notepad scribbling new practices down. I have every session for the last 12-15yrs stored away in my office at home and on my Hard Drive. I think that is such a huge reference for me to look back on. My wife thinks I am crazy, but its all part of my journey to this point.
How do you use technology on a daily basis within your role as a coach?
Most top level teams have a range of nationalities and different languages inside the changing room. So the use of technology via video, animation and images is essential to ensure everyone understands the information you are giving to the team and has clarity on their individual role. This was very important for me when I was working for São Paulo in Brazil. It is so important to use clear and efficient communication to promote your tactical ideas. In regards to working with the players at Rangers, we use a range of video and animated diagrams in order to positively support our “on pitch” training. We also use the same when analysing opponents. There is obviously a different level of information that we share amongst ourselves as staff compared to the simple and very clear/precise information that we then give to the players. As a staff, we will combine video, animation and data to analyse both our performances and those of the opponents. It’s our job to then simplify this into a game plan. Pre season is also a big period where we focus on our own tactical development and will do a range of workshops with the players to educate them on those ideas.
How important do you think it is for coaches to use coaching software?
I think using software like ASC Cloud is important for coaches to build a portfolio of their work. At some point, you will be asked to present your ideas to a potential employer or need to stand in front of a group of players/coaches and show your vision on the game. Therefore, using a software that enables you to show this in a very clear and professional way will enhance the way you are perceived and enable you to get across your ideas quickly. The other benefits of using a software like ASC Cloud is that it enables you to share best practice within your club or amongst your coaching colleagues. This is something that has become a key driver of the coaching community and the ability to share practices quickly and effectively can only lead to improved coaching for players.
How are you enjoying all the new features within the ASC Cloud platform?
I am obsessed with developing new practices and sharing them amongst other coaches, both inside and outside the club. I love the ASC Cloud platform as it enables me to work on the move and it’s so easy and simple to use. This is my personal favourite and very useful on the coach or plane journeys. The platform is fantastic for storing and sharing best practice quickly and easily. The ability to embed and play video within your session plan, alongside the text and image covers all aspects of the session. It is a great addition to the ASC range of services and will be a huge asset to all the clubs and associations that currently use it.
Michael Beale was speaking exclusively to www.academysoccercoach.com
For information on ASC Cloud please visit: https://academysportscoach.com/