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Getting the stars of the future ready at an early age - Dutch style

One of the most famous clubs in Belgium football history are going Dutch in their attempts to return to their glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

KV Mechelen are four-times Belgian league winners and in 1988 they clinched an impressive European Cup Winners Cup and European Super Cup double.

Former players include Philippe Albert, Marc Wilmots, Kennet Andersson, Klass Ingesson and Hayden Foxe.

They are instilling the Dutch football mentality into their players from an early age.

Dutchman Marck Cieraad - who has worked with Willem II and RKC Waalwijk in Holland - is a trainer with the KV Mechelen academy U9 elite youth section. And, as he explained to Chris Kelso, he could already be working with a star of the future.

Tell us about your background

When I was five years old I started to play soccer at RKC Waalwijk amateurs (now a Dutch Premier League club) and a few years later I was asked to join the pro academy.

At the age of 12 I was tested for high school and had an excellent result. But without finishing it I left high school at the age of 16 and went to the CIOS academy (famous from former students include Louis van Gaal and Guus Hiddink) where I specialised further in soccer.

One year before I went to CIOS I asked Leon Hutten - a former Dutch Premier League player and former head of two Dutch Premier League academies - if I could join his soccer school, so he could help me become a professional trainer.

Because of his kind help already during my time at CIOS I was able to work with Premier League trainers at Premier League clubs. In the mean time at CIOS academy I was educated as a licensed youth coordinator at the highest level. 

Specialties like leading a sports organisation, training and coaching, management of a sports organisation, condition and recovery training, organising sports events, sports and society, first aid, social skills and foreign languages are part of the CIOS education and because of my soccer profile I also obtained the UEFA B license at the age of 21.

At CIOS, apart from many many other things, we visit Dutch Premier League matches together with UEFA pro licensed former Dutch Premier League trainers and have to analyse these matches together with them. At the end we have to be able to do this without them, at the Premier League level, as part of the education and exam.

So I had to perform analysis at the highest possible level in the current number one country in the world in the FIFA ranking. During this four year education I was also active as a trainer and player seven days and about 30-45 hours per week. So there was not much room for a life outside football. 

What are your main roles and responsibilities as youth trainer at KV Mechelen?

It's my job to assist and develop the young talents to the best of my abilities in and around the field at the club. Discipline at a young age is very important when we are not playing or training.

As a trainer my main task lies in the field because the young talents have to develop and grow as a player. I do this by developing training material which they are able to understand at their specific age and which they can apply during the match.

My goal is to see the result of the training material during the match and to see that my young talents truly understand what they are doing. At this age we have our talents play at different positions because it is not yet clear what will be their future position.

How does your approach to coaching differ from other clubs around Europe? And what do you hope to achieve with a footballing ethos modelled on the famous Ajax academy?

As a trainer I always think from the perspective of development and personal growth of a player. How can we get him to reach a certain level or rise above the normal standard or even become an exceptional talent? I DO NOT play the weekly match to win it, although this year already six out of seven have been won by our team.

Every decision I make, every training exercise, all personal coaching, the position of a player in the next match and my personal view on a player are based on the long term development and growth of a player, NEVER on short term results or the match. 

At this age every talent is approached in a different way, all talents have different qualities, didactics [a teaching method that follows a consistent scientific approach or educational style to engage the student] is also an important part of CIOS academy.

Individual talents also have a different way of learning and for the best possible result you have to get to know the individual. A playful young talent will learn sooner if I bring my ideas to him in a game, another talent will appreciate it if I sit down and talk to him about a certain situation. 

In the end I hope to achieve that a player, when he leaves my group, will keep with him the things he was taught and will use them in his future without me. The physical aspects his preparation before the match, anything the talent was taught, the complete picture of what I thought him about certain positions.

Personally I am convinced of my method, but appreciate that there is more than one way that gets good results. I am therefore always open to other visions, new ideas and opinions because soccer is always on the move. 

As for the Ajax TIPS concept, at under nines level my focus is on the T and S, technique and speed. 

Was your experience with Willem II a positive one? Do you feel there is a big difference between the Dutch and Belgian styles of play?

My experience at Willem II was a very positive one. I was youth trainer at the same academy I was once a player. Willem II and RKC Waalwijk have a joined Premier League academy to cut on the costs. I like the way they play, very Dutch daring play focused on attack. They do this also against the better teams. 

There certainly is a difference in the Belgian and Dutch approach as I was able to conclude so far. As scouting in Holland is mainly focused on high speed technical players, I have seen a more important role for the physical capacity of a player in Belgium.

Is there anyone of note rising through the Mechelen ranks we keep our eyes on?

From my group at this age, one player is now playing in the 2nd League and one is in the reserve team of a Premier League team. One player did very well with the national under 17s team. And I am training with KV Mechelen reserves until the winter break, then I hope to join a team in Belgium.

None of the players mentioned were expected to get anywhere at a young age and were overshadowed by some very talented players, who did not make it. So you can understand how difficult it is to predict the future of a young player under the age of 12.

How important is education in moulding today's complete, modern footballer?

It's THE most important factor. Nobody becomes a team player in one day. Modern soccer requires many skills and plays an important part in society. If you don't develop skills and play with equal talents, you will NEVER become a team player in a Premier League team. The trainers you have between the ages of five and 12 will perhaps be the most important ones for you career in soccer.

Is there any aspect of your job you find most rewarding?

The moment when you see your talents have fun from the things you taught them, and apply your lessons in the matches they play. It is exactly like the Mastercard commercial says: "There are some things money can't buy."

PHOTO: Marck Cieraad is pictured (back row, fourth from right) with the KV Mechelen academy U9 elite youth section.


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