England U17s: The science behind their World Cup win
Written by Simon Austin — March 31, 2018
ENGLAND Under-17 coach Steve Cooper has revealed the behind-the-scenes work that led to his side's World Cup win last October.
The Three Lions beat Spain 5-2 in the final to win the tournament for the first time in their history. While most accepted England had the best group of players, fewer realised they were also the best-organised and resourced team in India.
The Football Association took 15 full-time performance staff to the tournament, while Cooper carried out two recces ahead of arrival, which none of his rival coaches was able to do.
In a fascinating interview with Fifa's technical report group, the Welshman outlined exactly how England had been so effective behind the scenes during the competition.
Steve Cooper: "We follow a planning process which includes five full days with the staff. Two days are for multi-disciplinary meetings, with everyone who will be coming to the tournament – medics, analysts, physios and education officers - and we set up a clear plan. We spend three full days out of the five just with the technical team - myself, the coaches and the analysts – and go into real detail about the opposition, the training programme and our game plans.
"For this tournament in particular, I did a lot of research on India. I came out to the country twice to get used to the culture and the climate. One was for the draw, for the official Fifa inspections. And I stayed for an extra two days. I went to Mumbai, Goa and Guwahati and Kolkata, everywhere that we’ve been. Then I came back out to spend four days in Mumbai, because we had a pre-camp there. I planned and studied all of that.
"What I’ve also done is spoken to other sports teams that have come to India, like our English cricket team, who come to India a lot, discussing sleep, food, well-being, nutrition and so on. I also spoke to a lot of English managers who have worked out here - Stephen Constantine, who’s the Indian national team manager, Steve Coppell (Jamshedpur FC manager) and also some lesser-known coaches and physical coaches who have a good idea of India.
"I spent a lot of time studying the country and doing as much research as possible to try and best prepare ourselves to make sure we had the best plan in place that we could commit to."
SC: "How much time have you got? We have a specialised coaching model, with an in-possession and an out-of-possession coach. There is also a goalkeeping coach, two analysts, two fitness coaches, two physios, a doctor, a chef, an education officer, team operations manager and security.
"We also have a psychologist and her job is twofold: to support me and my communication, mood, body language and attitude, sort of like a life coach; and to look at the environment and the culture.
"It’s new to football in England, but not new to sport.
"We have a full-time team for every age group. It’s a big investment."
Spain: Travelled with three coaches - an assistant, physical trainer and analyst - as well as three medical staff. Juanjo González doubled up as goalkeeper coach and video analyst.
Brazil: Had a big team (though not as big as England's): a trainer, assistant, supervisor, administrator, goalkeeper coach, physical conditioner, physiologist, analyst, chef, head of delegation, two physiotherapists and a doctor.
Mali: Brought an assistant coach, fitness coach, goalkeeper coach and manager, Jonas Komla. They also had a doctor, physio, administrator, general manager and a member of the technical department.
SC: "Here’s one day’s schedule as an example. From 10:30, they’ll do wellness and medical checks – groin squeezes, urine samples, stretches – then breakfast and some gym work with the fitness coaches.
"While the players are doing this, I have a meeting with the technical team to discuss the game plan. We have a team meeting at 13:00 to discuss the game plan, lunch, then go to training (the goalkeepers go early), then dinner."
SC: "We have a multi-disciplinary approach. When we confirm a training session, we’ll work on the training ground and it will be technically led, but what we’ll deliver will have had input from the technical team and fitness coach in terms of periodisation, general loading, general timing, help with spaces, sizes and durations.
"Analysts now have a massive role live-coding with an iPad during every training session. We plan our training schedule before our arrival but agree on it every day, and maybe make some small changes – a player could be out or in, we might make the spaces bigger or maybe change an exercise – but the analysts know their role, what they’re looking for in every exercise.
"They’ll know what to look for and they will code it. So straight away on the bus back they’ll give their laptops to the coaches and we’ll see our work.
"Our fitness coaches speak to the players’ clubs and they share data, so we have all the training minutes, testing results and match minutes. We share with them and they share with us, we’re all on the same system. When we come in, the coaches are very much aware of the physical states the players are in. It’s part of the process of the game."
"Sometimes I will talk and tell the players my thoughts, but most of the time I facilitate. Example, 'OK boys, game review today, get into groups and tell me what you think.' And they tell each other. That’s how modern players learn. The days are gone, for me, where everything is the coach telling the player. That’s finished.
"Sometimes, there is a time and a place to go, 'Follow me, I’m the coach, this is what we’re doing.' But in a game-plan meeting, we’ll ask ourselves, 'The opposition, they do this – what are we going to do?' The players all have an iPad, a profile of the team and a sheet. On this sheet we have six zones and they look at the iPad and make some notes.
"We put them into groups and put up a big sheet and they write out what they think the opposition will do. Then they say what they think we should do. We get round the tactics board and agree on everything. There might be times when I say, 'OK boys, no, I want us to do it this way,' but sometimes I go with them.