Developing Zidane like players

From the archive - Issue 17, May 2015 by Josh Fisher

How do you re-create a player like Zidane? Quite simply the answer is you can’t. Zidane’s talent was honed within the shadows of La Castellane’s tower blocks in the northern suburbs of Marseille. It was here that Zinedine Zidane spent thousands of hours partaking in deep purposeful practice simply by playing street football, chaotic, rule-less, boundary-less, timeless and sometimes even football- less street football.

Some may argue Zidane’s development was impacted by the fact that he is a summer baby born in June, meaning that as he entered into his school years and football career he would be a full 9 months younger than his peers both physically and mentally. Another factor to take in consideration is that he is the youngest of 5 siblings, empirical evidence shows there is a direct correlation between later born siblings and sporting success. This evidence would suggest later born children are more competitive and ego driven, down to the fact that there is a tendency by parents to hold comparisons between older and younger siblings. The older sibling has a completely unreferenced development path meaning that they are more likely to be motivated to learn where as from day one a younger sibling has the motivation to win.

It’s at this point that you might be asking “why is this important?” it’s important because this is what makes Zidane unique an unrepeatable genius; but as a coach what can we observe, repossess and put into practices to develop a player who comes close?

When I talk to my players about ‘Zidane work’ generally I’m talking about body work. Shielding the ball being strong and the manipulation of the opposing player to make space for myself by using my body to “rock and roll”. We do this often and it’s here in the repetition that we get deep practice taking place, myelin building deep practice which makes these movements autonomous and effortless.

Personally the aspect I most enjoyed about Zidane was his ability to almost stop time and play completely freely, I believe this to be not only because of his superior technical ability but because he was as much a cerebral threat as he was a technical threat. It is said in professional sport the difference between any 2 outcomes can be a minute margin something as tiny as the length of a stud on a football boot or millimeters of chalk line on a tennis court.

Zidane was so good that he was able to help to stack those fine margins in the favour of which ever team’s colours he adorned. To achieve this talent you need to create players who are so good technically that they are able to not only win games on their own in an instant but also accentuate other team mates with their own technical ability.

To get a player capable of doing these things the single most important thing you can do as a coach is stretch that player to the very limit of their learning capability from the earliest possible age, this is not to be confused with making a practice so difficult it knocks confidence and discourages learning. Every session should be demanding and encourage decision making at every turn, players should be guided into making their own decisions which will have multiple outcomes constantly. Now take these sessions which are stretching your players technically and mentally, sessions where a split second decision can change the shape and feel of a whole practice where each decision will have to be deliberate and put this session into a tight space, build the session so by the time you get here the intensity is through the roof the competitiveness is paramount and the tempo is lightning fast. It goes without saying that giving your players these types of problematic, confined, fast tempo sessions constantly and consistently, it is going to help them tremendously when the game is transferred onto a football pitch.

I believe that ultimately and most importantly getting your players to perform well and develop in these types of practices and then compute all of the above onto a football pitch the power lays with you as a coach to get the motivation right. Can you instil a love for learning? A player who is 100% motivated by the love of football and simply playing the game? A player who’s mind-set is open and failure is not something to be feared but a challenge to improve. Implement this and maybe just maybe we can develop world class players who have articles written about them in the not too distant future.

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