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Spain trip day 6: The calm before the storm

BARCELONA, Spain — Ahead of visits with local clubs FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol later in the week, in NorCal Premier Soccer’s first day back on the Mediterranean Coast, our directors of coaching enjoyed a slightly slower itinerary.

After a short flight from Bilbao, Segunda Division B side UE Cornella were kind enough to host us at their training complex Tuesday night for their youth trainings as well as a U18 Catalonia selection friendly as the facility also doubles as the headquarters for the Catalan Football Association.

“I thought that the level of play, the tactical awareness, the coaching concepts that we have been exposed to through the lectures were evident in that game from what appears to be a neighborhood club perspective and also from the Catalan section team and obviously I thought that they were the better team because of the possession, the way they handled the ball, they had some players who played for Barcelona and Espanyol and so the quality of player was evidently superior by the Catalan select team,” said Jaime Ramirez, the former Director of Central California Soccer Alliance and current head men’s coach at Fresno Pacific University.

“However,” he added, “the other team ended up scoring first, though the Catalan team won. What’s even more impressive is their understanding of their roles within each position and how well they execute their movements with the ball and on the ball.”

At halftime of the match, one of the club’s coaches came to speak to us about their setup, spending roughly 30 minutes speaking even though his match was contested in the background.

“What was impressive also was the willingness of the coaches during the match at halftime to talk to us about what they were doing,” Ramirez said. “They’re so open and receptive. I feel like what we do in the US, we may not be so open to accommodating visitors, especially during a match situation. We seem to be more exclusive, more protective of our space. From that vantage point, I was pleased, I was pleasantly surprised with their willingness to be gracious hosts to us.”

An introduction in the talk with Cornella came with a difference in philosophies that our directors of coaching have heard from previous lectures.

In most of the lectures we attended at Athletic Bilbao, the club repeatedly stressed that the entire goal of their youth system was to produce players for their first team.

At Cornella, a club who consistently sends top players, such as Jordi Alba, to either Barcelona or Espanyol, the goal is to win every game.

“To hear the contrasting philosophies between a club that is in a very, very, very competitive environment, that’s where to me, it’s important to look at the bigger picture to say, okay, this is Barcelona, this is Catalonia, soccer is life here, as it is in the whole country,” Ramirez said. “[Athletic Bilbao] can sell that philosophy to say, ‘This is who we are, our objective is to get you to play on the first team’ and that is enough for them and they’re successful because culturally they buy into it, whereas here, culturally, one of the top two club areas in the world where winning matters.

“For me I feel like that translates into a mentality of a player to where you prepare yourself, you market yourself to hopefully be considered to be in one of those two and if not, you’re going to become a professional no matter what, at some other club, but the ultimate goal, the big, big carrot that dangles is to make it at Barcelona,” he added. “I suspect that if you’re playing piano, singing, voice lessons, whatever, it would be a different approach, but this is football. And football here is life.”

Few could argue with that, especially after our visit the next day to RCD Espanyol. Check back here tomorrow for details on the 12-hour day we spent with Barcelona’s royal club.