Marcus McGuane: Extra-curricular sessions that set up his season
Written by Simon Austin — March 8, 2018
LAST June, when you might have expected a young Premier League footballer to be on a beach with his pals, Marcus McGuane was doing finishing drills on an astroturf pitch in west London.
You can watch one of his sessions below. The 19-year-old receives the ball in different areas of the pitch and in different scenarios, sometimes with his back to goal and sometimes with the ball pinged in fast.
He aims for different parts of the net, shooting with left foot and right; hits it first time and takes a touch. There’s every imaginable scenario, practised over and over again, until the teenager gets it right.
McGuane had arranged the sessions himself, asking coach Saul Isaksson-Hurst if he could help him add goals to his developing game. Once he'd finished, the midfielder headed off to another part of London, this time to do fitness work with his brother.
All this happened during the so-called off-season.
“People often talk about young players in a negative way, saying they have too much too soon and that their attitude stinks,” Isaksson-Hurst told TGG, “but Marcus couldn’t be more different from that stereotype.
“He has so much desire and energy. In fact I had to taper him down a bit, telling him to relax. Marcus has a growth mindset – a ferocious determination to be the best he can be and to get the most out of his career.”
This determination saw the teenager signed by Barcelona on January 30th, even though he had the opportunity to remain at Arsenal, and last night he became the first Englishman since Gary Lineker in 1989 to represent the Spanish giants in a first-team match.
The independent entrepreneurs:
As Isaksson-Hurst says, McGuane is at the vanguard of a new generation of players taking control of their careers rather than relying on their clubs to do it for them.
Oliver Bierhoff, general manager of the German national team, calls them the “independent entrepreneurs”.
“The new generation does not just want to execute, they want to shape things themselves, understand them and tackle challenges,” the World Cup winner said in a TGG piece last year.
McGuane was largely deployed as a defensive midfielder or defender in Arsenal's Under-23s last season. Manager Arsene Wenger said: “McGuane is a defensive midfielder and can play as a wing back or even a centre back in training.”
However, with his height, athleticism, technical skills and power off both feet, the teenager saw himself as a box-to-box midfielder.
He got in touch with Isaksson-Hurst because, “I wanted to improve on my finishing inside and outside the box. I felt I needed to add goals to my game.”
Initially he consulted the video tutorials on Isaksson-Hurst’s mypersonalcoach.com platform, before the duo worked together one-on-one.
“After speaking with Saul and using the platform, I started planning what I needed and he devised sessions around me and my game,” McGuane said. "By the start of pre season my confidence was high and it was apparent that all the work with Saul was coming good."
With six months remaining on his contract at Arsenal, and with a number of suitors lined up, McGuane signed for the Catalan giants. A desire for first-team football and to play further forward were at the forefront of his mind.
And, so far, his decision has paid off.
Before the game against Espanyol, in which McGuane made his debut as a late sub, Barca B coach Gerard Lopez said: “McGuane has adapted well. He is a hard worker, good in the air and arrives in the box from deep.
“He has added already a lot to the team. At this age he still has a lot of room for improvement.”
Individual skills coaching:
Isaksson-Hurst is something of an independent entrepreneur himself. He coached Tottenham's 8 to 11s for six years, before moving to Chelsea as a foundation phase skills specialist.
Now he's a self-employed coach passionate about one-on-one skills work – an area he feels is often neglected in England.
“Most of my clients are young pros or Academy players,” he says. “They basically want to improve and do more work and the clubs can’t cater for the individual work I can do.
“Academy squads will often have 18 or 19 players. With me, a player can step away and work on specific outcomes. Look at Cristiano Ronaldo and the individual technical work he has done throughout his career. I don’t think there’s a focus on this in England.
"There’s no FA course for individual skills coaching, but this is the work that can make the difference, it can get you across the line.”
Indeed Rene Meulensteen, the former Manchester United coach, told TGG how crucial the one-on-one work he did with stars ranging from Paul Scholes to Rio Ferdinand to Ronaldo was at Old Trafford.
Meulensteen’s title was first-team technical skills development coach - a job I’ve not heard of before or since - one borne out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief that any player, no matter how old or how good, could still improve technically.
Frustrated by lack of opportunities in the Premier League, McGuane and many of his contemporaries have packed their bags and moved overseas.
We have Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund, Reece Oxford at Borussia Monchengladbach, Ademola Lookman at Leipzig, Chris Willock at Benfica, and many others besides.
Isaksson-Hurst says: “It’s testament to the English Academies that they’re producing this calibre of player. But they need to give them first-team opportunities as well, otherwise we're missing a major part of the jigsaw.
“Often foreign clubs are more willing to give English youngsters a chance than English clubs are.”