Alfred Galustian Interview on Youth Development in England and Japan by Angus MacLeodplus

Coerver Caoching Japan trained coaches-1

(Above: Alf Galustian with Coerver trained coaches in Japan)

On August 18th 2013, co-founder of Coerver Coaching, Alfred Galustian, was interviewed  by Angus MacLeodplus regarding the Youth Development in England and Japan. Angus MacLeodplus is a UK journalist living in Japan.

Angus MacLeodplus (AM): Thanks very much for taking the time to speak to us Alf.  I really appreciate it.  

For those that don’t already know, would you mind telling us a little bit about you started Coerver Coaching?

Alfred Galustian (AG): Charlie Cooke and I founded Coerver Coaching together in 1984.  Charlie is a Chelsea legend and remains one of the greatest players/coaches that I’ve ever worked with.

When Charlie and I were working in America in 1983, we saw the great Dutch coach Wiel Coerver give a clinic in Philadelphia about developing young players and were just blown away by his philosophy.  His view that in the early formative years individual development was more important than team development really grabbed us.

At that time, we had one camp in New York, so we spoke to Wiel about calling it the Coerver Camp, to which he agreed.  Wiel never really wanted to get involved in the business side, so Charlie and I purchased the rights to use his name exclusively and founded Coerver Coaching in 1984.

Since then Coerver Coaching has become established in 35 countries and the curriculum and method we use has dramatically evolved over these 30 years.

I believe my appointment by the Premier League in 2010 was an acknowledgment of how successful the Coerver Program has been in developing players.

 (AM): Yes, I was hoping to ask you about that, but before we get on to your time in England, could you maybe tell us a little bit about your coaching work in Japan?  I was wondering how that came about and what your first impressions were when you arrived here? 

(AG): My first visit to Japan was in 1992.  I went to Sendai with Sir Geoff Hurst, World Cup legend, Tony Waiters, Technical Director for Canada, and Bryan Hamilton, Northern Ireland national team coach for a series of clinics.

Coerver Coaching in Japan was established at the end of 1993 by a respected Japanese educational and cultural organization called the Matsuo Foundation.

That was really the beginning of the Japan story.  I’ve been there off and on ever since, so that’s 20 years!

From the start through to the present day, my job in Japan has mainly been to train and update coaches in the Coerver Coaching System and support the growth of Coerver Coaching Japan.

(AM): What were the main obstacles that you faced during the set up stage of your time in Japan?

(AG): First of all, there was a lack of facilities.  I grew up in Europe, like you, where you’ve got grass everywhere.  The first fields that I trained on in Japan were sand.  It was strange for me trying to improve football with little grass.

I think in regards to youth development, Coerver Coaching Japan has to take a lot of credit for changing this situation since 1993.  Then we had one school on a dirt field, and now we’ve got 115 Coerver schools all over Japan, mostly on grade 3 to 5 Astrofield.

Secondly, there was a lack of trained coaches who had passed a formal course or acquired any coaching license.  Again, Coerver Coaching has contributed to a change in this area.  Since starting our Coaches’ Academy, which is now in Urawa, we have produced more than 450 trained coaches.  Both Coerver and of course the JFA have done a great job in training coaches; the situation has certainly improved a lot since the early days.

Thirdly, before 1993 there was the lack of a strong professional league, so if you were a young player in Japan, well, where could you progress to?  When I first went there, the J-League had just started, now it’s a very healthy professional league.  Perhaps it is not yet comparable to the top European leagues, but it’s certainly a very healthy league.

(Pictured: Alf delivering a coaching clinic for the Premier League.)

(Pictured: Alf delivering a coaching clinic for the Premier League.)

(AM): Now, you briefly touched on your work with the Premier League a moment ago, could you tell us a little bit more about your involvement with the Elite Player Performance Program? 

(AG): After the 2010 World Cup, where England did poorly, the Premier League launched the Elite Player Performance Program, often simply referred to as the EPPP.

There was an extensive audit, costing millions of pounds to try and improve the next generation of players.  One finding was that despite having probably the best league in the world, England, and the UK as a whole, was not producing enough high-level technical players.

I was then appointed by the EPL as their Technical Advisor/Instructor for 2010/11.  My remit was to conduct a number of coaches’ education courses, focusing on technical improvement, and involving selected youth coaches from all the EPL clubs.

An interesting stat given to me at that time was that 68% of players playing in the English Premier League were foreign.  Another was that approximately 83% of the players described as ‘creative’, or ‘game winners’ are foreign.

My recommendation to the EPL was that we answer three key questions when implementing a Technical Program: What to Teach, How to Teach, and When to Teach in relation to specific age groups.  I adapted the Coerver Coaching Program to do just that.

(AM): What exactly do you mean by those three steps?  And do the answers to these questions vary between nations?

