“Do the maths” when defending

This is a short blog on understanding the “maths” of defending.

I have deliberately kept it short so that it doesn’t give you an overload of detail and information that can lead to confusion.

The aim is solely to give you ideas that you can work with and utilise for your teams.

“Defending is about the work you put in…..” is a quote that I like from Pep Guardiola.

I agree with this quote 100% that work ethic and focus are essential to the teams organisation when defending – but – I also believe you must develop your players defensive understanding in three key areas.

(1) Space (2) the maths of the situation (3) 1v1 mentality.

“The pitch is the same size for both teams. Your team must understand how to use the space better than your opponents”

The space

A simple idea is to split the pitch into three zones (as shown in the diagram).  Now decide which zones that you want your team to prioritise defending in.


Making this decision will determine whether your team use a high, medium or low block.

This may change for certain aspects of the game (for example, when the opponents goalkeeper is about to restart the game with a goal kick) or certain moments in the game (winning or losing late in a game) or even for certain opponents.

Its important, to understand how to play in each type of situation (High, Medium, Low) and to give your players an understanding of this via training sessions that create different match scenarios.


The maths of the situation

This is a big thing that I like to coach with all players/teams that i work with.

To read the game and the situation they are in – both in attack and defence.

When defending as a team, you have a huge advantage from the moment you see the formation or know the formation of your opponents. This enables you to work out the number of players in the opponents defensive line (back 4 or 3) and their tendencies to attack with both full backs or just one.

Why is this information important? well, it gives you a calculation of how many players will join the opponents attack and how you can cover the space defensively.

For example – when playing against most British teams, the central defenders are often players who rarely outplay or bring the ball forward. This tells you, that you can often rely on these players to stay behind the ball and that they will have difficulty picking good passes that (1) break lines or (2) cause your team problems.

Also – knowing which foot the player is most comfortable with, enables you to begin the process of defending by forcing the ball to this player and their weakness.

An example would be playing against two central defenders that are both right footed.

The player on the left side is the one to target as they will be less technically able than the central defender playing on the right side. Using this type of “pressing victim” is a simple way of your team recovering the ball or making the opponents play predictable.

Another aspect to consider is the danger of each player in the opposing team. Without knowing your opponent, you would have to assume that the least dangerous players would be the ones furthest from your goal.

So using this method, an order would look like (least dangerous to most dangerous) – Goalkeeper, Central defenders, full backs, midfielders, wide players, number 10s, forwards.

“When defending you can use this knowledge of formation, central defenders and the prioritising of players as a way of setting up your team defensively”

Isolating the central defenders (in blue) gives you a 10v8 situation. The full backs are in two colours, one relating to when they have the ball (press) and one relating to when they don’t have the ball. The red shirts are the players you want to block from receiving a pass.

For example – dropping into a medium block, and allowing your opponents central defenders to have the ball will give you a 10v8 situation (11v8 if you include the goalkeeper). Once a pass is played to a full back, you can go and apply pressure and either (1) lock play to the line (2) force play back to the centre of the pitch.

if you are a coach that likes to lock play to the side line, you gain an extra advantage in this situation as you can now squeeze players across the pitch and cut the game to one side. Now, you have an even greater advantage in the “maths” player situation around the ball.

Locking the ball to the line and avoiding switches of play will enable you to overload the area around the ball.

If the central defenders, pass the ball forwards (to midfielders or attackers), this should be your chance to apply pressure and steal possession due to the maths of players being in your favour (10 v 8) and your team being compact.

This prioritising of players enables your team to decide which players you are happy to have the ball and which players you must block, harass and deny having the ball.

“Giving your players this understanding is crucial as it helps them to think collectively and act to certain situations in the game. To play in harmony”

The maths becomes particularly important as the match becomes stretched out at the end of games or when you are reduced to 10 players.

When playing with 10 v 11 due to a red card,

Do your players know how to act?  –  Have you practiced this situation in training?

Giving your players the comfort and understanding of maths and space when defending will make these situations much easier.

For example, where is the opponents extra player in the 10 v 11 situation?

Often, its a central defender and therefore, the player furthest from your goal. So there is no need to panic if you are able to keep your overload situation in the defensive 3rd of the pitch (number of players the opponents commit to attack vs the number of players you have to defend).

In most cases – the opponents will always choose to leave two players back to mark your one forward. So the extra player is in the opponents defence and therefore, actually causing little harm to your team. But, you must educate your players on this.

Also – if you are very brave, you can keep two forwards upfield as the opponents will nearly always instruct a full back to cover or a midfielder to stay back and keep the 3v2 balance when attacking.

So again the overload situation is a long way from your goal and danger.

The placement of these two forwards is also interesting. If you place them in the spaces between each full back and central defender, you may find that the opponents full backs are blocked in and stay back – so two forwards can easily “pin” the opponents back four into place.

Two attackers can often “pin” four defenders back – especially if the central defenders are not natural ball playing defenders. This positioning creates doubt in the minds of the full backs as to attack or not. This can give you an overload defensively (even with 10 players).

Now, by forcing the play to stay with the opponents central defenders, you are nullifying the opponents danger and also controlling the space on the field and creating a “numbers up” situation behind the ball for your team.

Therefore, understanding space, how to use it, and which opponents to prioritise are key areas to educate your players in.

“The maths of defending is key to your teams thinking and collective organisation”


The use of triggers for pressing or for moving as a group in certain moments are also very important. But, triggers are very personal to each coach or when playing against different opponents.

Collective thinking on when to press, where to press, who to press, whether to force inside or outside are all part of your game preparation and defensive organisation.

