TGG Podcast #37 - Andreas Georgson - The Sky Blue Way with Malmö
Written by Josh Schneider-Weiler & Simon Austin — April 4, 2022
ANDREAS GEORGSON has extensive experience as an Academy, first team and specialist coach in both Sweden and England.
For 14 years he held a variety of roles at Malmö before becoming a set piece and individual development coach at Brentford in 2019/20. The following season he took on the same position under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.
Georgson is now the Sporting Director at Malmö, the Swedish champions. In Episode #37 of the TGG Podcast he gave us insights into individual development coaching, evolving set pieces at the highest level, Malmö's youth development secrets and what it was like to work under Arteta.
You can listen via the Player below and read an edited transcript after that.
INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT COACHING
OPPORTUNITY WITH BRENTFORD
Andreas Georgson: When I did my Pro Licence I had a chance to travel, to meet some clubs, to get inspiration. Brentford - I was really curious in their journey. Matthew Benham had owned them for a while then and had started to do things differently.
Rasmus Ankersen (former Co-Director of Football) was a person that really impressed me in the way he spoke about the game and about finding an edge, so I just asked if I could come and visit them.
I had a chance to speak to Rasmus, Thomas Frank and Nico (Jover), the set piece coach who was there ahead of me, and I just started building some relationships. One year later they needed a coach and asked if I was interested. At first I was not, because I thought I’m not a set piece coach, but then they build this role that is more of an assistant coach with a lot of individual development in it, and they just sold it to me very good, so I couldn’t turn it down.
I went and then a lot of things happened quickly after that.
ENHANCING THE COLLECTIVE PROCESS
For anyone that hears it (the title individual development coach), they think, ‘Ok, you want someone that brings a player out, brings a sack of balls and does some isolated football work.’ Of course that could be one method - to work a detail that you don’t have enough time to do in the collective training - but for me it is something else.
All teams know they need to focus on the individuals, but when the next game is three days away, it is very hard to stay on track with this. So, for me, it was understanding how can I build that individual process strong and how can I keep focusing on it also in tough game periods.
You need a method where the individual development process is not so big it takes oxygen from the collective process, because any Head Coach will then say, ‘No no, we need to prioritise the collective because the game is coming up.’
For every percentage gained in individual development the team gets stronger. That what was what I spent two years doing, building a programme that can be managed without harming the collective process and actually enhancing it.
WELLBEING AND BUILDING TRUST
If you’re going to develop as a human being, you need to first feel well, you need to have a general wellbeing that is good. Some players get it through playing every week, but some players don’t, because they don’t play. And when they don’t play, they don’t feel appreciated, they don’t like going to work.
That was my first understanding - that I have to start by understanding where the players are in their general wellbeing. Then I need to try to build a mindset for learning with them.
At that level, both Brentford and Arsenal, the players just want to improve and they want to win. So anything that can help them make that happen they are willing to invest all the time and effort. But the problem was some of the players were not feeling really well and they were not feeling appreciated, so of course to try to speak about development with a player who feels you don’t care about me, that’s harder.
So you have to make them feel I really care about you and your development and even if you don’t get playing minutes at this point, for the rest of your career let’s invest now in trying to make you the best version of yourself.
Once you win that relationship and that trust, jesus, they are willing to spend as much time as you can do in the week. If you don’t start with winning the player's trust and motivation, you can have the most beautiful plans in the world but you won’t get any effect.
It’s all about the player, it’s not about me. It’s not about my ego as a coach to take them from one step to another. I try to think whatever you’re going to do in life, if you find a way to feel well about yourself and really learn every day, you’re going to be a good parent, a good friend, a good employee, you’re going to be good at whatever you do in life.
It’s not only about football, it’s about creating a mind that will help you through anything in life. It’s not easy and you don’t always succeed, but as long as the players feels you are there for them and not for yourself, the chance of success together is really good.
SMALL STEPS AND CONSTANT FEEDBACK
Then it's about forming small parts of development - knowing what your edge is, knowing what your role is and having just one development target at a time in those two areas.
It was about building a programme that was as limited as possible so the players don’t have to take too much of this cognition on that. The team process is most important, but there are still short to medium-term targets they can focus on.
They need to have a frequent feedback within one area to have a chance to improve it. As soon as the programme becomes too wide or too deep it’s impossible for both coaches and players to stay on track. When the games hit twice a week you cannot have 20 development targets because they will get lost and the frequency of the feedback will be too rare.
