Intensive and useful days in Shanghai


AFC Elite Club Coaches Forum 2019
Shanghai, 4-5 September

Normally around this time, I go to the Elite Club Coaches Forum in Nyon organized by UEFA in order to discuss current football trends, European competitions and assess if any technical contribution can be made to the system by coaches.

This year, I received at the same time two invitations for the Elite Club Coaches Forum, from the UEFA and from the AFC (Asian Football Confederation).
Both forums have the same dates and dealt with similar issues, so I decided to go to the AFC meeting, organized in Shanghai with the CSL (Chinese Super League) coaches and participants in the Asian Champions League. My idea was to familiarize myself a little bit more with the way of working in China, also in Asia, at the level of international competitions.

The 4th edition of the event, was organized by the Asian Football Confederation, in collaboration with the Chinese Football Association and it was similar to the European meeting cited above.

The objective is to bring together Asia´s top club coaches to discuss the AFC Champions league (ACL), to identify trends, to make proposals to improve the competition and to share experiences of coaching at an elite level.

The Forum was led by AFC Technical Director, Mr. Andy Roxburgh and Gerrard Houllier was the star guest, ex-former Head Coach of Liverpool FC and Olympique Lyonnais among other teams.

Among the coaches with whom I could exchange impressions were Gabriel Humberto Calderón, who currently manages Persepolis (Iran), Luis García, who manages Beijing Renhe FC (China), and Branko Ivankovic, who trains Al-Ahli Saudi FC.

The Asian Champions League is evaluated by each coach from the perspective of his country and I have to say that it has been very interesting for me comparing with the experience in Europe.

Regarding statistics from the matches, the percentage of success in front of goal of the Qatar national team 2019 Asian Cup Champions, led by Spaniard Félix Sánchez, really stands out. With an average of 2.7 shots on goal, it is even better than that of France, which has an average of 6.

Other data analyzed were goals from set pieces scored in the recent Asian Cup, with 32% of them in strategic actions.
Oddly enough, when everyone talks about possession, 70% of the goals in the most important leagues are scored in less than 9”. Thus, for example, Qatar and France, recent champions of their tournaments, have had 39% possession. All this data was analyzed in comparison with the match positional systems that are most commonly used in Asian competition (1-4-3-3 or 1-4-2-3-1); the matter of the Youth academies was addressed and also the Stadiums without athletic tracks, which encourage the proximity of the fans and its support to the players.
In addition to assess the competitions, we analyzed the importance of the coach’s behavior: what the coach imparts or is able to impart both to the player and fan and its impact on his own work and in the team’s results.

After several years of experience in the UEFA Champions League, I remember that coaches complained about the long-distance trips and the overall organization. Particularly, we used to complain about having to play another match in such a short time. In the AFC Champions League, this situation is compounded by even Longer trips of up to 10hours, which of course have a large influence on the following important CSL matches.

The calendar is almost impossible to adjust because each country can start each national league in October, March or August, which means the matches all coincide with a different time period in each team's preparation. In Europe, it has been discussed if the winter break makes a difference and is in fact an advantage in the final results for some clubs. Imagine playing a league match at Iran and the following day going to China to play the AFC Champions League and then coming back to Iran as fast as you can in order to play a final match against the second-placed team in the league. What would we say in Europe in that situation?

In that sense, the opportunity to come to this Forum and listen to all these great and experienced coaches in the Asiatic competition has been an enlightening experience for me.

Regarding the influence on all the work the coach does for his team and himself, again, it depends on the country, the media pressure and in the club’s management members. A multimillionaire owner that invests in his club usually seeks for immediate results and consequently, the media of that country amount pressure on the coach and the players. In this respect, football is nowadays more akin in Asia and in Europe due to the fact that these kind of projects and patience tend to be non existing after a series of bad results. Moreover, the coach is the one who usually takes the blame.

All in all, this Elite Asian Coaches Forum held in Shanghai has helped me get to know and understand in a better way the Asian football structure. I am convinced that for the rest of the coaches this information exchange has also been useful in order to improve their future teams’ performance.

To all, directors and coaches, it will be extremely useful in order improve the organization and functioning of the next international competitions held in Asia.

Once the event is finished, I will go back to Dalian to continue training and preparing for our next match against Wuham Zall FC in approximately ten days.