Academy Talk: McCafferty has flexibility while teaching core principles [Part II]

Editor’s note: Recently, Eric Friedlander sat down with the Red Bulls new academy director Sean McCafferty. They discussws the state of the academy and what to expect going forward. This is part II of that interview.

A great strength of the Red Bulls Academy, and its successes creating effective pros, comes from full integration. From the first team to the academy, the Red Bulls’ system is implemented. First team coaches receive flexibility within the core principals. The differences between RB Leipzig’s deeper lines of confrontation and emphasis on pressing traps, and Salzburg, higher line and a greater emphasis on second balls prove that.

However, the broad principles remain the same. Move as a cohesive unit to hunt the opponent down and win the ball. That is the DNA of the club, and McCafferty is not here to change it, knowing it will outlive him. McCafferty refers to the core principles as “non negotiables” What are the core principals?

“Pressing high, with the counter press, you know, and when we go sprinting all together all the same time, I mean those are non-negotiable for us,” said McCafferty during the interview.

The Red Bull System receives criticism at the youth level because of its perception as an easy way to take advantage of less skilled opposition. However, for McCafferty, it’s about “efficiency and decision making”. He wants teach players how to think at a high level, understand how to make a decisions, but also why they made that decision. This all ties in to the core principles as players need to learn the triggers for pressing and then the ways to build an attack once on the ball.

“You know, I think maybe externally, sometimes people get the wrong perception of how we play,” said McCafferty. “I think that the youth level, it’s about efficiency and decision making. You know, when to play, to break lines, to feet. When to break lines, to space in behind. When to play negative to go forward.”

The DNA of the club, and “non negotiables”, still leave a ton of flexibility for coaches and players alike. Creating robotic players does not interest McCafferty. Those are players who only function if told exactly what they have to do. He wants to develop problem solvers who can adapt to the opponents. Specifically, in the middle and attacking zones, the game is on the players.

McCafferty emphasized that the players have to recognize what the opponents does and solve the problems. Its up to them to figure out if it is time to switch the point of attack or if it is a moment to go forward and attack a 2v1.

The Coaches also have flexibility. While at Barca, McCafferty was going to play a 4-3-3 all the time, because that is how Barca teaches the game. At the Red Bulls, he and his coaches have more flexibility. Through this point, a 4132 has been favored by the U-15’s, U-17’s, and U-19’s. However, each team’s use of it varies, as do the player’s roles.

For example, the U-15 CDM, Erick Ruiz, is a strong ball winner who covers ground and gets stuck in. This allows them to play with a lone CDM, and push full backs high up the field. The U-17’s use Kenan Hot in that role. However, unlike Ruiz, part of the thinking of a lone CM for the U-17’s is to free up space for Hot to take advantage of his ability on the ball. For McCafferty, the principles are “non negotiable”, but there is room to be flexible and innovate.

We’re gonna press. We’re going to impose our style, our way on the opponent,” said McCafferty. “We’re going to look for quick transitions, and exploit them when we have the counter press, and that transition moment when it’s on. So, the best way to put it, is with everything, there’s some non-negotiable. There’s absolutely some flexibility. The coaches feel, personnel wise, or maybe even an opponent that we need to change something a little bit. So, I think we have to give the coaches, that’s part of their development, you know? They can’t be dictated to do, they have to make decisions, and learn from them just as the players do. So, convince me. They convince me that this is why, and let’s go

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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