But, again – understand space and the maths of defending comes 1st and the triggers of pressing are the “cherry” on top of the cake in order to steal possession more often.

Its also likely that by controlling space – and the number of players you have in the space – will often enable you to recover the ball without the use of pressing.

This is due to passing errors of your opponents and the realisation that at some point they will need to pass forward into a situation where you have an overload of players (and a greater chance to intercept and recover the ball).

This is why its much easier to defend in a low or mid block than to be a high pressing team. To develop a team that presses well in all moments of the game and collectively is very difficult – but nevertheless, very rewarding and my personal preference.

1v1 Mentality

In all forms of football and especially defending, the mentality of your players to win 1v1 situations is crucial.

The example of a GK433 formation against various opposing formations.

You can be in the right organisation as a team and ready to defend – but, then you must be strong and aggressive in all 1v1 situations to win the ball.

In short, your players must not forget to tackle! or forget that each player winning their direct 1v1 duel is an essential starting point to controlling the game.

Catch you soon.


— A preview of my new book will be available to download here at 1pm on 07/06 —



New Book, 60 Training games for player development – Released July 2017

Time to write a new bookHora de escrever um novo livroTiempo para escribir un nuevo libroZeit, Ein neues Buch ze schreiben…….

My new book will be released in July 2017 and will be a collection of my favourite small sided games.

The initial copy  will be available in English – both paperback and Ebook formats – with translations into Portuguese, Spanish and German to follow in the coming months.

Further information will be released shortly.

Front Cover
Back Cover 

Structure your training

The simple and most obvious aim of training is to oversee IMPROVEMENT.

Therefore, having a plan and structure to your training programme is vitally important.

“Having a structured plan will avoid you planning on a daily basis and putting yourself under pressure to find something new and creative for your players”.

Below are some tips for how you might structure your training programme. This is done by asking yourself a number of questions about your team and combining them with your “vision” on the game.


Firstly – comes your vision. I would advise that it is shouldn’t be a fixed vision. I would recommend that as you grow and learn in the game, that certain players or moments in your life will influence and add to your thinking. So you should be prepared to amend as you travel forwards.

But…. having a clear understanding of your preferences for playing the game is very important before you can lead a group of players.

“Once you have a clear understanding of your preferences. You are now ready to plan how you will develop this from your mind to the pitch on a daily basis”

Three Main Development Areas

  1. Improve Player Qualities
  2. Improve Team Qualities
  3. Prepare for the “What if” situations

Now we can begin to break these down into more details…………

Improve Player Qualities

  • This is an evaluation of your current players and their levels.
  • What type of players do you have?
  • What qualities do they need to possess to play in your “vision” of football?
  • How are you going to improve them in training?
  • Will this be in individual sessions, small group sessions or full team practices?
  • Which staff do you need to help or delegate too?
  • How are you going to communicate this vision with the players?
  • What key “buzz” words or sayings will you use to influence behaviours on a daily basis?

“A vision on football is not a formation. It is your preferences for style of play in attack, defence and the moments of transition in between. It also includes the behaviours, standards and culture you would like to create inside the club”

Improve Team Qualities 

In-line with your vision. you can now begin to list the TEAM QUALITIES that are needed to carry out your playing style in games.

Number 1 is to evaluate if the team already displays some of the qualities that are required. This will help you focus on what is important right now! and also save you some time in the process of development

Some ideas

  • How are we going to attack?
  • Are we possession based, Counter attack based or a mix of the two?
  • How we will structure our defence?
  • How do we react to losing possession?
  • Does this change in different areas of the field?
  • What type of aggression do i want my team to play with?

There is a hundred questions you can ask yourself in this situation. It is all based on how you want the game to be played.

But, having a list, helps you to structure your training and what to introduce and when to introduce certain aspects of it.

“This process is also good when evaluating the development of your team and giving them feedback. For example, you know what areas you have worked on and you also know what areas you wish to develop next. Therefore, you understand that during this process you will see more develop in some areas to others”

Preparing for the “what if” situations

This is a very important area that most coaches overlook. Basically, its coaching within game situations and positively effecting your players decision making in key moments of the game.

Without developing this type of knowledge and awareness in your players, then in the crucial moments, you are relying solely on players “initiative”.

(Initiative is a huge word in player development and something that is key to the development of individuals. Giving time to develop this in players is crucial)

However, for this piece, we are talking about the “WHAT IF” situations that occur in the game when you require your team to be thinking collective and moving in harmony as a group (working together and intelligiently).

There is a great saying for these moments – from my friend Pepijn Lijnders (see below)

“11 players, one heart beat”

So – what are the common “what if” situations in a game

  • Reduced to 10 players
  • Playing against 10 players
  • 1-0 or 0-1 with ten minutes remaining
  • The team is under high pressure
  • Bad referee decision leads to suffering a goal
  • Witnessing a bad injury to a team mate in the game
  • The moments after scoring a goal
  • The moment after conceding a goal
  • Various weather conditions
  • Hostile playing environment

Again – the list is long and endless for your personal circumstances. However, what is clear is that discussing/coaching/experiencing each situation will give your players some coping strategies to use in each scenario that you face. This is a big part of a player and teams development.

Once you have this programme in place, you are then relieved of the pressure to come up with ideas, as you have the master template to work from.

When coaching a team, you should be taking them on a journey of improvement based on some simple concepts/ideas that allow each player to express their personal talents within the team.

In most cases, clarifying the style/game idea and each players role within it, is more important than the practices used.

Basically, giving each person and the team a vision will give freedom to the group and the players will natural take up these roles within the training sessions.

