Grass Roots Set-up around the World
We’ve already written extensively about grassroots football in Germany and Italy, with both of these nations having revamped their youth setups over the course of the last 20 years or more.
Another country that has undergone a significant transition during this time is Spain, with the legendary former Barcelona management Johan Cruyff triggering a cultural shift that eventually bore fruit with two European Championship wins and a World Cup triumph between 2008 and 2012.
We’ll chart this evolution below, while taking a brief look at the existing grassroots structure in Spain.
How Spain’s Youth System has Evolved Since the Early 80s
If you cast your mind back to the 1980s, Spanish football had a great deal in common with the British game.
Not only were most games played on veritable mud baths, for example, but prominent sides such as Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad based their games on aggression, physicality and high pressing. La Liga’s true flair players of the time (such as Argentinian legend Diego Maradona) bore the brunt of this approach, as they were kicked from pillar to post in some incredibly brutal encounters.
The focus on direct and physical football was first resisted by Cruyff when he arrived at the Nou Camp in 1988, with the Dutchman instead insisting on a technical and attractive style of play that was based on player rotation and ball retention.
By incorporating this iteration of the Dutch total football philosophy into a revolutionary 3-4-3 system, Cruyff won an impressive 11 major trophies in eight seasons at Barca, while also creating an identifiable style of play that clubs across the country suddenly aspired to.
This gradually reached and influenced grassroots football in Spain too, as the focus switched to developing technical and creative players who could manipulate the ball and dominate games through the sheer weight of possession and intelligent ball retention.
Spain’s Emergence as the Best Side in the World
It was this revolution that ultimately resulted in Spain’s golden run at the end of the noughties, while the nation has continued to produce the world’s most creative and technically gifted players in the subsequent decade.
At the end of the 2017/18 season, for example, the statistics revealed that six of the 10 most creative players in Europe were Spanish, based on the total key passes completed across La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Premier League and the Bundesliga.
Of course, Cruyff’s influence and the simultaneous success of Barcelona may credit Spain’s technical revolution with the Catalan club’s iconic ‘La Masia’ academy.
However, credit must also go to the Real Federacion Española de Futbol
(RFEF), which has committed to reforming the national game from grassroots up, creating a wider culture of change and prioritising accessible coaching education through a high-level and universal program.
This has afforded all grassroots clubs and their players access to qualified coaches and methodologies from a young age, while promoting a clear template of the technical skills required for players to thrive at the very highest level.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, it’s this clearly-defined template that has been central to the ongoing development of Spanish football, with the national side’s iconic playing style characterised by diminutive players with quick feet, excellent close control, a wide range of passing and continuous, off-the-ball movement.
However, the grassroots game is also underpinned by a comprehensive education, which promotes the teaching of a diverse skill-set that leads to the development of better and more rounded players.
Heavy investment from the federation also ensures that young players have access to psychologists and similar professionals as they grow, relieving some of the pressures that may be felt by the most talented youngsters.
Clearly, other countries can learn a great deal from the Spanish grassroots game, particularly from the perspective of clarity and the wider education of young players. It’s also inarguable that Spain is the most influential country from a tactical perspective, with this trend unlikely to change any time soon.