It's been a little while since my last entry as kid's soccer has gotten in the way as well as many other things including the World Cup now but it's now time to talk about the U10 game involving Vic Riuprimer FC and FC Barcelona and the general structure in youth soccer in Spain. It was a beautiful morning in Santa Eulalia de Riuprimer where the match was taking place. This was a natural grass surface about 6km just outside Vic, Spain. It was warm and around 20C at game time and the home town was ready to take on the giants from Barcelona. There was a buzz around the stadium, with drums and cheers from the parents, grandparents, friends and people from the town. As mentioned in a previous post the Vic team spent time at Friday night's practice setting their line of confrontation, being patient and preparing for the possession that FC Barcelona would have. Very much like their first team and all the way through the whole FC Barcelona Academy setup, the possession is almost always in favour of FCB and just like all of their opponents, the U10 Vic Riuprimer side was going to set up to counter attack and try to soak up as much pressure as they could and hopefully capatilize on a few opportunities and get a result. Much different than the common message of just having "fun" here at home. This was going to be a tactical game at U10, Vic was going to give them up to a certain point on the field, allow them possession, and make the decision when to win the ball and counter Barca. Obviously not as detailed as a professional game but these kids had prepared the whole week for this match.
Very similar to Canada, there are youth leagues in Spain. This is probably as far as it goes for similarities. The league falls under the federation. In the Barcelona area they fall under the Catalan Football Federation. They have one stream for all and there are no rival leagues. This is something that we have to fix in Canada and especially in Ontario. Academies and Community Clubs must all fall under the OSA with the same rights and play against each other from U8 and up. Competition is good for clubs and academies and this will only make our programs better if we all come under one roof.
The leagues were broken down into age groups that included each group being 2 years. Pre-Benjami(U7-8) consisted of 2006-2007s, Benjami 2004-2005s(U9-10), Alevi was 2002-2003s(U11-12), Infantil 2000-2001s(U13-14) and so on. They kept scores and published standings starting at the Pre Benjami level which would be U7/U8. This is a sample of the Benjami standings
They had a system of promotion and relegation although different from what I have known in Ontario. Clubs are promoted rather than the team. So you could have a 2000 team win their division and get promoted to the first division of the Infantil age category, but the 2000s will play in the Cadet division(U15-16) the following year that will include 1999s and 2000s. The top 2001 team would take that spot in the first division of Infantil(U13-14) that the club achieved with the 2000s winning their division. In contrast, the winning 2000 team now moves up to the Cadet division and based on what the 1998s-1999s would be placed accordingly. So a winning 2000 team for example may be placed in the 3rd division of the Cadet group. This is very different from our old system that if you finish first and continually to finish first you would always play in the top division each year.
Another difference with the structure is that they play 7v7 up until U12 and 11v11 begins at U13. Each team is made up of a max of 10 players that includes 2 GKs. Here at home we have adopted 5v5 at U8, 7v7 from U9-10, 9v9 at U11-12 and 11v11 at U13 and up. Perhaps the Catalans have it right with only 7v7 until U13 but thats another debate. They play 4 quarters of 12 minutes up until U10 and 4 quarters of 15 minutes at U11-12. Each player must play at least 1 quarter of the game and no changes are allowed during the first 3 quarters. Changes can be made during the breaks in between the quarters. There is one exception for a change and that would be with an injury but the system is not abused by coaches. I watched some U11-12 games this past weekend and there were changes at all times. The one coach made changes every 3 minutes and the other coach made changes every 5 minutes. In my opinion it disrupted the flow of the game and it seemed with the general poor technical and tactical ability of the players, the ball constantly going out and the player changes it was hard to watch. I think this needs to be addressed here and something needs to be done to have the game flow. Up until U12 they have an offside line which in fact is blue like a blue line in hockey and acts exactly like it does in hockey. They feel a fixed offside line is much easier for the players to learn the offside rule as opposed to the traditional offside rule of the last player. The offside line is also much easier for the referee to administer the rule and they don't not have assistant referees at any of the games. All of the referees that I did see were adults and I didn't see any young referees learning their trade, so I don't know much about referee development in the area.