“Own the pitch, Own the ball” 

Above is one of my favourite sayings

“Owning the pitch is the energy, body language and work rate that you will display in the game in order to control the pitch. One pitch and we are going to control it”

“Owning the ball is being the dominant team with the most talented players, the better playing style etc. One ball and we are going to control it”

Another favourite saying which is very similar is

“Attack the game, before you Attack the goal”

“This carries on from the same themes as above and encourages your players to do all the processes well (working hard, working together, playing smart) in order to link all this together and win”

Below is an example of a template – I have put this together for the process of this blog. It will give you some ideas on how to analyse your vision, players and club in the planning process.


I will end with a famous quote from Jose Mourinho

“Are we playing together? or just at the same time?”

Thanks for reading

Catch up soon


A camping trip with Bielsa

One year ago!

A year can fly – in football and in life. Its May 2016 and I am experiencing my first ever camping trip.

The actual thought of sleeping outside in a tent has never been my idea of fun, but my 4 year old son (Henry) was obsessed with the idea of me and him camping together.

Its around this time (May) each year, that I feel the most selfish towards my family and the time i spend away from them. They go throughout the year accepting that dad is going to be working long days and travelling a lot. I also take my work home with me and never switch off between planning, telephone calls or watching games on tv.

Each May, As the season comes to a close, I get the chance to reflect and also to have a months quality family time. So being a big softie, I found myself laying in a tent somewhere near Blackpool in the north west of England.

Me and Henry in the tent that I bought from Sports Direct and Roxanne with Mason in the luxury glamping tent next to us (Henry was not having the Glamping as a real tent and therefore, off to the shops we went and bought a new tent, sleeping bags, lanterns and snacks).

Around 1am – Henry woke me up as he had a done an “accident” and wet his sleeping bag through. So now, I’m laying in a tent “freezing” with my son in my sleeping bag next to me. I cannot go and wake up Roxanne as i told her to lock herself into the Glamping tent. So I’m stuck for a few hours…….

You are probably wondering, what the hell this has to do with Marcelo Bielsa? well – step forward Mr Jed Davies 

Jed is the co founder of inspire coach education events. At the time, Jed was writing a book on Bielsa and had asked me to write a foreword for the book.


Therefore, this was my perfect moment to read the book. Out came my laptop and I began to read the full book in PDF version.

“Its an excellent book and more than just a book on Bielsa. It also features the ideas of coaches who are related to – or inspired by his philosophy on football”

I managed to finish the book around 4.30am and immediately, set about writing the foreword as an email to myself on my phone.

See below for the foreword…..

“If your interested in how the camping trip ended, well Henry finally woke up around 6am and I encouraged him to knock on the door of the Glamping tent to wake up his mum and brother. We were supposed to spend the rest of the day on the camp site, but no chance – We found a nice local cafe and had a full english breakfast before setting off on the 40 mile journey home – arriving safely by 10am……… never again!”


Jed Davies is a brave man! for he has taken on a task of unraveling the most mystical coach in the history of football.

Marcelo Bielsa has inspired so many coaches. For many, Bielsa is less well known than the coaches he has inspired with his vision of the game. But for students of the game, Bielsa is held with great respect and love for his ideas and inspiration.

Never one to chase media attention, he is completely for the development of his players and teams. This is another unique trait that he is adored for in the coaching world – but also makes it hard to really understand the genius of his ideas due to the lack of interviews he has given on his philosophy.

Therefore, I was intrigued to read Jed’s book.

I have known Jed for the past two years and without doubt he is a student of the game, he has a unique eye for fine details and is obsessed with how he analyses the game in order to seek the latest trends in football. This book offers you the insights of this obsession.


It is a fascinating read with each chapter offering you a new insight into various coaches and how they add their own ideas to that of Bielsa’s style.

As a developing coach, the ideas are something that in many ways are an inspiration to me and I would like to share my own thoughts with you for consideration when coaching our children.

Football is a beautiful game, there is no debate on this, but do the children and players you coach have a beautiful experience? Or are they confused and stifled by too many drills or practices that are trying to recreate the game rather than playing it?

So the questions I am posing “Is training beautiful? Or is it just the game that is beautiful” and therefore do players fall in love with training or just playing the game?

This is a key consideration for anyone looking to become a coach. The players are everything and the experiences you give them must enhance their love and passion for football.

As I grow and develop as a coach, my knowledge of the game has improved without doubt. But, the single most important development I have made is in my knowledge of people and how to manage, develop and inspire them.

The term “There is no I in team” is a saying that we have all heard.

I completely disagree with this quote and believe that this is where the biggest mistakes are made in the development of young players and also the motivation of senior players.

In fact, the quote should read “There are eleven I’s in a team” for I believe wholeheartedly that individual development = team development and both should be developed at the same time.

In fifteen years experience at Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC working with players from u6 through to senior professionals, I have learnt that If you raise the level of each individual (improving their identity and focus as players) then as a result your team will become much stronger.

Therefore, the role of a coach in any sport or discipline is to lead their athletes in one direction: Improvement.

Coaches must take on the role of a life coach to their players and become a strong guide in order to develop their full potential. They should promote “you vs yourself” as a model for development and understand that the game is made much easier by having players who are able to demonstrate 1v1 domination (the ability to outplay opponents in your own unique way).


Each person has his or her own unique personality as a human being. I believe the same applies to each player on a football pitch. The aim for coaches is to help a player develop their football personality “Identity” as they grow through the age groups.

A player who is able to develop a strong identity,  is then able to structure their training and therefore, giving themselves a huge amount of focus.

Combining these things will surely lead to improvement and a greater mindset compared to their peers, it will also allow for the player to audit their personal performance.