It’s making sure that when, in training, you hit the target, you get the feedback. You don’t have to have the feedback on the other 99 development steps you take that week, but in the target area we are working I want the coach to have the chance to recognise it and remind the player that either that was exactly what we have talked about or remember that is now what we need to improve.
But the scope cannot be so big, because how can the coach keep track of eight different players if they have 10 different targets each and then find the frequency of feedback that we look for?
I don’t think individual development in team sport can be an isolated thing that you do with a specialist. It has to be driven by the player, involved in the collective process, otherwise I cannot see it being efficient in an elite environment.
SET PIECE SPECIALIST
BEING A SALESMAN
It’s a lot about selling to them (the players) - ‘If we spend time on this it will really help you in the game and it will help the team.’ It’s a lot about being a salesman, because set pieces are boring to begin with. Try to make it fun, try to do it in context and try to motivate the players.
It takes patience and it takes motivation from the players, because they would rather take 20 shots after a session (than practice set pieces). That is so much more passionate for them and more fun.
Players didn’t become footballers to understand how to avoid a block, but it is still highly effective to know. Detailed work (on set pieces) is really boring, it doesn’t come from passion, it just really helps if you can improve your role in the team in this specific area.
There are not so many (set piece) specialists out there that I think will be efficient. You need to find the right man or woman to do it and if you’re going to do it there must be full buy-in - including from the manager - so that everyone accepts we are going to spend time and effort on this.
I’m not sure every team needs to have one (a set-piece coach). I think every team needs to have a strong set-piece process. Whether you build that with your assistant or a specialist is not the key thing. There needs to be a thought-through process of how to improve it over time.
At the moment our assistant coaches along with the Head Coach makes this process as strong as possible (at Malmo). I don’t know if we will have a specialist over time, it has not been a priority so far.
STARTING WITH TOO MUCH DETAIL AT ARSENAL
If I look back at the first couple of months (at Arsenal) I got it wrong. That effected our quality on the attacking side (with set pieces). I came in with, I think, a too big level of detail in the set-piece process. In the beginning it was impossible for the player to take it all in.
I came from Brentford. They had worked for many years very deep into set pieces and made it part of their identity. I think Arsenal at that point was more of a traditional club in terms of what level of focus set pieces got.
I didn’t get it right in terms of how big and flexible to make the set piece process, so we struggled quite hard to be effective attacking wise, but became really strong defensively.
The attacking process was too detailed, too flexible and too big, because that was the system I was used to from before. I realised that the players at Brentford were used to that, they had done that for many years, and they were not so stressed by the fact that my plan was quite detailed.
For Brentford we had a really flexible system, and since the players could handle the amount of information and keeping the timing and execution it was really beneficial, because you become so unpredictable.
If you are going to have the flexible system you have to build it over time.
There is no tradition in football to place that much emphasis and remember that big a playbook, that has to take time to build and gradually build your DNA as a team.
The method I came in with (at Arsenal) was really wide, many different routines, many different systems to surprise the opponent, but the problem is if you then surprise yourself it’s not so good! Then you lose the quality of execution and organisation instead.
Football is a really dynamic game. To build a style of play that the players can understand and follow, without losing the freedom and intuition to play this random game over big spaces, you always have to find a balance of how much information and detail the players should have to deal with to perform at the top of their potential.
IMPROVEMENT IN DEFENDING SET PIECES AT ARSENAL
First of all I didn’t solve anything, the players solved it, 100%. On the defensive structure, the level of detail was probably perfect. It was not too flexible, it was quite firm, and we did the same things week after week to improve step by step.
Hopefully I gave them some guidance and we did some detailed work that I think is not common in football - that you work details in marking, details in avoiding a block or doing your specific role.
With the defensive side (of set pieces) we really managed to find a process that can go all over the season, so the players get reminded in a good frequency about the small details they should keep doing.
I made sure the principle was as clear as possible. Then the key people in the process - some players in our hybrid defence - I actually fed back with them after every game. And on the pitch I took the stance that I do something after every session set piece wise.
If I hadn’t worked with the markers for a while then I might spend 10 minutes with them on marking techniques and situations. But that could then go a month until I did it the next time. So maybe the next chance I brought some of the zonal players to remind them of the principles, the next time maybe a few of the attacking players to do one of the routines we thought could be happening in the next game.
Once we got the attacking process starting and to build gradually, that process also started to become strong.
