Over the years football has changed drastically. Professionalism will do that to any sport – as it has with many in the past. That also brought more money into the game which allowed for better research to be done.
These days footballers are expected to play many more games and because of this, their conditioning remains of the utmost concern.
Leadership caught up with world renowned football fitness coach, Raymond Verheijen to find out what he makes of numerous issues surrounding football in Africa and abroad – of course, some World Cup chat also took place.
Verheijen has been on the coaching staff of different national teams at every World Cup since 1998. Twice under Guus Hiddink in 2002 with South Korea and 2006 with Russia, and in 1998 he was with the Netherlands.
Leading European clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona have also made use of Verheijen’s services.
Verheijen became the CEO of the World Football Academy in 2012 and this has taken him around the globe running coaching courses for young, ambitious coaches. A few of these courses have also been run in South Africa.
Why has Africa consistently failed at World Cups?
I think the biggest problem – not the only problem – is that people from Africa are generally intuitive people while in Europe, you will find people are more rational. Rational people are thinkers who have more structure. African people – intuitive people – mostly live from situation to situation which means there will be less structure.
This is a problem with both the administration and team building process. When you’re intuitive it will be difficult to build a playing style which in turn, makes it tough to get your tactical structure right. This, I believe, is the main reason why Africa has never had the World Cup. The talent is certainly there.
Do you think the lack of quality coaching in Africa plays a big role as well?
Yes, absolutely. One of the things you learn in Europe when one does the UEFA A or UEFA pro-license course is how to plan and structure your training, how to plan and structure your playing style, how to analyse matches and players – step by step in a structured way.
What changes to you think Africa should make to their coaching?
Firstly, if you want to be a successful nation, you have to educate your coaches. They need to be taught structure and a result of this will be that they become better coaches.
You must understand, if you are a purely intuitive coach, your team and your training will start looking like chaos. This creates an environment where the players will get lost and not understand what the coach expects of them. As a coach, a structured environment will allow your players to understand what you expect from them.
The young coaches coming through the ranks now – the likes that do your courses – do you think change will happen as they progress?
Absolutely! I think there is a new generation of young coaches coming through, and for the first time they are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This generation is a generation of coaches with hope.
They no longer see themselves as the victims of the system, but they understand that they are responsible for what happens with African football.
Everybody is aware of the corruption, politics and incompetence of the administration in Africa. However, there are two ways of dealing with this. The coach can act as a victim and blame all these issues for not being able to do their job or, the coach can take the active approach, understand the problem, but not accept it. These coaches realise that they themselves control what happens around them.
So, if it’s a group of 40 doing the coaching course, that 40 change their mindset, and then the group grows to 100 and later on 200. After a few years you have all these coaches who have had their mindset changed and then, with the next generation of coaches, you have a group that can take charge of African football.
We often have many ‘victims’ when we start the course, but at the end they understand that if they don’t change themselves, they can’t change the world.
You have worked at three World Cups – in your experience, what does it take to be successful as a coach at international level?
The internal motivation of players – a mistake many coaches make is that they have a certain philosophy and where ever they go, they always use that same philosophy in the same way. This means that your philosophy is your starting point and all different countries you work with – and their different cultures – have to fit in with that philosophy.
In other words, your philosophy is your objective and the players are the means to execute that philosophy. You basically take your players out of their comfort zone in every aspect. All players must now adapt to the coach and as a result, they become externally motivated.
In my view, that’s the biggest mistake international coaches make. On the other hand, coaches like Guus Hiddink – who I have worked with at two World Cups – take the country, culture and players as a starting point, so they are the objectives and the philosophy only gets used as a means.
Look, a philosophy must be flexible to improve players. When players feel that they are benefitting they become internally motivated.
This is far more powerful because it means that the process, the durability of the process, is longer.
At club level, what would a good example of this be?
Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers and Manchester United’s former manager, David Moyes, is a good example.
If you look at the start of the season they both struggled. After 10 games they were in a similar position. The difference was that when Rodgers found himself in an unsuccessful situation he was flexible in his approach. For example, from a technical perspective he adjusted certain things within his methods and then he was able to turn things around into a successful situation.
Moyes, on the other hand, was stuck in his ways and didn’t change, and that led to even less success.
What is the difference in recovery between games in the normal season and in the World Cup?
Well in a World Cup there are fewer days between games compared to club level – most of the time. So, while recovery is already crucial at club level it becomes even more so in a tournament environment – like the World Cup.
For example, during the normal season, it is okay for you to do recovery training the day after a game because there is a whole week of training ahead. However, during a World Cup the recovery session has to start after the final whistle.
What I always do when I work with teams at the World Cup, is make sure we are at a hotel with a swimming pool. This means that after the game – once the players arrive back at the hotel – they go for a swim to get rid of waste products etc.
You also speed up the recovery process and there is one thing in particular that is beneficial when you do it - normally after a game it is very difficult to sleep because of the adrenalin of the game. So the night after the game you sleep late, you often sleep short and you sleep light, because of the adrenalin. When you put your players in the pool before they go to bed - because of the blood circulation in the swimming pool - the body breaks down the adrenalin so you go to bed with less adrenalin in your body.
As a result you fall asleep earlier, you sleep deeper and you sleep longer and because sleep is the most important component of recovery, ultimately the recovery process goes much quicker during the world cup.
To conclude, who do you think fair best of the African teams in Brazil?
Click here to view my article on Africa at the World Cup.