To give this idea some clarity I am able to share with you some of my favourite quotes from the top coaches in world football.

The person comes 1st. 99.9% of clubs don’t care enough for the person. Its not about how talented someone is, its how that talent is handled”Cruyff

“Football is a human science” – Mourinho

“Training must not be occupational therapy, it must be focused on improvement. All players have talent – they often dont know which. The coach is the medium to help the players manifest this”LVG 

“The art of 1v1 is now more important than ever, Seek first to understand then to be understood”Ancellotti

 “Look for players you can go on a journey with, Show interest in them as people, not just footballers”Wenger

“Don’t impress me, impress yourself”Klopp

Once a player has this identity, its then a case of decision making within the game in order to problem solve and become successful.

“Therefore, the biggest advice I can offer is that developing players to excel in 1v1 situations and problem solving in 2v1, 1v2 moments is the key to player effectiveness inside the 11v11 game”

“Coaches paint pictures, simpler the better”

Michael Beale

May 2016 – Camping Hell………..

Learn from the top – Focus on the Individual

“When building your philosophy on coaching, its important to seek knowledge and guidance from the very top coaches in the game”

The quotes below are ones that guide my belief that individual development is key to managing talent effectively – and ultimately creating a winning team.

When I discuss individual development – people automatically believe I am talking about creating “showboaters” and players who can do twenty step overs before making a pass.

What I’m actually talking about is – FOOTBALL IDENTITY


A players football identity, is their vision of themselves playing at their very best level and having a positive impact on the outcome of a game. When a player has this clear vision in their minds, they can set about working to create this level as much as possible and also using this as a basis to improve further (in all areas of their game).

Therefore, your football identity is similar to your personality, its a very personal thing and something that you need to take ownership of and develop/grow over time.

Its my experience, that young players need a strong guide/mentor in order to assist them with this process of discovery.

“It’s about unblocking peoples limits – allowing them to have greater self belief – and then fulfilling their potential”

For example – all people have a personality outside of the pitch, built up of strengths and weaknesses and often how we see life is a direct line to how we mentally associate with things. It’s the same for footballers when inside the pitch. So whether it’s technical, tactically, physical or most definitely in young pro’s  – psychological – then we need to get inside this and open up possibilities rather than closing them.

It sounds very complex, but its really about being an effective communicator and giving your time to the players both outside and inside the pitch. Its about “going the extra mile” 

It begins with the 1 to 1 relationship and develops each day via open questioning and then clever planning around the training on the pitch, basically understanding people and applying good communication skills.

What is your playing identity/personality?
How do you train it every day?
How does it fit inside a team? 
How good are you at building relationships?

Are some of the key questions to discuss with your players in order to begin a process of making them less dependant on you (coaches in general) and more independent as a footballer.

The next process – Go inside these answers and develop a plan of action, work at it daily, revert back to it when required and most definitely review and amend as time progresses.

Its also worth remembering that the best players, are the best because they are obsessed with their profession and wanting to improve. Coaches are often scared to coach/guide these types of players, but these are the ones that want it the most!!

Its my personal opinion, that all players are developers and this model is just as important with young developing players as it is with senior professionals who are striving to stay at the very elite level of the sport.

“Its about creating a growth mentality amongst your players”

That is why the Jose Mourinho quote below is so interesting to me “Football is a human science” 



My Journey of discovery

“South America is still the supplier of the worlds most talented players, especially those who play with freedom, creativity and invention”

A big part of me coming here (Brazil) was to understand the culture of South American players and football in general. I have been lucky to work with South American players in the past – but predominantly, I have worked with players from across Europe – therefore, this is a missing link in my development and a fantastic opportunity to learn more about people, which is the key.



A week in my life @ SPFC

For those who missed this blog post – it was originally released via @coachingfamily on 20/02/17


You join me at the start of a long and very eventful week. Over the next seven days, we will play three games and my family will have arrived in Sao Paulo to live. The experience I am having in Brazil is outstanding, I already feel more developed as a coach for living in this environment for the past two months.

 Sunday 12th February 2017


Link to matchday highlights/behind scenes

Match highlights

Today is our first home game. 50,000 fans are expected in Estadio Morumbi for the first game of Rogerio Ceni as Manager. After over 24 years and 1250 games (and 131 goals as a goalkeeper) the idol of the club is returning and the fans are incredibly excited. We have played two previous games and had mixed results with one defeat and one win – albeit our win was in the Copa Do Brazil and therefore, we are under a bit of pressure from the media.

We depart the training ground via the team bus in beautiful sunshine only to hit the afternoon rainstorms on our travels (when it rains in Sao Paulo its so hard that it literally stops people going out). What happens next is incredible, and even more so due to the  thunderstorms. As we come down the hill and approach the stadium, we have fans on each sides of the road waving and whistling their support, then as we reach the roundabout outside the stadium there is around 30,000 fans waiting for us. Unbelievable singing meet us, flags, drums and smoke bombs, This is something that I have seen on the Internet and been told about, but to experience it live is amazing and shows what a huge club I am now part of.

The game starts well, the energy inside the stadium has been transferred to the team and we dominate possession with continued attacks. Then disaster strikes as a counter attack leads to us conceding on the very first shot of Ponte Preta.

For a moment, we lose our composure and we need something to help us regain our rhythm. A deflected pass falls kindly for Gilberto who strides clear and shoots across the goalkeeper, the keeper makes the save but Cueva (our little Peruvian magician) arrives to stab home the rebound and the crowd erupts…

“It’s hard to express how beautiful a moment that is – with 50,000 fans jumping up and down in celebration –  but I can tell you its very special”

We then score again, Cueva to Gilberto and its 2-1. At half time, we have turned the game around and deservedly lead.