(AG): ‘What’ to teach is curriculum, drills and games.  We at Coerver have devised thousands over these 30 years to suit both grassroots and elite players.  In young player development, there’s not a lot of difference in the drills and games between what a grassroots player does and what an elite player does.  I don’t like the word ‘elite’ but I don’t know another description.  Elite players are young players at professional clubs.

The ‘How’ part, is the method of teaching.  There is often confusion between curriculum, and method.  The ‘How’ part focuses on detailed analysis of the action.  Is there a problem?  And if so, how does the coach help the player to solve it or improve.

The ‘When’ part is to do with age groups.  In Coerver we follow the traditional European pro leagues.  In fact, we have devised programs to fit into these age divisions for many professional clubs around the Europe.  There are four development groups: the 4-7 year olds, 7-11 year olds, 12-16 year olds and the 17-21 year olds.

Now, fast-forwarding to 17-21s, until a few years ago in England many did not think this was a development age.  In other countries I’ve worked in, such as Germany, Spain and France, 17-21 was still a development age, but in England we thought development was mostly done by 17; certainly technical development.  That situation was always strange for me.  With Japan, we at Coerver Coaching have taken the best practices from Europe, and then tried to apply them in Japan.  These age groups of development make sense to me.

Obviously the coach that teaches the 4-7 year-olds is not going to be the same person that coaches 17-21 year-olds.  I think a lot of coaches talk about skill and technical development, where I feel they should be probably defining what happens in each age group.  The Under 12’s is certainly a critical age group for leaning however that’s not the only important age of development.  Development is on going and each stage needs to follow consistency in content and philosophy.

I think Coerver Coaching has played and continues to play a huge part in the development of the under 12’s in Japan, and will introduce a new 12-16 program there shortly.

The under 12’s is a golden age.  It’s absolutely fundamental.  But when you talk about developing future pro players, in my opinion, the ages when have a chance to tell a player may become a pro is between 12 and 16.  I’ve rarely seen a player under 11 that I could predict is going to be a top pro.  Maybe that’s just me, but I have worked in 17 national federations and over 50 professional clubs worldwide.  In the 12-16 year-olds, you may spot a top player for the future but it’s really with 17-21 year-olds that those type of players start to really stand out.

(Pictured: Alf has worked in some of the world's top footballing nations.  Here he is at work in Spain.)

(Pictured: Alf has worked in some of the world’s top footballing nations. Here he is at work in Spain.)

(AM): Recently, we’ve seen a lot of young creative players, flair players if you like, coming through in Japan.  At the same time, many have complained of a lack of such players coming through the youth system in England.  Why is this? 

(AG): Well, when Japan started their professional league in 1993, for them, it was basically a clean slate.

England inherited the philosophies of the early 80’s; the so-called long ball, or direct style of play, hence I believe we lost a generation of technical players.

Players are developed to play in a certain style.  In England, technical players were not the priority when development was planned.  Japan on the other hand was open to all development ideas.

I think this is where Coerver Coaching has contributed to Japanese development in a huge way, basically by teaching the teachers. 15 years ago we opened an academy for coaches in Tokyo.  Since then, over 400 full time coaches have graduated from the Coerver Academy, all trained to be skill specialists.  These coaches have literally developed thousands of players, including over 300 of which have graduated from the Coerver Coaching Schools to J-League clubs.

I think Japan starting from a clean slate, the long-term strategy of the JFA, and the Coerver Coaches’ Education Program has been the difference between the two countries, in terms of producing more creative skilled players.

(AM): When you co-founded Coerver, what was the general atmosphere like among English clubs with regard to Youth investment?  I mean, what were they like in terms of the approach they had to it, and how has that changed since you first got involved in coaching?

(AG): The atmosphere that Charlie and I grew up with in UK was that there were only British players at pro-clubs.  In my case, I was a young player at Wimbledon, but as at big clubs like Chelsea or Manchester United I can’t recall ever playing with a foreign player, of course now, especially at EPL clubs, that’s all changed.

In England, if you go to any top club now, you will find a lot of foreign kids.  For example, if you go to Arsenal or Newcastle, you’ll find many French-speaking players.  In the old days, clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea produced great players, and if you look at the players they produced, you’ll find that they were all British.

As soon as the EPL came about, that changed everything.  Currently, around 67% of the players playing first team football in the top-flight are from overseas, and something like 83% of the outstanding strikers are foreign.  Just by looking at the math you can see how difficult it is for British players to get in.  For example, in my day, you could find great Scottish players, like Charlie, in almost every team.  Now you hardly see any Scots in the EPL.

The cost of buying players has become crazy, in my opinion, and many clubs will sooner or later be forced to invest more in developing than buying or they may go out of business.

