The 9th UEFA Conference for European National Team Coaches opened in Madrid on Monday with UEFA president Michel Platini reaffirming the importance of national team football in the European game.
The three-day event, hosted by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), brings together national team coaches and technical directors from all 53 UEFA member associations to discuss tactical trends and issues surrounding national team football. In his opening speech, Mr Platini congratulated Spain and their coach Vicente Del Bosque on their achievement of winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as well as emphasising the high priority UEFA gives to the international game.
"National teams have always been the supreme expression of national football since 150 years ago when England first played Scotland," he said. "But today we face a match calendar that is increasingly crowded and for which the ideal solution has not been found. Here in Madrid I would like to set the priorities straight – defending national teams is top of our list at UEFA."
The former France coach said he could empathise with the difficulties and pressures national team trainers face, but also stressed their work "is a matter of honour and pride" and that they have "the best possible job in the world". He then added: "I am a former national team player and there is no bigger honour for any player than to wear the jersey of the national team."
Mr Platini presented Spain coach Del Bosque with a plaque for his triumph in South Africa, saying: "He has honoured us because for the first time in World Cup history a European team won the World Cup outside Europe." There was praise too for Germany and beaten finalists the Netherlands. "You have made your UEFA president very proud to have three European teams finishing top at the World Cup," Mr Platini said.
RFEF president Ángel María Villar Llona backed the UEFA president's message of "safeguarding national teams". He continued: "Today we have the great pleasure of welcoming you to the home of Spanish football and we do so with respect, fondness and affection. I hope these few days will be extremely productive and fruitful so together we can advance this beautiful game of football."
Jaime Lissavetzky, the Spanish secretary of state for sports, pledged his government's support. "It is a huge pleasure and honour to have you here for this event," he said. "The role of national coaches is crucial so I want you to know you can count on my country's respect and admiration. We have to advocate and defend national teams and national team coaches. The Spanish government is trying to offer the greatest possible support in that crusade, that great challenge UEFA faces at the moment, and we would be very happy to work with you jointly in that crusade."
The floor was then given over to UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh, who presented the tactical trends that emerged from the last summer's World Cup and the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League. Mr Roxburgh spoke of the growing predominance of the 4-2-3-1 formation and how the use of twin screen midfielders provided sound defensive cover as well as the basis for fast, concise counters. Often games are decided by exploiting space during quick transitional moments, suggesting at times that the "best teams are at their most dangerous when you're attacking them".
Interestingly, as FC Internazionale Milano proved during last season's UEFA Champions League, ball possession was not necessarily a prerequisite to success. "Teams can be dominated and win the game, especially because of the counter," Mr Roxburgh said. "You don't need to copy the trends but you need to know what they are. The real trick is to make your own. Now we hope European football will continue to blossom as it has over the last two World Cups."
The day's proceedings concluded with an interview on stage with Del Bosque who summed up the importance of national team football: "Winning the World Cup goes beyond sport; it touched the hearts of Spaniards," he said. Del Bosque and Marcello Lippi are the only coaches to have won the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League, and the former explained what he thinks makes a successful leader. "No two coaches are alike," he said. "My leadership is based on human values. Coaches have to share with players and that's how I define my leadership: by sharing to get the best out of them."
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