The second half begins how the first half finished and we now look confident. The rotation of our formation is key as we create three central defenders in attack and force the opposition backwards with our wing backs and wingers on each side of the pitch.

A fantastic goal from Tiago Mendes, bent into the top corner with his left foot, gives us a 3-1 lead and then immediately a fantastic dribble from Araujo (beating two defenders) creates an assist for Gilberto to make the score 4-1. The crowd are now in full song and within 5 minutes we make it 5-1 with Gilberto scoring a simple tap in from a corner (for his hat-trick).

Not even a sloppy consolation goal from Ponte Preta to make it 5-2 can spoil our afternoon. We have won, the team has played well, Rogerio has a win on his opening home game as manager and 50,000 fans are going home with confidence in the team.

As you can imagine, the changing room after the game is one of celebration and everyone is extremely happy. We have a special guest in the form of Felipe Massa, the formula one driver, who is a personal friend of Rogerio. We spend five minutes chatting and then have a photograph together. All round it has been another top day and experience for me.

sp1Monday 13th February

Today is a relaxed day for me. As always, we like to give the players a morning off after a game and report late in the afternoon for a recovery session (starters) and a technical session (subs). Therefore, I go for a long walk in the city.

I start on Avenue Reboucas and walk along Faria Lima to Iguatemi Mall (which has all the biggest brands in the world Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton etc under one roof). I stop for a quick sandwich and drink before continuing along Rua Augusta to Jardins. Jardins is an upscale part of Sao Paulo with lovely restaurants and a “European” style shopping street named Oscar Freire

I arrive back at the training centre in time to plan training with Rogerio. Today we will do some tactical 6v6 games based on quick combination play and then some finishing exercises linked to our formation.

After training, we sit to watch some clips of Santos and how we should approach the game. From what I can see and already know, they are a very good team and Wednesday is going to be a huge test for us.

Around 8.30pm, Me and Charles go for a meal in the city centre. A restaurant called Brown Sugar where we can sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the warm evening. Me and Charles are close, two foreigners working in Brasil and he is extremely important for me as he helps me in the training pitch to translate to the players when I am unable to communicate clearly. With simple instructions, I am fine and I have built strong relationships with a number of the players and the staff. But, for more complex things he is a perfect fit for me as he is able to communicate my feelings. Tonight, dinner and some caipirinha’s are on me as a way of saying thank you and to celebrate our new lives here in Brasil.

Tuesday 14th February

I have the morning off as we are going to train in the evening and then the team will make the 70km trip to Santos and stay overnight in preparation for the first “Classico” of the season (we have three main derbies in Sao Paulo against Santos, Corinthians and Palmeiras).

The clubs driver collects me at 9am and takes me to my new house which is about 20km outside of Sao Paulo city. I arrive and meet the owner of the house before heading to the local shopping centre to buy gifts for the family who will start their 15 hour journey from Liverpool to Sao Paulo this evening.

In the afternoon, I arrive to the training ground at 2pm and prepare for training with Rogerio, Charles and Pintado.

The game with Santos will be our 4th game in 11 days and therefore we need to be very careful with the content of the session. We need to do enough to prepare them mentally and tactically whilst also making sure we don’t negatively impact on the players energy levels.

We make a short and fun circuit of Head Tennis, Hand Ball and first touch games, followed by 15 minutes of team shape and set plays. As always, the guys not involved in the squad and subs make additional exercises at the end of the session. Today its 1v1s in the form of attackers v defenders and is led by Rogerio who puts on an excellent practice.

After training, we have a team meal and then a meeting on Santos and their style of play before the team heads off to Santos and the hotel without me. I have a big day tomorrow as my family arrives at 7.30am and I am staying behind to collect them. I will join the team in the afternoon.


Wednesday 15th February 



Match Highlights

The day starts with my alarm ringing at 6am. Usually Im not a morning person and I struggle to get up at the best of times. Not today though, as after six weeks without my family, they are finally arriving in Brazil.

The club driver, Elias takes me to the airport and we arrive at 7.30am only to wait over an hour for my family to collect their bags and come out. Ever the romantic, I have bought a terrible rose and chocolate collection from the little airport shop for Roxanne as a late Valentines present and a bag full of goodies for the boys. I am quite emotional to see them. The six weeks has been tough with Henry and Mason who are just two and four years old.

The journey to our new home takes around 1hr and 20 minutes (in the morning traffic) and we arrive at the house around 10am. Immediately, the boys get changed and are in the swimming pool, while Roxanne inspects the house and unpacks the bags.

We then take lunch before I have to depart for the training ground. I arrive at 2.55pm and at 3pm join other staff on a mini van to Santos. The journey should take just over an hour but the traffic and winding road to Santos is long and slow and it actually takes near to 2hr 30mins. This combined with the intense heat is the finisher of my energy levels. I snooze for the last 30 minutes (not before seeing the amazing views as you go up and down the mountains to reach the beach and city of santos) and we arrive at the hotel in time for the 6pm pre match meal.

The team meeting takes place at 7.30pm and we focus strongly on trying to control certain areas of the pitch when defending and then utilising our midfield and rotation of formation when attacking. The players look extremely focused and ready for the game.

I have a huge respect for Santos as a team and believe they have an excellent style of play, which shows their coach Dorival Jnr in a very good light.

We arrive at the stadium around 8.30pm and what is surprising is how small the stadium is and compact compared to the other stadiums we have played in. It has the feeling of the old Boleyn Ground (West Ham) as the fans are close to the pitch and the atmosphere is very hostile due to a ban on away fans for this game.

