Former Danish national-team assistant coach Flemming Serritslev has been impressed by what he has seen – both tactically and technically – at the current UEFA European Under-17 Championship final round in his home country.
Serrislev, who was Denmark’s assistant coach from 1992 to 2000, and is currently coach of the Danish Under-20 and Under-21 squads, is assessing the tournament as a UEFA technical observer.
As a player with Kolding IF and Vejle BK, Serristlev, who is 55, gained vast experience over more than 350 Danish domestic matches before taking the coaching road.
uefa.com asked Serritslev for his impressions of the football on show from Europe’s talented teenagers.
uefa.com: From a tactical point of view, what have been your impressions of the tournament so far?
Flemming Serristlev: “Well, I have to say that I have been very, very impressed with the high level of play that all teams have shown in this tournament. All the sides that I have seen in action have tried to play positive attacking football, and all of them have been extremely well-organised. This means that the difference between youth and senior level is not as big as it used to be, and exactly because all of the sides are so well-organised, there is also a greater need for individualists at this level who are able to escape their personal marker, and thereby create scenarios where defenders are outnumbered by attackers.”
uefa.com: How big a role do tactics play at this level?
FS: “Tactics do play a major role at this level, like we saw in the match between Switzerland and England, where the Swiss team’s astute tactics - letting the English run themselves ragged against their solid defence and then hitting them on the counter - was the key to winning that match. Apart from that, it’s good to see that youth football hasn’t turned into a sport where you have to be more than six foot tall and extremely physically strong to make a huge impact..”
uefa.com: How easy is it for youngsters to put tactical orders into operation?
FS: “I think young players have generally improved a lot in this area. If we take a look at Switzerland, who so far have been the big surprise of this tournament, all their players are fulfilling tactical assignments during the match. It’s a side in which emphasis has been on the individualists, and whenever the side has a chance to attack, the two defensive midfielders immediately move forward to give support to midfield and attack.”
uefa.com: Which teams have you been especially impressed by?
FS: “Well, like I said, I have been very impressed with the Swiss, who have been extremely well-organised throughout this tournament. However, the Spaniards have also caught the eye with their fantastic technical abilities - as have Ukraine who, however, still have to learn how to capitalise on their majority of possession.”
uefa.com: There’s been an abundance of goals in this tournament. What’s your impression of the goalkeeping standards during this tournament?
FS: “I haven’t seen a real first-class goalkeeper during this tournament, but I am not really surprised about that. Real Madrid [CF] produced an incredible keeper in Iker Casillas, but he’s an exception to the rule. What you have to remember here is that it really takes time to groom a world-class keeper, and at this stage the keepers have still to enter the stage where they undergo a tremendous physical development, which usually happens between 16 and 19 years of age - that is a big reason why we have seen so many goals throughout this tournament.”
uefa.com: The former UEFA Under-16 competitions were generally dominated by the Iberian nations. Do you think that this trend will continue at Under-17 level?
FS: “I was surprised to see how early Portugal went out of the tournament, but I think it’s too early to speculate on this. However, Portugal’s early departure does tell you how well all nations in Europe are working with their sides. It’s been positive to see through this tournament just how well the small countries have progressed – just look at Georgia and Switzerland, who have developed sides with plenty of potential for the future.
uefa.com: The UEFA Under-16 competition was the tournament where present stars like Thierry Henry and Luis Figo took their first steps towards the limelight. Have you seen any players during this tournament which might be able to reach the same level?
FS: “Switzerland’s Philippe Senderos and England’s Wayne Rooney have caught my eye during this tournament - but Denmark’s Morten “Duncan” Rasmussen could also prove to be a star for the future.”
uefa.com: From next year onwards, the format of the tournament will change from 16 to eight nations. How do think that this will affect the tournament?
FS: “It’s interesting, because instead of quarter-finals and semi-finals there will now be a first and second group stage. Generally, I think it’s a great idea, as it will strengthen the competition, and there won’t be any meaningless matches.”
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