Eight months have gone by since Patrick van Leeuwen joined Maccabi Tel Aviv as the Performance Director. One of his main roles has been to develop the Yellow & Blue Youth Department and Academy into one of the world’s finest and he explains how he has been doing exactly that at Kiryat Shalom and beyond. As van Leeuwen and the staff continue to succeed so does Maccabi as he opens up in the interview below:

Progress over the last few months:
“I’m satisfied with how the way the coaches and players are working. We made some changes that demanded commitment and concentration by the coaches and the beginning was difficult. I explained what I wanted to accomplish from my side, what I wanted to achieve and how I wanted to Youth Department to play and train which produced some question marks from the staff. Slowly but surely things came together when the coaches and players experienced what I wanted. We now have a situation where we know how to play in a match or organize a training session and it’s normal for everybody.”

Philosophy instilled with tactics:
“We are still making progress with how to play and train every week and every match. Stability is very important in football and it comes only with time. The more you do it and the more you practice, the more success you’ll have in what you want to achieve. You make progress when you play and then the teams feel that it becomes more natural. Players get used to the changes compared to where they may have played on the pitch last season and this is part of the philosophy that I want to implement.”

Seeing results:
“Normally a process takes two to three years to set in, so it’s not something you’ll see success if you just do it on Monday and Friday. However, since we’ve made progress in such a short time in training and matches, I believe that in two years we will begin to see the benefits of our work. What we are doing with the coaches is setting in and how we want to play the matches will only be stronger and stronger. The way we want to play the matches is in a very focused way with a lot of aggression with the ball and movements with and without the ball. That also influences the tempo of the training sessions and the intensity is increasing every day, which in the end makes our players more physically fit for the time when they have to actually play in the match. All in all after 8-months, I can say that we are going in the right direction in the style I want to play in matches and how we train.”

The importance of the Sports Science Department:
“I like to approach the different parts in football separately, which means I don’t want to mix them too much. Football is football to me and it should stay football. The Sports Science department is responsible for the physical training of our players, plus it also analyzes the matches and the individual programs for players. I want all of these areas to be outside of the regular football sessions. Three times a week before the training sessions along with one full session, most of our teams have a physical training session of 25 minutes which gives the Sports Science Department the opportunity to give the players stability, mobility and speed qualities. For the younger ages we do this twice a week. In addition, we also film all of the sessions and matches while preparing the information to discuss with the players. We cut down the match into parts that we feel are important to discuss with the players.”

More about the physical training and video analysis:
“Physical training is prepared before the football and video analysis is done before the training session at the beginning of the week so the coach has the time to fix issues or repeat the good things. This way the players get information before training in order to know what they are going to work on. We also try to approach the players that need individual attention in both these areas so we not only focus on the team but on the individuals as well.”

CSharp the special computer program that helps collect and disseminate information:
“We are using a program called CSharp that was developed by a Dutch company and it is part of the club and the academy. The scouting department and management are storing information about the players and about the meetings with the players. The medical department also has the medical report history of every player.

There is also a smartphone application where the player can see the training session before they actually start training. It’s something special that gives us an opportunity to prepare the players but also gets the players into the mood for the exercises they are going to do. It’s an application that gives animation where we can also add some video from our database with all of the exercises we have filmed over the last 8-months.

This is common in clubs that have player registration and monitoring. We try to inform the players what the aims of the session are and what the intentions of the coaches are in the session that they will going to have that same day.”

The Commercial Football Schools:
“We have two commercial schools, one in the north near the University and one in the south at Kiryat Shalom which include children who want to be a part of the Maccabi structure. They are fans of Maccabi who may also want to have a chance to enter the academy and we will put even more focus on these schools next season. We want to restructure the training process for the commercial schools so it really becomes part of our selection of younger players aged six through nine who still may be able to enter the Academy. If a player is developing well we can always give him a chance to train with the Maccabi Academy teams. But our intention is to approach it a bit differently and in addition to the two training sessions they currently have, we would also like to add an internal championship that the children can also play a match which at this moment doesn’t exist. We want to see them play against each other in matches as well.”

What do players need to do to get into the Academy?
“We are trying to bring the commercial activities closer to the academy by bringing the same philosophy to the commercial schools. If the younger ages are training well, we will be in touch with the coaches and we will listen to them if they want to recommend a player. That’s the plan for next season; to put them into the same football structure.”

The importance of scouting:
“The intention of the scouting department at the lower ages is to find the best local players, the best Israeli players. At 14-years old, we have the option with no restrictions to see someone from say the north of the country and bring him into our Academy structure. At a certain age we can also take in foreign players but they need to be much better than the local players. Primarily, we focus on the local players up to the age or 17-years old. We want to see what is going on in Israeli football which is very important for Maccabi and also for Israeli football in general in order to make them stronger as the National Team benefits from the higher level we can bring.”

Young players from outside of Israel:
“Foreigners need to be 18 years old and then you can perhaps add them to the Youth Club and hopefully a player like that can make it to the first team. It’s something that has our attention as well as Jewish players from around the world. We just had some youngsters from Australia that trained with us as well as from America who showed to be at a good level. So it’s a great opportunity for us to look at talented players with a Jewish background which is something that we are very interested in. We also hope that players who can play at a good level and that have a Jewish background are interested in receiving a trial. We are willing to check their resumes and agree to a trial period.”

General football development in Israel:
“Israel needs an Under-21 league or an option for the clubs to register an Under-21 Team in one of the existing leagues. There needs to be something in between the Under-19 and Premier League level and I believe that Israel loses a lot of talented players in the 18-20 year old age group. I think that a professional club should take the responsibility in the continuing development of a youth player and not think that he is ready when he is 17 years old. This is not the case and we need to extend the development until the players are 18-19 years old for them to have a real chance to compete with the players of the first team.”

Where do you see the department in 5 years?
“I would like to see us increase the level of our Academy, our training and playing levels. We want the children to be happy to be part of the Maccabi structure and that we as a club we are trying to increase our opportunities and facilities to offer the best opportunity for them to become the best football players that they can be and that those players are beneficial for Maccabi’s first team. Ultimately, we want the players to be able to play for the first team and for them to also benefit us in Europe. That’s where we want to be with the youth teams and with the first team and that’s the aim for all of the players; to be able to play in Europe and not just for Maccabi in Israel.”