Barcelona is behind us, Arsenal, Inter and Milan are next

Coaches from FC Zenit`s Academy spent a week from November 23 to November 29 working and consulting with their peers from FC Barcelona.

The Academy`s directors set a specific goal for the mid term – to develop one-two footballers to play in Zenit`s main side each year. A lot of steps have been and will be taken to bring this idea to life. One of them is constant work with coaches, raising their qualifications, and, as a result, improving the quality of youth team practices.

The specialists from the former Smena school spent exactly one week in the football academy of one of the world`s strongest teams – Barcelona. The internship participants spoke of their impressions of what they saw in the Spanish club.

– The most important thing is that this trip took place at all, – explains Henk van Stee, the Dutch director of Zenit`s Academy.

– I`m happy that our specialists could see how one of the best football schools in the world operates. I can say that Barcelona works extremely efficiently. They have excellent infrastructure (9 fields), and a large number of qualified specialists. In a word, they`ve got everything that one can ask for. Our coaches talked with their colleagues from Barcelona, studied their practice schedule, and tried to understand what the Barcelona coaches do and why. Now we`re moving in the same direction, but we`ve only been working for one year. I can talk for a long time how to do things right. But our coaches might not believe in these methods completely themselves. But if they see the same thing in such a club as Barcelona, then they`ll understand that all of the changes that took place in Zenit`s Academy are for the best. All of our coaches were impressed by what they saw. It`s clear why – Barcelona has 10 of its own Academy graduates in its current team. This is an excellent result which speaks for itself. I should mention that Barcelona isn`t the only club that Zenit`s coaches are visiting. Right now we are in contact with Arsenal, Inter, and Milan. We plan to go visit these clubs next year.

– I saw for myself that the level of Barcelona`s youth academy corresponds to the level of its first team, – admitted Ivan Shabarov, coach of the U-16 team in Zenit`s Academy. – It`s not for nothing that the most important roles in Barcelona`s main team are played by the club`s own graduates. We saw practices of players of various ages during our week observing the club, and we tried to understand the philosophy of the club`s work. We want to implement and use the experience we got in our work with our players as soon as possible. It`s clear that the Spanish have contact between all their teams. The good work of coordinators is quite obvious. As I understood, details means a lot here, even the ones that you don`t always pay attention to. For example, the boys are transported by taxi, and they get their uniforms right before practice. They can come to the academy only with their cleats. These facts aren`t directly linked to professional skills, but they show that the academy has the right attitude. That said, don`t think that Barca gives its youth players a luxurious life. For example, the dormitory where the players from other cities live is a very modest building where young players live eight to a room, and sleep in bunk beds. Pujol, Iniesta, and Havi were able to become stars of world football despite these conditions. I was really surprised by the very tough discipline in the academy. Earlier I thought that Spaniards are the European Brazilians, who always need to be pampered. But in reality it`s not like that at all.

– A trip to Barcelona is the best way to show that the path we`ve chosen is correct, – explained Dmitry Vasilyev, coach of the U-9 team. – I was extremely impressed by what I saw. I got to talk to many coaches and ask questions that interested me. I can`t say that our academy is really different from the Catalonian academy presently. Barcelona has more specialists than we do. But of course their infrastructure is much better. But now we have a lot of buildings being built, and in the near future our school will be practically the same as the Spanish one. That said, the club`s management let us stay a little longer in the Catalonian capital, and Anver Koneev and I were able to visit the Barcelona – Real match. I was a professional footballer in the past, and I`ve been to many different stadiums, but I got enormous pleasure from this match. Matches like that make it worth it to play football and to train children. May God help them to play at that level some day.

– I`ve been a dedicated Barcelona fan since 1985, – said Anver Koneev, who works in Zenit`s Academy with the U-15 team. – Sometime since 1995 I`ve had the dream of going to the Classico between Barca and Real. And my dream came true. I was impressed by the atmosphere there, and by the way the fans cheered. All of the footballers come to the stadium several hours before the start in their own cars, and all of the fans have the chance to get their autograph or take their picture with their favorite footballers. There is no fan sector at Camp Nou, unlike just about every other stadium in the world. The Spanish public just lives by football, and reacts to every moment in the match. And of course I was impressed by the result – 5:0 in favor of the Catalonians. In a word, not only did we get to see how the Academy works, we also got to see how the Academy`s graduates play.