The game is a huge success for us and our first win in Santos for seven years. However, we didn’t make a good start and found ourselves 0-1 early in the game with the Santos players and crowd making things difficult for us. However, slowly our midfielders got a grip on the game and began to dominate possession through Schmidt, Mendes, Cicero and Cueva. After winning and converting a penalty we entered the half time break happy with the score at 1-1

At half time, we make a change and bring the speed of Araujo into the game and rotate our three forwards to create a 433 formation. We start the second half extremely well and dominate both possession and transition with short/fast counter pressing to regain the ball. In fact, this is how we score our second goal as we counter press the Santos playmaker, Lucas Lima and steal the ball on the half way line with space to exploit behind the defence. A Great pass sends Araujo clear and he rounds the goalkeeper to put us 2-1 in front.


The next 30 minutes of the game are fantastic as both teams play at their absolute maximum. Our Goalkeeper Sidao makes an outstanding save from a header and within a flash we score our 3rd and the games decisive goal. This goal is very pleasing as another sub and youth product, Araruna turns to play a wonderful through pass to Cueva who spins passed two defenders in the box and slides the ball to the left for Araujo to drive low across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. What a feeling!!

In truth, we had another great opportunity with Gilberto 1v1 with the goalkeeper but his shot is blocked for a corner.

Overall – tonight is one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had in football. Without doubt, Its my best day in Brasil, with my family arriving in the morning and then playing and winning at Santos in the evening. A perfect day!!

We arrive back at the training ground for 2am and I take an uber home to Roxanne and the boys. Life is good.

Thursday 16th February

I wake up to the boys jumping on me. Ive missed this so much, we take a quick swim and then have breakfast together.

Its wonderful to have my family here with me. After last nights result and my family arriving, I feel more secure and at home in Sao Paulo.

After breakfast, I take the family to the local shopping mall, in Brazil the shopping malls are excellent and often have both cinemas and supermarkets connected to them. The boys have some spending money from home and they use it to buy fancy dress outfits and some small cars.

After a couple of hours, I drop the family back to our house and then continue in the taxi to work. Today, we report at 4pm for a 5pm session. On arrival at the training centre you can feel that everyone is still on a big buzz from the night before. Football clubs are great places to be on these types of days as you can feel the confidence and energy that everyone has in this moment.

The players who started the game will do a recovery session in the gym and then a pool session while the 12 players and 2 goalkeepers who didn’t play or played less than 45 minutes will train.

We start with a 4v4v4 possession game and continue into some small sided games for a total session of 45 minutes. The boys are flying in training and the quality is very high. Our new signing, Jucilei joins the group for the first time in a technical session and he looks to be a very good player. Technically and physically very strong. The addition of him and our new number 9, Lucas Pratto, gives us a big boost in terms of quality and experience.

After the training, I take a quick dinner in the restaurant and then sit with the analyst staff and Rogerio to watch the videos of our next opponents – Mirassol. Like the majority of teams in Brasil, they play with a classic 4231 formation and the team is very much focused around the number 10. He is a very good player and similar to the last game, he is a number 10 with a fantastic left foot and is the inspiration for the team. Mirassol have started the Paulista championship in fantastic form and have won all three games so far this season. They will arrive in Morumbi in high confidence.

I arrive home to find everyone asleep. Its only 9pm, but the previous days travelling has knocked it out of Roxanne and the boys. Therefore, I sit up for a couple of hours writing some session plans and ideas for the coming days.

Friday 17th February

A late start for the team enables me to spend some much needed time at home with my wife Roxanne and the boys. We spend the morning relaxing in the garden and I enjoy swimming with the boys and using the trampoline. Then we tackle Carrefour, the French supermarket that has branches across Sao Paulo.

I then go to rent a car as now that the family have arrived its essential that I can get them from A to B. Where we live there is a park opposite our house but no shops within walking distance and with the heat, walking isn’t advised for the pale skin of the four “Gringos”.

I depart for the training ground around 3pm. The players are reporting at 5pm for a 6pm training session. However, I have greatly under estimated the Friday afternoon traffic and it takes me 90 minutes to travel 18 miles on the motorway to our training ground. The traffic is the only thing I do not like about Sao Paulo. It is a city that has wonderful restaurants, parks and of course the weather isn’t too shabby!,

I arrive around 4.30pm and go straight into the staff meeting to confirm our ideas for the starting team and game tomorrow. The meeting is very relaxed and we decide to meet with the players before training to “scene set” the style of Mirassol and how we want to approach the game tactically the next day. This process works excellently as it gives the players clarity on what is expected and then the training that follows is much clearer and precise.


In training, we make some fun rondos and team races before 15-20 minutes of 11v11 shape and set plays. There is no need for more as we only played two days ago. The subs then make 4v4v4 round robin games followed by some simple crossing and finishing exercises.

After training, the players eat dinner together at 8pm and then stay in the bedrooms at the training centre overnight. This is something that we do before every game and the players accept this as a natural part of their preparation.

Saturday 18th February


Match Highlights

I wake up to find that both boys have crept into our bed in the evening, but I love this part of being a dad. We grab breakfast by trying out some new fruit (the fruit here in Brazil is outstanding) and also enjoy some eggs and bacon. The boys are enjoying every minute here and Skype my parents to tell them about the “adventures” they are having in Brazil.

I arrive at the training centre for 2pm and have time to create some new session plans before we have our pre match meal at 4pm followed by the team meeting at 4.45pm. We then depart for the stadium at 5.30pm to arrive at Estadio Morumbi for 6pm.

