Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen, assistant manager of the Welsh national team, believes that coaches at all levels of football can benefit from top-flight training and conditioning techniques, as Simon Lansley of ConnectSport reports.
The first thing you notice about Raymond Verheijen when you meet him is that he is not here to make friends, he is here to improve football.
“I am not giving my opinion, I am giving you facts. You cannot disagree with facts,” he tells a room full of spellbound pro coaches at Molineux this week.
The coaches are there for Verheijen’s Periodisation in Football mentorship, a course run by the UK Football Academy, recently set up by the Dutchman and his long-time cohort Guus Hiddink.
If Verheijen comes across as direct and to the point, it’s because he has been there and done it, and hasn’t got time to tiptoe around football’s politics.
Anyone in doubt should check out his CV. Verheijen has been on the coaching staff of the national teams of Holland, Russia and South Korea alongside Hiddink, and now Wales, where he is assistant to Gary Speed.
He has attended three World Cups, three European Championships, and spent time coaching at Barcelona, Zenit St Petersburg, Chelsea and Manchester City. It was at City in 2009 where his methods received a frosty welcome from a certain Craig Bellamy.
That’s the same Craig Bellamy who earlier this year said of Verheijen: “I will use his methods for the rest of my life.”
In conversation, the 39-year-old is actually very personable.
“In Holland it is part of the culture to question everything,” he explains. “People even exaggerate it, so Dutch people sometimes seem very irritating!
“When someone in Holland says something, no-one believes him until he explains and proves what he has said. We have a culture of questioning things – we say ‘okay that is your opinion, now tell me why you think that’.
“So when I first came to the UK with this Dutch mentality, I looked at the top clubs who were spending millions of pounds on injury prevention and yet at the same time, they still had many injuries.
“I said I have either missed something, or something is wrong – it was one or the other. So I started to question it because I know that in Holland, when you question something it leads to answers and results, which lead to improvement and that means fewer injuries.
“In the UK, when I questioned it, it led to insecurity. People didn’t receive it as questioning but as criticism, and instead of answering and solving the problem, they started to defend their territory. So based on their insecurity, the problems get worse.”
He adds: “The problem is that a lot of people do not put the game first, they put themselves first.”
Verheijen’s principles of periodisation are simple. Fitness is important, but ‘freshness’ is key. Freshness dictates the speed of a player’s actions.
Overtrain players and you risk fatigue, which is when most injuries happen.
Schedule training programmes which do not complement each other and you are asking for trouble.
He claims 80% of injuries in football are down to coaches failing to recognise how a player should train, and when.
Experts are brought in from outside in order to ‘tick the box’, when really a holistic approach should embrace all the disparate elements.
For example, players are plunged into ‘get fit quick’ regimes by clubs preparing for a new season, when they should be building up slowly for the long season ahead and ensuring their players remain fresh.
“It’s like building a house. If you build it too quickly and make mistakes, then ultimately the house will fall down.
“It’s the same with fitness. If you develop fitness too quickly and in a short period of time with lots of training in a few days or weeks, then you will get fit but it will only last a relatively short period of time.
“Whereas if you take your time and develop fitness gradually, then you will develop long-term fitness which ultimately is what you are looking for in a long football season.”
It was this seachange from traditional pre-season philosophies which unsettled Bellamy, and other players, as City prepared for the 2009-10 season.
City boss Mark Hughes took what Verheijen concedes was a “brave” decision to back the Dutchman, and the club won their first four games in a row. Players soon began to buy into his methods, but Hughes was gone by December and Verheijen left too.
He remains indifferent to the tribal world of club football, and prefers to focus on the quality of training methods.
“People must understand that players get better because of better training, and not because of more training. Less is more.
“If you do the same exercise more frequently in a week, that’s more of the same. What you really need is better training, which means within the exercise you have higher demands.
“For example, first you do a certain exercise on a certain pitch size, and then you make the pitch size smaller, and then smaller. The same exercise but less space, less time, increasing the demands, and that is how you improve players.
“Not by doing a particular exercise on a particular pitch size, more often. That’s just more of the same, and you have to do better. So for all those coaches at elite level or grassroots level, this is why we have set up the UKFA in the first place.”
The UKFA is designed to help coaches on all rungs of the ladder understand and share best practice. It’s noticeable during the day at Molineux that participants are urged to respond in their “own words”. If there are better ideas out there, Verheijen wants to hear them.
“He said he didn’t just want to give something back to the elite in football, I want to give this to as many people as possible in football.
“That was how he described it and so we agreed to develop a coach academy, in which we bring the best experts from all over the world to the Dutch Football Academy, the UK Football Academy, or wherever. Let’s make it accessible not only for the top people, but for everyone.
“Too often it seems you have to work at the highest level before you can meet the best people. We say, if you want to go to the highest level, you can meet the best people. We believe this will help more people grow and get to the highest level, and ultimately at that highest level you will get better people.”
Speed embraces “different philosophy”
Wales boss Gary Speed attended the UKFA mentorship at Molineux. With Verheijen as his assistant, he has overseen four wins in Wales’ last five games, and is a big advocate of the Dutchman’s methods.
He said: “It’s about trying to get the best out of your players for as long as possible. It is a different philosophy from what a lot of people are used to, and it’s very interesting to hear.
“Sport science really helps in football, but it must be implemented in the right way. The football side comes first so it’s important it’s all integrated properly.”
Report by Simon Lansley of ConnectSport.
All qualified coaches are welcome to attend the UKFA’s first national symposium – ‘Meet the Elite’ – at the Emirates Stadium on 8 February 2012.
Delegate places are priced at £145 + VAT. For further information or to book places visit www.ukfootballacademy.net.