If we look at how the game has evolved in England, we’re talking possibly as much as 40-50 million pounds for a player.  It’s just crazy!  So I hope clubs will, just out of financial sanity, start developing more home grown players, and I think things are starting to change at the top level.

With clubs further down the league structure in England, they’ve got no choice but to develop their own players, because they just don’t have the money to bring in players from overseas.

It’s an interesting situation, because now the investment is there, but the problem is how to solve the influx of foreign players, who are generally still better technically than British players.

(AM): So how does this compare to Japan?

(AG): It’s very difficult to compare the professional game in Japan and England.  The EPL is at a different level than most leagues in the world in terms of the money it attracts, so the investment potential is totally different.

In the J-League you have a lot of Japanese players being developed, fighting for a place, and then getting into the first-team.  In the EPL only a small percentage of British boys that sign a pro contract will get into the first team regularly.

Really, it’s a very difficult atmosphere here in the EPL for British players, whereas it’s a very healthy situation in the J-League because Japanese players will be able to get into the team regularly.

(AM): You brought up the topic of big money transfers, and this week we’ve seen figures in excess of 40 million quoted for the likes of Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney.  It’s a lot of money.  If you took 40 or 50 million pound and invested at youth level, what would you be able to achieve with it? 

(AG): It’s incredible.  Currently I’m the Coaches’ Educator at EPL clubs Newcastle United and Stoke City.  Of course it’s great working at big clubs, but with the greatest of respect to those clubs, you have to wonder what kind of chance does a British kid going there ever have of getting into the first team.  Probably in the EPL, Manchester United is the club that has the greatest record of developing such top players.

One of the things I like about Newcastle and Stoke City is that, although it is still very difficult, the boys do have a chance of getting near the first team, whereas if you look at the situation at the top six clubs at the moment, most of the British boys that hit 17 and sign pro contracts will probably go out on loan between the ages of 17 and 21.

Now that’s a huge difference.  In the old days when you came to the end of the youth system, you would either go to the reserves of the first team, nowadays they send you somewhere else.

In other words, the money has just changed the whole complexion of the game here in England, whereas in Japan you don’t have this.

Again, the beautiful thing about Japan is that if I’m a Japanese kid playing well in the youth team, I’ve got a good shot at making the first team squad.

We can talk all we want about developing and producing young players in the UK, but really the bottom line is more top players have to get in the first team and play on a regular basis.

(AM): The next question I wanted to ask was about futsal, and indoor football.  A lot has been said about successful nations using these games at youth level to help develop and hone the more creative skills needed for 11-a-side.  What do you think about this, and how do attitudes to using these games differ between Japan and England?

(AG): To be honest, until I went to Japan I knew little about futsal.  I knew about small-sided games; we all grew up playing small-sided games in England, but futsal is a little different.  The ball is weighted, so it stays on the ground, but basically playing futsal is still playing small-sided games.

Small-sided games are hugely important in developing players.  In Coerver, we have 115 facilities in Japan, which are all futsal courts.  We had one in 1993, now we have 115;an incredible job by Coerver Coaching Japan.

Nowadays, of course, I know futsal and it’s history through educating myself, but also through the Vice-President of Coerver Asian Pacific, Jason Lancsar.  Jason has played in two Futsal World Cups for Australia, so he keeps me well informed of what’s going on in the sport, and all its developments.

My personal view is that it’s a great game, but at a certain point you might have to decide if you want to be a futsal player or a football player.  In futsal, since the ball is weighted it stays on the ground.  Absolutely an advantage when trying to improve technique, but it also means you use a lot of touches especially sole of the foot manipulation.  Now, that’s great in a small area, and of course it will improve your skills, but when you get to age 14 or 15 in the outdoor game, the game gets very quick, and especially when it starts raining and the surface becomes slippery, the game becomes very different, I think.    So while I think Futsal is a game to play and use for training, I think at some point you have to decide what type of player you want to be, and which game you want to focus on.

(AM): Aside from football, is there any cultural aspect that either hinders or benefits you as a coach in either country?  For example, I know Charlie has spoken of the importance of a player’s diet in the past, and many say that Japanese have a much better work ethic.

(AG): I can only talk from personal experience, but what I can tell you is that when I went to Japan the first thing that hit me was the respect shown in the teacher-pupil relationship.  As you know, when greeting someone in Japan, the depth of the bow is an indicator of a person’s level of respect. There the coach is considered to be a very important person.

When I was growing up in Europe, usually the coach was an ex-player.  Some were good coaches, some weren’t so good, but I don’t think there was that same level of respect paid to them.  I’m trying to recall some of my early coaches, and to be honest, I can’t remember too many inspirational coaches, but having said that, I guess that was the way we grew up.

For me, Japan is different, and it has been my favorite country to work in.  I’ve worked on and off at Arsenal for 16 years, and Arsene Wenger has often spoken to me about his time in Japan.  He talked of the Japanese preciseness in timekeeping, their work ethic and discipline.  I certainly found all the things he said to be true.