It’s a beautiful evening in Sao Paulo and although today marks the end of the summertime, we have gone 5 days without any rain and the weather is excellent as per usual.

The game starts well for us and in particular for our new signing Lucas Pratto who opens the scoring with an excellent header within the first ten minutes. We then have some big moments to extend our lead – but –  we are very wasteful with our final pass or shot after some very good build up play. We accept the 1-0 at half time, but know that we are capable of much more.

The second half starts scrappily and Mirassol have a goal disallowed before we increase our lead though Rodrigo Caio (our Brazilian international centre defender) who heads home from 8 yards.

From this point, we should have gone on and won the game comfortably. However, we made the game difficult for ourselves by giving away a simple goal to an individual error. Now the momentum of the game has changed and we found ourselves in a game of endless counter defending and counter attacking. This is poor and something we must improve on. We have to play with more intelligence and less emotion in these moments of the game.

In fact, we had a goal disallowed before disaster strikes in the 3rd minute of added time. We defend poor out wide and are beaten too easily in a 1v1 situation. The Mirassol full back has time to cross to the far post where the ball is bundled into our goal. We barely have time to kick off before the referee blows to end the game. A hugely disappointing result for us.

So – I end this weekly blog or insight into my new life in Brasil on a low point. This game was over after 75 minutes but somehow we have managed to chew up the result and give away two valuable points.

However, this is football and at the moment we are four games unbeaten and having scored 11 goals in these games. We have some key players missing and due to return to the team in the coming days. Therefore, I prefer to focus on the positives.

The highs and lows in football are huge. This week has given us three games, two wins and a draw. If you add – a move into a new home and my family arriving safely in Sao Paulo – then you could say I’ve had a decent week.

Roll on the next one!!



An obsession with Languages.

I have long had an obsession with learning a second language in order to develop my coaching qualities.

It started as a young coach at Chelsea. I had a fantastic experience at the club and learned so much during the time I was there.

International Tournaments
I was fortunate to visit many European tournaments with the various academy teams and had the pleasure of travelling to countries such as Italy, Holland, Ireland, Turkey, Russia.

This led me to playing against all the big clubs in Europe and learning so much about the players I was working with, youth development, tactics and the level of English players to those in other countries.

World class managers
During the time at Chelsea, we had world class managers arriving at the club on almost a yearly basis.

I wasn’t remotely close to any of the managers – but, our academy manager (Neil Bath) was excellent at drip feeding the managers ideas and vision down to the academy staff. We also had opportunities to go across and watch training from time to time and these moments stayed with me forever as learning experiences. On one occasion, Carlo Ancelotti did a Q+A session which was just outstanding on his philosophy of play at that time.


Villas Boas
Di Matteo

There were also outstanding coaches at the club working either at first team level or in the academy that have gone on to have big careers.


Henk ten Cate
Steve Clarke
Steve Holland
Paul Clement
Brendan Rodgers
Damian Matthews
Eddie Newton
Dermot Drummy
Frank Arneson
Ruud Kaiser

Foreign players
During my time as an u14 coach, I also started to have access to more foreign players in my group. Coaching them was different, they come from different cultures and this has a big effect on their personality and how they see/play the game. I was fascinated by this and also being a full time coach, I was able to watch the u18 or reserve team train and see excellent young players at work. I was intrigued and wanted to pick their brains to understand the differences to how they see the game compared to english players.

This continued when I moved across to Liverpool and worked under Brendan Rodgers (who is fluent in Spanish) and Jurgen Klopp or alongside people such as Alex Inglethorpe, Pepijn Lijnders, Rodolfo Borrell etc

The Link
As I was on this journey, I was beginning to look closely at the people that I admired and the reasons why they were outstanding (in my opinion).

One thing linked the majority of these men together – it was the ability to communicate in a second language.

“Not all of the coaches could speak a second language – but there was enough of them for me to feel under qualified”

Therefore, it was essential for me to start learning as I was scared that my goal of working in the best clubs or working outside England, was going to be very difficult.

“If we look across the premier league we will see world class coaches who are all working outside of their country and in a second language. The ambition and growth mentality of these coaches is very evident”

So – how is it going

Well It’s not easy!!! And it’s certainly the biggest challenge I have taken on in my coaching so far.

I started to learn Spanish around 6 years ago when I was at Chelsea. I was alongside another talented coach at that time, Joe Edwards, and we both wanted to learn the language. We used to have weekly lessons at the academy and Joe was better than me for sure.

What I found out quickly was that I “WANTED” to learn a language but, my daily work was getting in the way and I wasn’t completely obsessed with the “NEED” to learn. Therefore, I needed to dedicate more time and energy.

At this point, I set myself a goal in terms of age when I wanted to be able to speak a language. The aim being – to take a full coaching session in a second language.

My parents live in Mallorca and my sister is almost 90% fluent in the language after going to live with them for 6 months. On speaking with my family and friends, I knew that one day I needed to put myself inside a country to learn. It wasn’t as simple as taking a few lessons.

Ideally, this opportunity would coincide with working in a new country and football culture that would develop me on a number of levels. But if that wasn’t possible, I was planning to take a break from coaching in order to study Spanish for 6-8 months by living with my parents and following the path of my sister.

“To have an experience working outside of England has always been my big aim”

I have to say, the opportunity to come to São Paulo was completely unexpected and I wasn’t looking for a move at that time. However, São Paulo FC is an amazing club that any coach would work for and an honour for me to represent. A wonderful experience.

Obviously – the language here is Portuguese, so my prior studying of Spanish wasn’t much help!!

