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Spain trip day 7: RCD Espanyol

BARCELONA, Spain — It’s fair to say that for many years, RCD Espanyol was a club “swimming against the river.”

At least that’s what Espanyol First Team Staff Member and Andorra Men’s Assistant Coach Igor Labayen told NorCal Premier Soccer about Barcelona’s second biggest club during a 12-hour visit to the club Wednesday.

“If you go around Spain and ask about Espanyol, they will say the first team is okay,” Labayen said. “But that the academy is big.”

With a few simple changes though, the club hopes to turn their strong academy team into a strong first team, with the goal being to have every member of the first team to have graduated from the academy by the 2019-20 La Liga season.

Espanyol has already seen some success, with about half of their starting first team made up of academy players currently after just three years of the implementation of some of their philosophies.

Unlike many other clubs who focus on different formations and systems for their youth teams, Espanyol instead relies on a set of principles as Labayen told us in a roughly 90 minute lecture at their training facility.

For example, below are a paraphrased set of Espanyol’s attacking principles:

  1. There must always be one player wide on each side of the field.
  2. At least two of the three channels in the center of the field must always be occupied by interior players.
  3. At least one player must always be making a run towards the space behind the opponent’s defensive line.

With these principles, Espanyol believes that they can always create a numerical advantage in their game regardless of the system.

“I think the lecture from Labayen was good because we talk a lot about different formations and as we found out from different clubs, there are no two clubs that play the same formation,” said NorCal PDP and Coaching Education Admin and Davis Legacy Director of Coaching David Robertson. “I think having principles are very good because no matter what you play, whether it’s a 4-4-2, a 3-4-3, a 4-3-3, you can have certain principles, for example they talked about their three rules, the width, the interior boxes and the runners in behind. That’s always something you revert back to, it’s a reference point no matter what formation.”

Espanyol’s recent success hasn’t just come down to those principles though. For NorCal directors of coaching like Robertson, it was the little things that they noticed that make the difference in the bigger picture.

Because NorCal was granted access to the Espanyol training facility for the entire day, we were able to witness what goes on at a top set-up in between trainings.

Exactly one hour before youth team training began at the facility, coaches started setting up the entirety of the session on the field in order to make sure that everything was perfect by the time the players came out of the locker rooms.

“When a player walks in, especially the younger ones, and the scene is set, the cones are there, the bibs are out, all of a sudden it’s like, “What’s happening today? There’s a level of excitement,” Robertson said. “Sometimes in our world, the coach gets there when the player gets there and they’re throwing their cones out. When you’re doing that, you’re always chasing your tail and the kids get that. They know when you’re flustered, they know when you’re scrambling as opposed to being proactive.

“If you expect the players to get there and be organized and proactive, then you as a coach, you need to be doing it as well,” he added. “I always tell my coaches, ‘I’m not asking you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself,’ and I think as directors, we need to be the ones to set the standard.”