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Arsène Wenger was one of the most notable names on Friday to speak at the Sports Tomorrow Congress as he gave his vision of the future applications of technology in football, the role of the coach, how to communicate with players and the effects of the pandemic amongst other topics.
The Frenchman is one of the most respected figures in the world of football after no less than 22 years as coach at Arsenal. Currently he is Head of Global Football Development at FIFA and with his extensive experience and his global vision, Wenger looks at the future of football and the role of the coach, one that will be very different from his time in the job.
For Wenger, "the coach of the future will be like a business director but he will be employed by a football club." He continues: "The coach will come in to the club with his own team consisting of a group of collaborators, analysts, fitness coaches, IT experts amongst others to lend his services for a given time and when the relation is over, when they let him go, he will leave with the same structure in search of another club." Wenger reminds us that this is the type of relationship that players, especially big names, have with the club. "They come to the club with their own nutritionists, their expert in social media, their own fitness coach and they all form another team within a team."
The former Arsenal coach believes that despite the value that coaches can bring to a club as professionals, the clubs themselves should try to preserve their identity. "Before anything else, as a club you have to define who you are, what is your identity and what are your values so that then your coaches can adapt to the club and its principles., not the other way around." As an example he gives Barça and its identity of being "more than a club that represents Catalonia and the values of a region."
Data analysis and virtual reality in football
Arsène Wenger is fully in favour of incorporating new technology and data analysis into the work of a coach. " Data is objective science. I have always thought that science can help me understand better the world in which I live. For that reason I think the modern coach has to have an open mind and incorporate into his day to day work," explains Wenger whilst also admitting that science cannot be a substitute for the decisions the coach has to make.
The Frenchman believes that as football is developing with more and more matches and less time to train, the use of technology via video is vitally important. "From when I started as a coach until I finished, the time spent with the players on the training field was less and less." To make up for the lack of training time, Wenger thinks that the role of video and video analysts will be more and more important. So much so that he expects new ideas in that area: "The new age of match analysis will be the incorporation of virtual reality, with three dimensional images that will allow players to experience matches once again and understand why they made certain decisions and why they did not make others. That will keep the coaches in their work on an individual and team level," he adds.
Xavi, the player who read the game best
The use of technology also produces relevant data that allows the individual qualities of the players to be defined. An example is given by Arsène Wenger with the Premier League carrying out a study some time ago to analyse the movements and behaviour of a player some 10 seconds before they receive the ball. The aim was to see how many times the player looked around to take the maximum information possible to allow them to make the best decision when the ball came to them. "We concluded that good players analyse their surroundings, on average, between four and six times in those 10 seconds. The best players do it six to eight times." In the study, Wenger reveals, they discovered that the player who captures the most information about their surrounding was Xavi Hernández with a score of 8.3.
The key to communication with players: convince them they can do better
With regards to communication between coach and players, the former Arsenal boss has his own way of doing things. "Basically, you have to convince them that what you tell them and the information that you give them will make them better players. It is perhaps the only way of getting their attention. The problem is that coaches always overestimate their ability to communicate. When you speak to a player you think that you have got your ideas across to him but later if you ask him if he has understood then you are in for a surprise," he concludes. For Wenger, the key to efficient communication is defining roles within the club and the team and that each person gets across the information that they need to.
The effect of the pandemic on football
Wenger points out two of the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world of football: On the one hand the economic impact - he explains that football has lost some 15,000 million euros from the 45,000 million that it generates due to the health crisis, a third of its income - and on the other hand the absence of fans from the stadiums. On this last topic, the former Arsenal and Monaco coach adds, "the situation has made us realise that fans are a vital part of the professional game and that without them football is not the same. It has lost that emotional intensity and we need that to make football really football."
In this context of crisis, Wenger believes that the most important thing now is to give young players a chance. "Youth football has always been a priority and with or without the Covid-19 situation. If you take teams like Manchester United and Barça you see that their most successful periods coincided with when the spine of their team were made up of home grown players. Now, with Covid, we have a great chance to think about how to restructure football and youth football should have a vital role," rounds off the Frenchman.
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