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Argentina Coaching Education Trip: Part 2

ROSARIO – Lionel Messi never played a professional game here, but you can feel his presence as soon as you enter the city limits of Argentina’s second city.

The little genius’ image is plastered all over the city as its most celebrated son and even though he never suited up for the Newell’s Old Boys first team, it’s here in Rosario that Messi spent his formative years developing, something the 30-plus NorCal coaches would soon learn about during the second part of their coaching education trip to South America.

But before the group’s scheduled visit with Messi’s childhood club, the coaches first took in a game between local rivals Rosario Central and Buenos Aires side Banfield shortly after they arrived in the city Monday night.

It was the third straight night in which NorCal was afforded the opportunity to watch a live Argentine Primera Division match and for the third straight time, the stands were again packed as an intense atmosphere played the backdrop for a hard-fought game that ended with a 1-0 Banfield win.

Despite the result, the roughly 40,000 in attendance packed the stands and sang in support of their club for 90 minutes, with everyone in the building standing for the entirety of the match as well.

“What has stood out most to me on this trip is the culture surrounding the sport,” said Fremont Youth Soccer Club Director of Coaching Dai Redwood. “While at times a very intense and intimidating environment, it’s incredibly supportive and positive – no matter what the result is, the crowd continues to support the team and players. Even when the club concedes a goal, the cheering gets louder.”

“I would certainly like to see players involved in their community club, families to share the passion for the club, and to not be blindsided by the tournament names and league acronyms,” he added.

The morning following the game, the nearly three dozen coaches transferred to Newell’s Old Boys for a full-day club visit in what was the most in depth look at a single organization thus far in the journey.

And the Rosario side pulled out all the stops, allowing NorCal access to a full reserve team training and a full explanation of the process all the way through.

Led by head coach Adrian Taffarel the coaches were treated to a nearly two-hour session where the focus was on creating more options in the attacking portion of the field.

Before the players even took the field, NorCal was given the objective and Taffarel and his staff explained the exact point the club was in its periodization process. Given that the Newell’s Old Boys Reserves had played a match two days earlier and would play another three days later, NorCal’s avid learners were told to expect a lighter load from those who had played in the Monday game but a heavier one from those who hadn’t.

Following the session, the Rosario-based club’s staff generously spent their time answering questions before the NorCal group took in a few youth team trainings ahead of their visit to Messi’s old stomping grounds.

A dusty grass pitch in the center of the city was NorCal’s next destination, a field where dozens of youngsters hoped to follow in the footsteps of their idol.

Overall, the youth program for Newell’s Old Boys features five different levels from recreational all the way up to the most competitive players who may be offered residence at the club’s impressive facility on the outskirts of town.

On Wednesday, NorCal witnessed those from the fourth level train while the leaders of the program, Ariel Ruggieri and Nacho Somer, gave the coaches a full presentation on the structure of their youth development system.

With the mural of Lionel Messi in a Newell’s Old Boys shirt serving as a backdrop, Somer explained what made his club different than the rest.

“Any kid that you see out here not only plays in Newell’s, but at other clubs here in Rosario,” he said. “I think that’s a plus that we have. Some kids play in one, two, or three clubs. In a week he receives an amount of competition and training that improves them a lot instead of only playing in a game Saturday and training two times a week.”

Somer could be, perhaps, accused of downplaying Newell’s own influence on the development of players, but the general idea in Rosario is to introduce youth players to as many ideas as possible to help them learn as much as possible about the beautiful game.

“You get different tools (from that),” Somer said. “Here there isn’t anyone just from Newell’s. We have a focus on passing the ball and how you stop the ball – reacting with the correct technique and we try to put an emphasis on that but (everything else is invaluable).”

Many of these lessons stuck with those in attendance, but for one member of the delegation, it was a special privilege to learn from Rosario’s most successful club.

“This visit to Rosario has further displayed what it takes to be a professional player in Argentina,” said US Club Soccer VP of Competitions, id2, and NPL Leo Garcia, who grew up in the city. “The passion, the winning mentality, and the pressure to succeed are all part of the culture that players experience at a young age.”

Following the visit with Ruggieri and Somer, NorCal were granted an all-access tour to the club’s Coloso del Parque, the stadium in which it has played home games for more than 100 years.

“Coming back to the city brings back a lot of great memories,” he added. “Watching Newell’s trainings, visiting Messi’s training grounds, walking around the stadium, and spending some time with the humble people of Rosario is good for the soul.”

“Huge thanks to NorCal’s leadership for providing all of us with this great opportunity to live and breathe Argentinian football culture,” Garcia said. “NorCal’s commitment to coaching education, shown through this time in Argentina, further supports their mission to develop better coaches, and therefore better players.”