Succession planning requires a strategy

After visiting more than 20 top clubs in the past four years and in general developing my own strategy, philosophy & methodology in the past 10 years; I’ve decided to write a piece on the importance of a strategy if you as a club / coach wish to succeed not once - but every season.

Football is a conservative business often lacking time or an innovative approach to develop or make use of new tools, but a strategy is required if you wish to control your development and thereby – win without luck.

When I look through my notes and writings from these trips; a lot can be said, but some main headlines and key points characterize the clubs, which continuously are successful.

They all have a clear strategy and a style of play that don’t change when a new coach arrives, but of course can be modified and improved, but always within the frame of the club philosophy. In other words; you don’t change strategy / direction when you change the head coach. The club, the club philosophy and methodology decide the direction of the club. Not who is in the lead.

Some clubs have great academies and a strong methodology from U9 – U21, but no connection to the 1stteam, which is like a club – inside the club. This is obviously a waste of opportunities and it will lower the percentage of synergy throughout the club. I have heard the argument several times that it’s difficult to control the head coach of the 1st team and that he would not have accepted the job had he not been given the freedom to decide and play as he likes. In my opinion, this kind of coach is not the right choice for the club. It’s rather simple. The club must navigate according to the club’s philosophy and stick to its strategy even in (result wise) bad periods. The right choice of coach is a coach who is ableto develop the club-strategy, philosophy/methodology and hereby reach the results defined by the club.

I will give some examples of my strategy and how it’s crucial in modern football for a coach to be very detailed and specific to be able to control your style of play, develop/evaluate your players and therefore control your results in the end.

A few examples of how detailed and specific I work with my personal strategy in order to control my “style of play” and being able to develop and evaluate my players – and finally obtain the results I navigate towards.

Control – playing with a purpose

My way of understanding the game is based on the fact that the game is very complicated; in fact (one of) the most complicated sports in the world. Football is an open skills sports with (relatively) few rules, which gives a lot of options for the player with and without the ball. Furthermore, not many sports are played on as big an area (pitch) as football, which again opens for several options / decisions.

Therefore; the job of a coach is to make it simple. To maximize the control of the game and to minimize the need of luck and coincidences.

In other words; as much as possible must be planned, trained and agreed within the team. In all phases - on and off the ball.

A style of play (also called a strategy) is therefore necessary for all teams if they wish to succeed – more than one lucky Sunday. Everyone can be lucky, but this is a short-term strategy to depend on fight and good vibes.

My succession planning is about controlling and managing every possible detail. My style of play / strategic blueprint is created to help and guide the players, so everything is clear and everyone understand their role in the match: To improve the collective moves and common relations on the pitch.

For me, this is the only way to work in football. If not: How can you evaluate a game / performance / result if you don’t have a strategy and a game plan to evaluate on? How can you know or control that your team and players are moving in the right direction without a detailed strategy?

Positions – options = decision

My offensive strategy with the ball (in possession) is called; ‘playing with a purpose’. This basically means we don’t risk loosing the ball. We never wish to play for duels (50/50 balls) as this for me is to - as mentioned above - depend on luck and coincidences.

In possession, we try to control the game through our 3 main phases (transition / counter attack / set pieces have their own phases). The players must be trained to reorganize the three phases and their positions and roles in the different phases. This will give us control and we can build up, penetrate and go for a finish – the purpose.

The players have to see themselves as a quarterback in possession; my mantra on the pitch is ‘positions – options = decision’. So the player on the ball read his teammates’ positions, which gives him different options to play and in the end this will help him make the (right) decision.

This is one part of the strategy. Another area is the last 3rd strategy. In our daily training we focus on getting into the box (dangerzones) before we decide to finish. This is based on the fact that around 90% of all goals are scored in dangerzone 1 and dangerzone 2 areas (inside the box and central in front the goal).

In general, my players are ‘not allowed’ to shoot outside the box during training; this is to make them understand the statistics as it averagely takes 50 shots to score a goal outside the box – on the highest level! So for me; a long shot is basically to give away the ball. Not finishing with a purpose.

Therefore, we implement the dangerzones in the daily training as it’s easier for me to evaluate our development on the last 3rd. This season we have removed 25% of our total shots in the matches from outside the box to inside the box, which shows me our training is working. In addition to this we (logically) scored more goals this season – for the same reason. We simply find better positions on the pitch before we try to score.