BUILDING STRONG SET PIECE MENTALITY
What I don’t normally agree with is that you either have the mentality (for set pieces) or you don’t, because the same players for Arsenal managed to have a really good mentality and to fight to clear every ball. If you have a strong process the players feel it and perform and take more responsibility. The process brings mentality.
What we managed to do in the defensive process is probably what we didn’t manage in the attacking, because I didn’t really get them on board, I didn’t really feel the control. That also means that when the chance comes you don’t really believe that you’re good at it, and that you’re going to put the ball in the right spot or head the ball perfectly.
If you don’t concede or on the attacking side you score a couple of times, that builds belief you can never talk your way through. That helps the belief and mindset massively. The result will always be a massive influence on the players, you can’t get away from that, but it should not be the only influence.
WORKING WITH ARTETA AT ARSENAL
'TACTICAL DETAIL I HAD NEVER COME ACROSS BEFORE'
The chance to work with Mikel was a big one, because he really interested me in the discussions we had before I got the job. The level of tactical detail and understanding of the game I had never come across before. I felt I had gaps in this area from all the educations I had taken. I felt that that level of tactical detail and methodology in building a football team I had never been close.
I thought this guy and that environment can really help me improve at the top level of world football, with all the expectations and competition I will have to live with. I had just settled in at Brentford but I felt this chance might not come for a 38-year-old from Sweden that has no player background and quite limited experience even in elite football. So I was just if they like me and want me I will regret it if I don’t take the chance. Him explaining his style of play and training gave me insights into what level of detail he thinks about.
I was then starting to become a specialist of set pieces and had really thought hard about that for a few years, so when I explained the ideas and methods I use and the level of discussions and questions we had on that, I realised for a manager to be so deep into one detail of the game that is set pieces, that normally is not the biggest attention for many football people, I just realised this guy does not give anything to chance, he wants to have the most effective processes in every aspect of the game.
So it was probably more that, that I felt, 'Wow.' I have spent a lot of time trying to understand how to make this good and the conversations we had gave me new insights and new ideas to make it even better.
SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR ARSENAL STAFF
The family feeling of that place, of Colney, is amazing. It was very humble people and team players throughout, staff and players. There was no big difference in what we did every day. The togetherness of the staff and players was amazing, I have to say.
We worked hard - you have to spend a lot of hours in your profession. In terms of making a group come together, feel good about themselves, compete for a common cause, this is very normal.
We came really close to each other. So Mikel, Molis (Miguel Molina) the tactical coach, he and I formed a really strong friendship. Inaki (Cana), the goalkeeper coach, was the one helping me get attention from Mikel in the first place, I think, because we worked together at Brentford.
So these guys I speak to every now and then and I’m really happy and glad they are starting to really tick as a team. Every now and then we speak and discuss some things or just greet each other when something good happens.
I think the sky is the limit (for them). It’s a lot of ambitious, process-minded people. Change and progress takes time in football. It’s all about is there patience enough to stick with Mikel and this group of people, because it will not happen overnight. You build a squad and you build a process over time.
I think Arsenal showed real confidence through hardships and hopefully at the moment they get the rewards. Now there is a young and hungry team and a young and hungry staff with a really strong manager. How long could that be? I don’t know. It’s about money and it’s about the randomness of the game, but it looks good, I have to say.
PRIORITISING DEVELOPMENT OVER RESULTS
In football, not only in Sweden but all over the world, there is a risk that you make result-maximising environments and processes. I think (at Malmo) we quite early understood that if we are going to have world-class talent development, we have to have learning maximising development.
So we have to create something where style of play, recruitment, training methods are in an environment where we really want to win but where improving development over time is priority one.
To try to keep those two thoughts at the same time, to really have the possibility to compete well in every game and really want to win, but not let that thought take over your whole process around developing players (is important).
Not to offend any grandmas out there, but in youth football it’s really easy to spot the strongest player (so even a grandma can do it). You don’t need a lot of experience to see who is, at the moment, performing at the highest level for this team. This is very easy.
But it’s often connected to physical or cognitive development, so players who are really early matured in one way or another will be spotted. In the same year group will be players who, for different reasons - physically, cognitively or for other reasons - are really late. They might have the same potential over time, but if you only measure the effect they have on the weekend result, they will not be ‘talented’.
We know that many of these players are really talented, but they are just further down in their development stage, so then we need to be really strong at recognising what is talent and how it is shown in different year groups and at a different level of the biological development of a player. That is when it gets really tricky. Even when I have worked with this for 15 years, I am still really humble to the fact that it’s hard to understand what 13-year-old or 15-year-old will have what it takes to go all the way, because it’s really random.
