Back in June 2018, Marcel Lucassen was appointed Arsenal’s head of coach and player development. You’d be forgiven for missing it. As the dust started to settle on Arsene Wenger’s exit, all eyes were on new head coach Unai Emery.
As the Spaniard was getting to grips with first team duties, the Dutchman, alongside new Academy manager Per Mertesacker, was casting his eye over the set-up at both Hale End and London Colney.
If you were quick off the mark getting a subscription to The Athletic you may have read a piece by Gunnerblog in September that suggested the BFG played an integral role in hiring Lucassen – a disciple of the Dutch school of football development – having seen him at close quarters working for the DFB between 2008 to 2015.
“What I’m going to do at Arsenal is to further develop the football philosophy, as I did earlier with Al Nasr and the German Football Association,” said Lucassen on the eve of his arrival.
Since then, we’ve barely heard a peep from the 56-year-old.
Amy Lawrence did squeeze a few words from him in March for an article in the Guardian about the next generation of girls coming through at the Academy, however, for the most part, throughout the comings and goings of the last 12 months, of which there have been many, he’s kept his counsel. Until now.
In a very interesting interview granted to Transfermarkt, Lucassen has given an insight into his football philosophy and how he believes the game should be coached.
Here are a few of our favourite snippets.
On laying foundations for a philosophy…
When I arrived at Arsenal, I firstly wanted to know, what the club stands for in general. The problem was that no coach could answer me that exactly. As a result, we collectively developed the ‘Way of Arsenal’, for which philosophy our teams from under-9s to under-23s stand for and also set an example of.
It was a collective project. Because I cannot simply come here and say: That’s how we do it now. I have to convince the people, take them on board and explain why this plan is the right one.
On coaching the basics…
There are six basic principles, which are features of football: Start the attack, create an attack and finish an attack. Contrary to that, defend as highly as possible, as quickly as possible and initiate transitional play. And to whom this is still to complicated: “If you lose the ball, win it back.”
On the importance of experience…
Why does a baker or a craftsman work through an apprenticeship of multiple years? If he baked buns for ten times, he also knows how it works. It is about learning the basics and picking up experience. These skills, I don’t obtain when I’ve been to a block instruction for ten times. I think it would make more sense if the education takes multiple years.
On the importance of feedback and clear instruction…
I’m certainly not a coach that never makes a mistake. But I reflect a lot and look in the mirror. If I expect that it is taken for granted by a player to move in spaces, then he should also take it for granted that I explain to him how it works. And should mistakes still happen then, I have to analyse the situation precisely. Is the body weight shifted in the wrong way? Does he think about the next step already in this situation or did he make this mistake once in ten tries?
On designing training sessions…
A week of training should be designed with a single focus. I have to put the team in situations for them to get awareness for it and for automatisms to develop. I don’t accomplish that if I train defensive behaviour today and transitional play in the next two days.
On giving players room to learn from their mistakes…
Assuming that a player runs towards an opponent and tries to pass him with a stepover but fails. Then there are two kinds of coaches: The first one gives the player hell, so that he never does a stepover again because he fears the consequences. The second kind accomplishes to get a self-reflection from the player with specific questions, so that he thinks about it and decides if a stepover makes sense depending on the situation. [Footballers] are also human beings and need a secure environment to be successful.
On the importance of playing young players…
Why are clubs on a world class level only for a period? Because there will be a rebuilding phase after time, new players from other clubs come in and these players need time to settle in. If I take youth players instead of expensive new signings, they maybe make one or two mistakes more, but they have the advantage of non-verbal communication. Because they played together in the youth setup for years, they know how the other works and especially about the patters of movements. In the end the rebuilding phase is significantly shorter.
We’d heartily recommend reading the full Transfermarkt interview, available here.