As I mentioned in the previous blog and as you can see in the video, these games are the focus of the week. This is what they train for and also when you play against FC Barcelona it is not hard to get up for. Whether its to play well to beat them or to do well individually there is always something to play for. FC Barcelona has a network of scouts in the Barcelona area and very common that a few players leave Vic Riuprimer FC and end up at Barca the following year. This is deemed a success at this club and many of the small clubs in Catalunya. How many of their homegrown players at these small clubs end up at FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol is what is remembered and not a championship they may have won at the youth level. Perhaps we don't have this culture and there are no FC Barcelona's scouting players on a regular basis in Canada but we really need to get away from results meaning everything to parents and coaches. Many are still focused on wins and moving up in the system having the perceived "best" players and not focused on developing each player. Nobody knows 100% how each player will turn out and which players will move to the next level but this is where perhaps we lack the the experience as a whole to develop players. There are also many in the game who are there for various reasons and it becomes difficult and we don't always have the best environments. On a side note we also have to have scouts from our various organizations getting out to watch games and seeing as many players as they can regardless of what club or academy they are part of. Our scouting network at least in Ontario is non existent in my opinion and at present time may only be consistent at OPDL game events where there is OSA representation there.
Possession v Counter Attack
The game as I mentioned in the previous blog was going to be a possession game for Barca v the counter attack of Vic. Everybody concedes possession to Barca and is usually limited to counter attacking. Both U10 teams were very patient. Barca was patient on the ball with their possession while Vic was patient in their defending and holding their defensive shape. They were going to concede possession and hope for that 1-2 opportunities and hopefully get a goal that way.
Més que un club (More than a club) is FC Barcelona's slogan and this was more than just a game for the local club. The best of the best are at Barca and of course every team wants to beat them including the people of this town. They came out in droves to watch this U10 game with drums, songs and anything to help cheer on their local team. This was big for the players as well as a good performance may involve an invite the following year to Barca. The U10 team had one player from last year's Vic team and there are many Vic player's scattered throughout many of FC Barcelona's youth teams. These 2 games(home and away) are always used to showcase their talent and all games usually have a couple scouts looking for players for Barca and/or Espanyol. The games here at home usually are filled with parents and grandparents and for most the game is a success if it was fun. Nobody wants to see a blowout but many parents get upset when there is a dominant team but not sure what the right answer for this is. Each game needs to be a learning experience regardless of results. I remember as a kid getting beat 10-0 or worse and I never went home too upset nor did my dad or mom say to me that the other team shouldn't have run the score up. The other team was a better team and we needed to improve ourselves to keep the score down. I would grab my ball the next day and go to the backyard or a park and do things on my own. I would dribble through trees that were close together, do keep ups, take shots and whatever else I could come up with. This is something that is lacking with most kids today.
Free play is where we learned a lot on our own but many of the schedules today that kids have do not allow for this and many parents really don't value free play as it may be better in their opinion to pay for a program with an expert running it.
In this game Barca got on the scoreboard after keeping most of the possession and a great build up to score a goal. Prior to this Barca had hit the post twice and Vic was very disciplined in keeping their defensive shape and giving them their line of confrontation which was basically half field. In Ontario they have introduced the "Retreat Line" which is at half but most coaches/parents don't understand its purpose and have the players line up at half and when the GK takes the goal kick short, they have their players run in a disorganized fashion and try to pressure the ball as individuals and not as a group. My understanding with the retreat line is to promote playing out of the back which is very good but the defensive teams need to be coached on what they should do. Pressuring in a disorganized fashion is not a good way to learn. In all games I watched in the Barcelona area there was an unofficial retreat line and the same in this game all goal kicks were taken short. The team held their line and allowed them to half as they didn't need to win the ball in a disorganized fashion. They would pick and choose their times to win and it paid off near the end of the game when Vic equalized by winning the ball at half and with one pass sent the ball through and the player was able to finish to make the score 1-1. This was the final score and it was like Vic Riuprimer had won the league or a cup final. They had a game plan, they stuck to it and it turned out exactly how they had hoped it would. This was Barca's first points dropped in the league. Barca's coaches weren't too happy but the Vic players, parents, grandparents and general fans went home very happy!! Of course game plans don't always turn out the way they are planned but this plan worked this time. They built the whole week with their training sessions towards their game with FC Barcelona. The players worked hard, they came to learn, they were disciplined, got a result and had a happy weekend tying one of the world's best teams!!
Score/Standings, Promotion/Relegation in Youth football in Catalonia and how it works.