I never knew one word of Portuguêse when I accepted the job and quickly had to take 18 hours of private lessons in a two week period before arriving in Brazil.

Five months later and ……….. well I haven’t continued with lessons but everyday I am sorrounded by people speaking the language and I am coaching each day in Portuguese. I am helped by the staff and have made many mistakes, but each day I am getting better both inside the club and in my general life.

I don’t think I will ever speak Portuguese perfectly but, football communication is much easier and similar to using Spanish (which I used a little on the training pitch at Liverpool). I am getting better and better each day for taking this challenge.

The thing I didn’t realise before was that living each day (thinking/speaking) in a second language is a really exhausting thing to do and at the end of each day you are mentally very tired – but the speed in which you learn is fantastic.

One thing that is important to remember is that I’m not solely here to learn a language. That would be wholly unprofessional. The fact of learning is to show respect to the club and country that I now live in.

But – You are hired due to your football knowledge and experiences. The football expertise comes first and is the key to being good at your job.

Adding the language – is a bonus and is the next task. A very personal one for me.

“In England, we are a nation that is not obsessed with languages and this maybe holds us back in a number of industries”

Winning the positional SSG’s

Individual development = Team Development

I am a keen believer that Individual Development is the key to Team Development and that one thing feeds the other.

Why? – because improving the individuals will make your team stronger, more focused and motivated in parts and therefore strengthening the whole.

For me, it is common sense that sending players onto the pitch who are confident in their ability and have clarity (on their role in the team) is giving you every opportunity for the team to perform.

But – why this obsession with individual development and decision making?

Well – when you look at the bigger game of 11v11 it is divided into small games of 1v1 or 2v1/3v2 situations.

The next time you watch a game on TV, try to press “Pause” and look at the game in a 20x20yd area around the ball. 

Therefore, coaching how to act, make decisions and dominate these small games within the 11v11 is essential to your success as a team.

I am a believer that we need to develop players that are comfortable in playing 1v1 in all facets of the game – but – that are always thinking in 2v1 and how to combine or how to support a team mate. 

They key thing to remember is – In all facets of the game – not just in possession.

See the pictures below for a breakdown of some positional SSG’s within the 11v11 game and some ideas for you to consider in regards to the technical, physical, tactical and psychological qualities needed for your players to be successful.


Different formations bring different problems to solve


Once you are aware of the opponents formation – you can now break down the game for your players from the simple 1v1 (win your 1v1, make it personal etc) to more complex situations of 2v1, units, sides of the pitch etc……


Its often said that winning the midfield is key to dominating any game.

  • How do your midfielders compliment each other?,
  • What problems does the shape of the opponents midfield create for your team?
  • How can you create overload situations in possession and gain an extra player in the centre of the field?



How obsessed are your team with finding your match winners and goal scorers?

Are all 1v1s in the game a 50/50 situation?

For example, any defender going 1v1 against Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is not involved in a 50/50 situation due to the sheer brilliance of their opponent.

Therefore, where are your teams 70/30 situations? how often can you get the ball to these players so that they can create for your team?



Do you enjoy building your attacks from the goalkeeper or defence?

What are you up against?

How many forwards does the opponents have?

How can you play out in this situation?


But always remember – There is a difference between PLAYING from the back and PLAYING at the back. Your team must be progressive and looking to play forward and through the pitch 

The above is just my opinion on how i see the game and how i like to speak with the players to develop their understanding and qualities to face any situation.

In the following weeks, I will elaborate on this more with greater detail of how i like to develop each players 1v1 football identity/personality and what rules your players need to adopt in 2v1/3v2 situations………..

Mirror image of your touchline behaviour

For: Foundation & Youth Development Coaches. 

Have you ever stopped to consider the following?

What does a mirror image of your touchline behaviour look like?? 

Are you:

  • Frustrated? 
  • Angry?
  • Out of breath?
  • Calm?
  • Positive?
  • Encouraging?

How do you want to it to look? 

What is acceptable for a player to look over and see during the game?

These are things to really consider as a developing coach. 

If you have children yourself, what do you want them to see when they are playing and look over at their coach?

What role do you want the coach to play in the experience your child has playing the game? 

The messages we send as coaches via our body language can have a huge positive or negative effect to the young children who are playing the game. 

A thumbs up, a clap, a smile or a simple “well done” is something that all players need from time to time. 

Playing in a team or session that is led by a coach who inspires with their personality and communication will always give a child the best opportunity to develop and enhance their love of the game. 

Keep your frustration hidden and if your ever angry, then maybe it’s time to take a break from coaching ………….

Self awareness is a key aspect of your development. It’s important to continually analyse yourself and making sure that you are being the best coach/developer you can be. 


Books for inspiration 

So many books to read – but – so little time in my schedule to read them. 

Above is my current collection that is gathering dust in my home office in São Paulo 

Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Andres Iniesta, Ray Lewis and a book on Carlo Ancelottis Christmas Tree formation in Spanish (trying to combine language learning and football development) are all waiting to give me inspiration and ideas to use in my work. 

I have some travelling to do in the coming weeks and will no doubt play a game of mental rock, paper, scissors in my head to determine which one to read next. 

However, the aim of this post is to share with you some of my favourite football books. So here goes ………….

1 – Stillness and Speed (Dennis Bergkamp)

2 – Team Building (Rinus Michels)

3 – Think therefore i play (Andre Pirlo)

4 – The Manager (Mike Carson) 

5 – Quiet Leadership (Carlo Ancellotti) 

6 – Pep Confidential (Marti Perarnau)

A Tip
Always read with a highlight pen close by  – to strike through the bits that catch your attention. 

Happy reading!!