There will be things in his life and career that we cannot predict. What looks like a highway to recognition and elite level... there are so many things we cannot predict or that might happen that will affect the player's chance to reach his potential.
Both accepting that we cannot predict everything but also at the same time having a plan to make as good as possible (is important). Then we can find not only the screaming talents but also the hidden talents.
ALLOWING PLAYERS TO STAY IN SCHOOL TEAMS
Players start early with us, at six-years-old. Anyone can come to our football school for the first three years and then we select a nine-year-old team that we feel has the highest potential at that point, but we really do very limited scouting and don’t want to put the players through too much competition until they are 12-years-old.
From 12 we really think our education is so strong that the biggest talents really benefit from being with us, but that could also be being with us in terms of going to one of our schools. So they might go to a Malmo school but not join the Malmo team yet.
There are 20 schools in the region, from grade seven, but we only have 15 or 18 players in this team in each year group. This gives us the chance to really track development and influence 300 to 400 players in each year group with three or four sessions per week in school time.
That is a massive possibility for us to scout the whole region without having to have all the players. They can stay with their clubs, be really important in their different teams and we could even stimulate them by bringing them in for trials or following us in tournaments or friendlies, and then when the time is right and when they are really ready to enjoy and develop in our environment then, ok, we can have them with us.
From 13-years-old it’s high focus from us and we invest a lot of money in the coaches being able to work purely on player development, so they shouldn’t have to do too much admin, they shouldn’t have hybrid roles. They should be coaches and work with player development for the full working week.
It’s more the chance to keep our eyes open, affect more players in the region and build a strong foundation for recruitment. The players that are in our Academy get the biggest attention, they get all the specialist work and the coaches are full time with us player development, so that is the ship that we believe will create the next big first-team player.
KEEPING A LEARNING MINDSET
Our biggest advantage is our trademark and our position in the region. Of course with good work in Academy recruitment methodology we have made that attractiveness increase, but we also have a lucky spot. We are the only elite club in Malmo, which is Sweden’s third biggest city, and we don’t have too much competition over talent in this region.
That is why we can be calm in letting them stay in their clubs, train in our schools, because we don’t have to force them in early to try and lock them in. We can be quite cool in the way we wait until a player is ready and see the benefits of sometimes having them stay in their environments for maybe some of the years, 11, 12, 13, 14, at different points.
That is our biggest strength - we don’t have to force it, we don’t have to stress - because if it's too early that the players are feeling they are the selected ones, the magic ones, we know this can be a challenge to keep their mindset as a learning mindset, to keep being self-driven and looking for improvement rather than rewards.
That also means we have really competitive groups, so the intensity and level of competition in training and games is really top. We want to train a lot, we want to train at full speed, and already from 13-years-old the players train at five or six sessions where the main aim is to have intensity and togetherness as high as possible, and then let the game help us develop the players.
We don’t think we are the best driver of development, we think the players and the game are the main drivers and we are helping with guidance.
The attractiveness of the club makes sure the talent is so high in our year groups and in our staff, and if we just don’t go in and interfere and try and talk for half the session and try to destroy the good environment they create then we have a great likelihood of getting good players out.
So it’s a combination. I think our vision in how to train, how to play and how to recruit makes us avoid many of the risks of youth football but also how attractive we are as a club helps us to get the best talent in.
HISTORY AND TRADITIONS
The history and traditions of Malmo are strong. It is the team in Sweden that has now, by quite a margin, become the most successful in terms of championships won. They were in the European Cup final 1979, so that put us on the map, but the last decade has been really strong in terms of European competition. We have had three Champions League group stages over the last eight years and two Europa League knock-out stages during this period.
PUNCHING ABOVE OUR WEIGHT
For a small club with the smallest budget more or less in both group stages, we have managed to get into the minds of European football I think. I would like to think that comes from very structured visionary work for years, both from Academy and first team, to build teams, build organisations and make decisions from a common way, the Sky Blue Way, to try to have the best processes in the world. Not the biggest contracts, but the best processes in terms of player development and team development.
AMBITIONS FOR THE FUTURE
To become really good at what I do, to be really good in this role that I do for the first time, and try to take new steps with Malmo. To not only keep a very successful route of winning the Swedish championship but to compete even more with the bigger budgets in Europe. We need to keep using the advantages of being the strongest Swedish club but at the same time be the underdog and beat the bigger budgets in Europe. So to find our way in our context with our identity.