LE HAVRE technical director Michael Bunel is rightly proud of the achievements of the club’s ‘famous Academy’.
He puts their success with nurturing talents like Paul Pogba, Benjamin Mendy and Dimitri Payet down to one thing that separates good players from the top players – football intelligence.
Bunel is set to share some of the work Le Havre do on the training ground to develop their young players when he speaks at the Football Innovation Summit in April.
So to give a taste of what to expect, he shared the philosophy that underpins Le Havre’s methods and the importance of scanning.
Bunel said: “For me there is one very important thing in football. I think that football now starts with the head and finishes with the feet.
“That means if you want to be a top player, and we have the chance to work with top players at Le Havre – we had Pogba, Mendy in the Academy – you have to be intelligent.
“Of course they have their own qualities, but then our mission every day is to teach them how to become intelligent players to make the most of those qualities.
“Intelligence means that if you know how to pass, how to control, how to shoot, but you have no idea of what is happening around you in the game, then you are not a top player.
“A very good player, everything starts in his head and finishes in his feet.
“I give you an example. Before the ball is received by a player, a player must assess all the information around him.
“He must be able to read what is going on around him. Where are his team-mates, where are the opponents. Where is the ball, how is he positioned. How are his team-mates moving. Where are the opponents pressing. Are they behind him, on the right of him or the left. They have to weigh up all the possible solutions, the risk and benefit factors.
“This is what we call real-time reading. It doesn’t matter what position you play. Defender, midfielder or striker you must be able to process what is going on around you.
“This is for me the key point you have to improve in the Academy because all the players we have are all very talented. But then we have to improve their capacity to read.
“I give you an example. Busquets at Barcelona or Xavi or Iniesta.
“If you look at them, before receiving the ball they scan all around them. Behind, in front to see where their team-mates are, to see where the opponents are. Is there somebody behind, challenging them.
“According to the information read by scanning he must be able to adapt technically on the field. If the opponent is coming on my left, I will control on my right side.
“All the answers must be the result of scanning. This is the biggest process you have to improve in a player. Making him aware of what is going on on the field in order to have the best technical answer on the field. That means finding the right pass, not losing the ball and if you don’t have the ball, moving in the right space at the right moment.
“This is what I call intelligence and then of course if you have several solutions, then you have to decide the best solution. This is a second level. According to the information you have then, you must be able to select the right solution.
“At Le Havre, we have got many drills to develop the capacity of reading because I think developing intelligence of the game requires a long time and it has to be done step by step.” The younger a player the more they focus on the ball. The target we have as a coach is from the early age groups to teach them how to focus on other things than the ball. The ball is there. It is often the object players focus on but I want them to focus on opponents, team-mates, spaces, position, timing and this is something that has to be taught, step-by-step, through the development process.
“The coaches here are educated to develop this capacity of reading as it a methodology of training. We have very simple drills and we want them to use those drills at least three times a week in their sessions to help the players to understand that they should not only focus on the ball.
“Sometimes we use technical drills. Sometimes we use tactical drills. But all the drills, you can use them at every age but when you repeat them, when you use them, the player improves little by little their capacity to read what is going on. It is a key process in youth development now.”