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TOFFA players work under the watchful eye of Fiorentina ACF U16 coach Matteo Fazzini

TOFFA players work under the watchful eye of ACF Fiorentina U16 coach Matteo Fazzini during the recent “Soccer Italian Style” players camp

Why Top Flight Football Academy Focuses on Technique
Technique is the most important consideration for the modern player.  Now more than ever, what matters most is what a player can do with the ball.

Defences at the top level are now more compact than what they have ever been meaning players have to be comfortable working in tight spaces.  The game is so quick and precise in the attacking third of the pitch that if you don’t have impeccable technique you aren’t going to make it as a professional footballer.

If New Zealand wants to create footballers that can compete at the top level then they need to have an excellent technical base.

In the last decade the game has changed dramatically.

Today English Premier League matches regularly feature over 1000 passes/game.  Over 80% of those passes are one or two touch.  There is simply no long-term place in the league for players who don’t have a high level of technical competence, regardless of position.

For this reason the best academies in the world – Barcelona’s famed La Masia and Ajax’s De Toekomst have a youth talent identification framework that has technique as a priority.  Both academies use the TIPS model – Technique, Insight (game intelligence), Personality, and Speed when selecting potential young recruits.

Technique is King and is therefore practised, honed and perfected throughout a player’s career.

Soccer Italian Style – Top Flight Football’s partners in Tuscany also take this approach.  Both junior and youth teams from Empoli FC and ACF Fiorentina spend the majority of any given training session with the ball.

As much as technical training is valuable for junior players, it is also just as valuable for players through their teenage years. Quality time spent with the ball should be a priority for all young players throughout their development years, no matter what their age.

Top Flight Football subscribes to this philosophy – given the top European clubs are following this approach then surely it is the way for the rest of the world to go.

Unfortunately here in New Zealand, the general view is quite different.

Appropriately, without any apparent irony, the New Zealand Football National Talent Centre (Resource Talent Pack) puts Speed as the priority, followed by Personality, Insight and Technique (SPIT).

While all the elements matter – players need to be athletic at the top level – it is astonishing that the order of elements has been reversed. An over emphasis on the physical attributes of players can often be misleading in the junior and youth grades as players develop and mature at different rates. Fightballers not footballers tend to be the end result of such an approach to player identification and development.

On evidence of the recent Oceania Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea by the All Whites, the gap with the rest of the world is only getting wider.

So What Can We Do?
To bridge the gap we need to develop technical footballers.

The challenge is that creating footballers with an excellent technical base is not easy.  It takes dedication and commitment on behalf of the player along with patience and a long term view from the coach.  Technically proficient players are not developed overnight, rather over the course of many years.

The best players in the world are undoubtedly supreme athletes, but it is their technical capability that enables them to reach and stay at the very top.

Watch Napoli
A team that could well excite in the Champions League this season based on early season form is Napoli.

It’s recent 4-2 defeat of AC Milan featured an outstanding performance from the Belgian Dries Mertens.  His display shows why technique, matched with game intelligence is so valuable, particularly against tight defenses.

You can watch a quick highlights reel of the match here – enjoy the Italian commentary.

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