The other thing is the long-term versus the short-term.  When I went to Japan in ’93, the J-League had just started, but they had a long-term vision, and they’ve continued with it.  Again, the JFA have done an outstanding job developing the game in Japan, especially people like Kohzo Tashima.  Tashima-san was a former national team player and coach who became Technical Director and is now General Secretary.  Under him and his colleagues Japan developed a long-term vision, and kept rolling out this vision, whereas in England, certainly in the professional game, much is based on short-term results.

(AM): Many people quote the co-hosting of World Cup in 2002 as a key factor in Japan’s footballing development.  Ten years have passed since that tournament, and now we are witnessing an explosion of young talent at the top level, but ten years after England hosted Euro ’96 many were complaining of a lack of quality coming through at the top level.  In hindsight, do you think the FA could have done more off the back of Euro ’96?

(AG): I’ve been very lucky to have been in football for so long and worked professionally for so many federations and pro clubs in 29 countries; I say this because it’s been an education for me.  It has enabled me to see things first hand, rather than reading or hearing about it from somewhere else.  It’s made me realize that if you want the national team to progress, you need good co-operation between the professional league and the national federation. It’s generally the pro-league, not the federation that produces top players, so you need that co-operation.

I first saw that level of co-operation was in France, where I have worked on and off for the past 20 years.  Gerard Houllier the then technical director had a great relationship with the League.  Eight National Centers (now ten) were where the best kids were developed the best players trained there during the week and then played for their clubs at the weekend. So there was an understanding and co-operation between the federation and the clubs.

The next time I saw such co-operation, was in Germany in 2000.  Germany had had a horrible time at Euro 2000.  The DFB and the Bundesliga came together and put hundreds of millions of euros into a project where they built centers, changed the education of coaches, again something I experienced.  Now the most recent time I’ve seen this, is in England with the Premier League and the FA.

I’m talking about after 2010 World Cup.  England had a terrible time in South Africa, and the British media went for FA, but the general consensus was that it was the Premier League that had the best kids in the country, and it was they that needed to develop the next generation.  The blue print for this was the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan).

Currently the FA and EPL are working well together, but this is a long-term project. Unfortunately there are still instances of poor co-operation.  For example, we’ve seen it recently that the England Under 21’s and 20’s have done badly in tournaments; one cause being that the best young players were not released by their clubs.  The clubs self interest is often in conflict with the national team, certainly in the younger age groups.  It proves to me you need that co-operation between the Federation and the pro clubs.

One thing that the Premier League identified was that out of all the four essential player qualities – tactical, physical, mental and technical – it was technical that was lacking.  I worked with the EPL during 2010/11 season on teaching EPL Youth coaches how to become technical specialists, which I based on the fundamentals of Coerver.

(Pictured: Alf coaching at Bayern Munich.)

(Pictured: Alf coaching at Bayern Munich.)

(AM): David Sheepshanks was recently quoted as saying that the EPPP could enable England to win a major tournament within the next two decades.  I’m not asking you to say either Japan or England will win the World Cup, but how do you see things going for these countries at international level in the future?

(AG): Starting with Japan, I believe Coerver Coaching has had a huge influence on Japanese football development.  More than 300 boys have graduated from Coerver to J-league teams in the last 20 years, and several graduates have found success in the men’s and women’s national team, but having said that, in the context of prediction, I think that Japan will maintain its position as number one in Asia Pacific, but I really can’t see an Asian team winning the World Cup in my lifetime, that’s just my personal opinion.

I think the European Leagues are so strong, and if you accept that its clubs that make future national team players, then you’d have to have an awful lot of Japanese players having to go to the top clubs. There are a lot of players going to Europe, but when I say top clubs, I‘m talking about having quite a few players at clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man U, Chelsea, PSG, and Arsenal.

I can see Japan maintaining its status as number one in Asia, maybe with Australia and South Korea following behind.

I can’t see China ousting them.  I’ve worked in China on and off for about 15 years, but honestly it’s really difficult to have a national team when you have 1.3 billion people, different federations spread across a vast area, and really not very qualified coaches.  Really, in China you have to focus on grassroots.

Regarding England, David Sheepshanks is a really knowledgeable guy.  The only thing I would say is that in modern football today you have got to keep the ball.  You have to protect the ball.  And you have to have individual players that can do that and in the EPL, which is our top league, we are not producing enough of those types of British players.  I believe you need to consistently play in the first team at the top level, before you can become a top international player, our British players are just not getting that first team experience at club level.  Therefore, I can’t really see us here in Britain shortening the gap between top national sides like Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany.

(AM): Thanks very much again for your time today Alf.  It has been a real eye-opener.

(AG): My pleasure.

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