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The Importance of Set Pieces.


Do you remember how Barcelona won its first European Cup? Indeed, with Koeman's goal at Wembley. Or how Spain reached the Semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, which they later won thanks to Iniesta's goal? That header from Puyol that defeated the Germans 1-0 and allowed the national team to play in the World Cup Final for the first time in its history. How many jokes must the Atlético fans have endured after Sergio Ramos' 93rd-minute goal? Yes, the one that allowed Real Madrid to equalize the game against Atlético when they were closer than ever to winning their first Champions League in the Lisbon Final. All these goals have something in common. They were decisive, and they came from set pieces.

Messi also has something to say about the importance of set pieces. In addition to becoming the best free-kick specialist over the years, despite not excelling at it at the beginning of his career, he recently won his coveted World Cup, and he did it from another very special set piece. That of the so-called "fatal point." In a dramatic penalty shootout, which, when Argentina participates, doesn't seem so dramatic because they have won 6 out of the 7, they have played in the final stages of the World Cup, Leo's team lifted the trophy and showed that penalties might not be a lottery. Can winning 6 out of 7 times be called a lottery? We will write about it later.

It is more than proven that set pieces decide games. Since the beginnings of football, they have become decisive plays with a nature totally different from the rest of the actions in a match. We talk about the phases of the game (organized attack, offensive transition, defensive transition, and defensive phase). And then we talk about set-piece plays because, among other characteristics (for example, throw-ins that require you to use your hands), they mainly allow you the possibility of serving a ball close to the opponent's goal, and as the game stops, it gives you some time to also do it by bringing your aerial play specialists (defenders and center-backs included) inside the opponent's box. Lastly, you can execute it in the way you want within the regulations, opening the door to various creative approaches regarding the number of involved players, deception movements, and routes and positions of potential scorers.

Football changes very quickly. The high level of professionalism and the enormous competitiveness that this sport has acquired make new ways of trying to be better constantly emerge. When I started playing in FC Barcelona's youth academy in the 1980s, there was no figure of the fitness coach or the goalkeeper coach for the kids in the club. Both are indispensable in any coaching staff today, but it has been the high demands of the game in recent decades that have created a place for them in professional staff. We have all seen images of football in the 50s and 60s, and we know that in today's elite, bodies like those of the great player Puskas, for example, would hardly be competitive. Let me tell you something. The first football training session directed by Paco Seirul·lo, a recognized world authority in football physical preparation, was with Barcelona C under Quique Costas in 1987. One autumn afternoon, the coach introduced him to us and said he would take care of the warm-up and occasionally accompany us to help with physical aspects to compete better in that tough Second Division B of that time. Paco was at the club as a physical preparation coach for the Handball teams, and someone had the brilliant idea that the coach, who until then was the only staff member, would benefit from someone helping with the loads and warm-ups for the young promises of the squad. I will never forget those dissociated coordination movements he made us do (you know, arms at one rhythm, legs at another), and how we all laughed and joked about why we, 18 or 20 years old, had never done that kind of run in our lives as La Masia footballers.

How football has changed, right? No one could have thought in the late 80s that Seirul·lo would become an essential part of the Barcelona that conquered the world (from Cruyff to Guardiola, everyone has praised his work), and that the figure of the fitness coach would be essential in all teams on all five continents.

I present all this because I have no doubt that we are witnessing the birth of another profession that comes to be an important part of the game. It's the Set-Piece Specialist Coach. The Premier League, a pioneer in everything due to its love for the game (let's not forget they invented it) and its current economic potential, already has a department dedicated to it in most teams, given how crucial these actions are for the outcome of matches. Just as in American football, there are specific coaches for each facet of the game, in Europe, we are already starting to see similar experiences in terms of breaking down the game and trying to be as effective as possible in each of its aspects.

Allan Russell is a former Premier League player who, during the previous World Cup in Russia 2018, was in charge of training the attacking game of the English national team, achieving spectacular results that we will discuss in the Vibliotec Set Pieces course. As part of the team's attacking game, he was also in charge of offensive set pieces and penalties, and 9 out of the 12 goals of the national team in that World Cup came from set pieces.

When you detect an evident problem, it is absurd not to try to solve it. And England had a big one with penalty shootouts in the final stages of major tournaments (Euros and World Cups). Since 1996, they hadn't won any (precisely against Spain), and they had already suffered 6 consecutive eliminations in the, in my opinion, wrongly called "penalty lottery." Hiring Alan Russell gave them concentration guidelines and a quality of execution that allowed them to eliminate Colombia in the round of 16 and finally avoid falling in this type of shootout. As a noteworthy fact, Allan Russell stopped working for the English Federation in May 2021, and since then, they lost again on penalties in the Euro 2021 Final against Italy and were eliminated from the Qatar 2022 World Cup by a second missed penalty by Harry Kane after having scored the first against France in a hard-fought quarterfinal. Do you consider it might be just a coincidence?

Life sometimes brings you new challenges if you are willing to take them on. In my Vibliotec course, recorded just before the 2022 World Cup, I talked about FC Midtjylland as a pioneering club in working on throw-ins, with Thomas Gronnemark as a specialist in the field. Now, when launching this upcoming course, I find myself leading the set-piece department of the Danish team, after signing as a Set-Piece Specialist Coach under Albert Capellas. Great challenges await us in the Europa League and the Danish Superliga, and the club wants to recover a facet in which it had always been very strong but had been neglected in recent years. The challenge is there, and I hope to be able to help build something for the future.

Why do I like set pieces so much? Well, it's very simple. I also had the opportunity to lift a trophy thanks to them. In 2019, I had the chance to be the championship-winning coach of the Indian Super League because a header from our center-back in the minute 116 of extra time led us to the title. But we will talk about that stage in Indian football, and the importance we gave to set pieces in the team, in an upcoming article and in the course that will soon be available.

Happy to have shared some of my experiences with you. If you love football as much as I do, I hope you found it interesting. My best wishes to all.

Carles Cuadrat

Currently, Set-Piece Specialist Coach at FC Midtjylland

Coach of Bengaluru FC - Super League India Champion 2019

Vibliotec Teacher