Jose Barcala Garcia is the Head of Coaching at Spanish giant Real Club Deportivo de la Coruña S.A.D. His career as a development coach has taken him from Spain to Australia and back again, via a short stint as Physical Coach of the National Fustal Team of Libya. As well as his role as Head Coach, Jose is a Lecturer on Football Skills and Methodology at the Deportivo School of football coaches. In this interview, we discuss Spanish methodology, Jose’s lessons from his experience and the current development landscape in Spain.


Our interview opened with Jose apologising for the standard of his English, giving a sheepish smile which immediately hinted at the warmth of his character even in our opening exchanges. Although heavily accented his English was, of course, very good, perhaps not a surprise following his time spent as Head Coach in various College teams in Australia.

Running through his experience, it is not his years in Australia which immediately stand out. Instead, it is Libya – not perhaps a nation which often appears on a coach’s CV. Jose was offered the chance to work with the Libyan national Futsal side as Physical Coach, following an invitation from the coach Pablo Prieto. “I knew I had to take it because it would be interesting for my learning experience as a coach,” says Jose. “I always thought coaches working in Futsal developed very interesting concepts about how to create positional superiority in the game.”

Jose travelled with the national side to the Futsal World Cup in Thailand, where his duties included planning, delivering and evaluating physical development sessions, monitoring the player’s physical condition, providing feedback to coaches and players and implementing appropriate nutrition and hydration strategies as well as injury prevention and rehabilitation.

The exposure to Futsal had a big effect on Jose’s outlook as a coach. He believes that Futsal is an essential part of player development and that all players would benefit from some exposure to it. “In my opinion,” he explains, “futsal is very important because the player has the ability to get the ball many, many times; they have small spaces so they have to develop their skills and manage the space properly. Also, the opponent is always very close to you, so you have to improve your relationship with the ball.”

Jose describes Futsal as being an amazing context in which to improve skills and decision-making skills. “The more times the player has the ball, the more experiences that have to learn,” he says. This experience translates eventually to the football pitch, as Jose explains: “in modern football, opponents try to take your time and space, so you need players who are able to transform the space. Futsal helps players improve a lot of the concepts of football.”

The ‘concepts’ that Jose speaks of in relation to Futsal also appear when he describes the overall training methodology in Spain. This is testament to how clearly Jose believes the one sport feeds into the other. “The key element you see most in Spanish coaching is ‘Train from the game and for the game’. I believe we have a high level of conceptual and contextual specificity, such as small-sized games, positional games and running through basic situations. This teaches the player how to receive the ball in tight situations and dominate the small spaces.”

It is not hard to draw the thread from Futsal, to the football training concepts Jose describes, to the type of Spanish football stars who play this way: Andres Iniesta and Xavi being the pinnacle recent examples. Similarly, Jose describes a cornerstone of the Spanish methodology as being “that the game is based on the permanent search of positional superiority.”

If you had to describe what made the unbeatable FC Barcelona midfield pair so impressive, that would just about do it. Consider the constant short runs into space, dominating key areas of the pitch with tight passing and receiving the ball in any situation.

“I believe we have the higher tolerance to manage risk”, says Jose. “For example, when I was in Australia, if a player had the slightly wrong position they would panic, but when you have independent players and they have the ball, they worry about nothing.”

What does a Spanish style possession game look like in practise? “It’s very, very easy,” says Jose. “You can play 5 v 5 possession game, you know, normal, or 6 v 6, but we do it with a structure.” He begins to map out key positions on the table. “If I play with two centre-backs, number 6, 8, 10, 9, I give them the structure. That way they have to coordinate each other. You can’t leave your positions – you have to solve problems from your position.”

Within this structure, explains Jose, you must allow the freedom for the player to produce the right solution to the problem facing them. “If a player needs two touches, then they should take two touches; if they need to run with the ball instead of pass, let them run. Why should the coach say ‘OK, only use one touch’? We can’t decide for him. He needs to think quickly, but before he can think quickly, he needs to learn to think properly.”

This is the way things are organised at Jose’s current club, Deportivo de la Coruña, where the primary goal is to develop independent players. “Independent with a high level of inter-dependency” is how Jose explains it. “The player is independent when he has the skills, the strength and the knowledge needed to generate space and time, to his own benefit and to the benefit of his teammates. An independent player can dominate the ball and the game at the same time.”

This philosophy is saturated down to the earliest levels at the academy, with the youngest players learning three key development points: the relationship with the body, the relationship with the ball, and the relationship with the opponent. The next step is to develop the interdependency, the relationship between players.

“We have three steps for this,” says Jose, his enthusiasm for the topic beaming from him at this point as he raises three fingers. “First, coordination between first and second man. Second, the coordination between first, second and third man, and thirdly the combined coordination – positional game.” This is the “big structure”, as Jose calls it.

At older ages in the Deportivo academy, the players are taught the different contexts within which they are independent and interdependent. “You cannot always be dependent, or independent. For example, maybe if I play against Barcelona then I become dependent, because I need my teammates to solve problems. It will be different in a different context, but still we want to develop players who are independent most of the time.”

“This is done at all ages, from 8 to 18.” Jose struggles to find the right word for a second, then continues: “it’s not step by step by step, it’s consistent.”

The Deportivo philosophy is focused on the individual, with the team seen as “just another way for individual development.” The players are taught to think for themselves, with coaches discouraged from doing the thinking on their behalf. As Jose poetically describes it, “the child is not the sculpture but the sculptor.”

Jose believes that the work he is doing at Deportivo sets the academy apart from some of the others he has experienced in Spain. “What we do differently is the first stage – independency,” he says. “We put a lot of energy into that.”

From talking with Jose it is clear that he has picked up many lessons on throughout his coaching career and time spent in different cultures, so naturally the question arises as to what he believes makes a good coach. He answers: “Deep knowledge of the game, deep knowledge of the human being, and deep knowledge of the learning process – how and why we learn.”

Continuing on the theme of learning towards the end of our interview, Jose offers the following advice for developing coaches. “Have goals and challenges which help to focus the attention of both the players and the coach. See each goal as being on a stairway; every achievement is one step. The key to learning is to focus attention on each step.”

“We only consolidate learning for what is emotionally relevant to us – we don’t learn because the coach gives us information, but because we realise through our own experience.”

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