Doing your football apprenticeship at FC Barcelona is the kind of coaching education we all dream of. Player Development Project caught up with Josep Gombau, a man who emerged from Catalonia and has since travelled the world coaching at all levels.

Josep Gombau is a much travelled man. Born in Amposta, Catalonia, his coaching career has taken him from Spain to Hong Kong, where he was named coach of the year twice, before a stint at A-League club Adelaide United. Between 2003 and 2009, Josep was Football Director of FCB Escola, a football academy which prepares young players for Barcelona’s fabled La Masia. Player Development Project’s lead researcher James Vaughan spoke with Josep about his education at FC Barcelona and how his experiences in different coaching environments have shaped his coaching style.
PDP: Can you briefly outline your coaching career, and how you got to be coaching in Australia?

JG: When I was 26 years old, I joined FC Barcelona as a youth coach working with kids from age 6-12. After three years working for the club at La Masia I was offered the opportunity to become the Football Director of the FCB Escola Projects, which is the FC Barcelona school. I was in charge of the FCB Escola in Barcelona but also responsible for starting academies and FCB schools around the world, which involved a lot of travel.

PDP: What is the relationship between La Masia and FCB Escola?

JG: It’s a very close relationship; it’s part of FC Barcelona’s Player Development Program. La Masia is not really the name of the academy, the academy is called Ciutat Esportiva. The best way to think about it is that FCB Escola is the step before the academy. The best kids in the FCB school move on to La Masia.

PDP: How important is education at FC Barcelona? And why?

JG: I think we recognise the importance of a balanced upbringing for the players and creating a real connection. They need to have the opportunity to play sport, to have a good education and to be social. If you neglect these elements, it’s more difficult to have a good life. You need to be good in sport, at football and be good at school. You need to be in good physical condition but most importantly you must have the right mindset. You must have ambition and want to work and improve and have good preparation. Its about having a good foundation: before you’re a player or before you’re a coach, you’re a person. You need to have good values. You need to be a good person, because if you’re not a good person you’ve missed something in your development.

For us it’s also very important that the kids have something for life after football, they need to study. When you’re a kid you can be a great footballer but you might have a big injury. You need to have something else because it’s very difficult to make that final step to become a professional player. It’s also extremely important that you have a good family environment, to have good structure and be involved with your family. It’s difficult, you can be a very good football player but if you are missing something in one of these areas it’s hard to succeed. If you have these things it can be easy for you.

PDP: Can you describe the philosophy at the FCB academy for us?

JG: I think it’s something that if you are not there, it can be hard to understand. At Barcelona, winning is not most important. The aim is to create a player that will one day arrive at the first team squad. The coach’s goal is not to win but to help a player that might, one day, play for the professional club or the national team. After that, the priority is to play good football and the coach must help the team play well. It’s not just win or lose, it’s play well. It’s important to develop a style of football that the people enjoy watching.

PDP: How do you manage to get this across?

JG: We talk to the kids to say that you need to be a good winner, that when you win you need to win in a good way. It’s important to be competitive and be fair, respecting everybody – the opposition, the referee and the parents. So it’s important to be a good winner but also to be a good loser, and it’s important to accept that when you lose, it’s part of the process of gaining knowledge.

When you lose, you take key things from the moment. You ask ‘why did I lose?’ ‘What can I do to improve?’, ‘What were my mistakes?’ It is not just win or lose, it’s more about the process of learning. It’s also important to remember that not everything is right when we win.

PDP: Would it be fair to say that the idea behind Pep Guardiola’s famous quote ‘the target is not to win titles, the target is to achieve a unique style of play’ comes from his time at La Masia?

JG: Yes, this is the objective. At Barcelona you can win everything but if you don’t play well people don’t love you. With the top team you must win and play well. The most important thing is for the people to enjoy the football. For me, I prefer to lose a game playing well instead of winning a game playing poorly. Some people think I’m crazy but I would rather lose a game playing beautiful football. In professional football people say ‘the philosophy is to win’. This is not my philosophy.

PDP: Why is it important we teach young players to play a possession-based style of play?

JG: For me the most important skills are the ones you need in order to be the owner of the ball. What I mean is when the ball comes, you need to know what you’re going to do with the ball. When the ball comes to you, you need to be thinking ‘I know what I want to do’, so then when it comes you can be thinking about the next action. Players need to have these skills honed to such a level that it appears natural.

PDP: We’ve often heard that at FC Barcelona the player should be trained in such a way that they can imagine the best solution within the action and have the technique to implement it.

JG: For me, if you are good with your skills you are thinking about the next action. That way you don’t lose time thinking about what to do. After that you have the skills to choose the right decision. At Barcelona we would do a lot of small-sided games to replicate the type of situation you might find during the game. In these situations players have to make lots of decisions that relate to direct actions in the game. This way there is the best chance that players will learn to do this in the game.

PDP: How would you describe creativity in football?

JG: I think it’s important that when the kids are young they have the freedom to make decisions. Coaches often make the mistake of telling young footballers what to do before they get the ball. We need to allow our players to make decisions and we need to allow them to make mistakes. After this, we can show them why they do not need to do this, but they need to have the freedom to make their decision. This is kids of every age, from 6 to 13, after that, this is the moment the coach can explain what they need to do. But before a coach intervenes, we need to see what the players can do. The kid needs to have his decision and the kid needs to have their creativity, in every single action of the game. We can speak about Messi, for example, he didn’t come to Barcelona and have people telling him what to do. The coaches help the kids a little bit, in their progression, but really the kids have something special within them.


Cover Image:

Josep Gombau after winning the FFA Cup with Adelaide United in 2014.  Photo: Daniel Kalisz / Stringer

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