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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Preaching the skills gospel
By Pranav Soneji

Roger Spry and Arsene Wenger share a thought
Spry (right) worked with Wenger at Nagoya Grampus Eight

Roger Spry is probably the most famous English football coach you've never heard of.

Not that it bothers him, but for someone who has worked with Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Carlos Quieroz, Sir Bobby Robson, Mario Zagallo and Carlos Alberto Parreria, he really deserves a little more recognition in his homeland.

In fact Mourinho used to be his assistant during Spry's spell as conditioning coach at Portuguese side Vitoria Setubal in the early 1990s, where he was number two to former Manchester City boss Malcolm Allison.

It's difficult to imagine the 'Special One' taking orders from anyone, but Spry is a man worth listening to, especially his theories about the skills deficiency in British football.

The affable Brummie has spent the last 25 years in 18 different countries as a conditioning coach, working with players like Portuguese internationals Luis Figo and Deco.

But his interpretation of a conditioning coach is very different to the British definition.

"People assume I work on athletic abilities, but my job is different," Spry told BBC Sport. "English football traditionally has always been based on athletics, we are taught to be athletically and physically strong.

It's like teaching someone to write - you teach them the alphabet but what they write is down to their creativity

Roger Spry, skills coach

"But in Portugal and South America, the game is based on dance-like movements.

"They emphasise creativity, physical agility and dexterity and above all the ability to disguise.

"I work on a combination of fitness, agility, mobility, with and without the ball - call it technical conditioning."

A former apprentice at Wolves during the late 60s, Spry realised he had more interest in skills development than playing football, adamant there was something missing from what he was being told by his coaches.

The pursuit for the missing component has taken him to Portugal and Brazil, where he learned the 'Joga Bonita' philosophy was based around a martial art banned by the Brazilian government.

Capoeira is a 'fight-dance' martial art which was practised by enslaved Africans transported over to Brazil by the Portuguese in the 19th century.

The movements rely on surprise and improvisation, two integral traits of the Brazilian football philosophy.

SPRY'S FAMOUS FRIENDS
Vitoria Setubal - Jose Mourinho, Malcolm Allison
Sporting Lisbon - Sir Bobby Robson, Jose Mourinho
Sporting Lisbon - Carlos Quieroz
Nagoya Grampus Eight - Arsene Wenger
Porto - Antonio Oliveria
Panathinaikos - Fernando Santos

"I would say 99% of Brazilian players's movements are based on Capoeria," said Spry, a fluent Portuguese speaker.

"Players are taught them as a part of their coaching curriculum, using these skills to read their opponent's movements.

"That is what Cristiano Ronaldo or Figo will do.

"These guys are very difficult to read because they never do the same thing twice. All their moves are based in their opponent's initial response to their first movements."

Spry is hoping to redress the skills deficiency in British football with the Trick-sok, a tool he hopes will help develop "the footballer's alphabet".

Each part of the foot is separated into different areas using the Portuguese 'lingua da rua' (language of the street) to encourage players to use every single part of the foot from an early age, not just the side.

"We want to encourage players to use the outside, inside, the top, instep and one part of the foot we rarely use in the British game, the heel," said Spry.

606: DEBATE
Tony_D

"If we see these sorts of things we think they are tricks, but the Brazilians practise these things over and over again until it ceases to become a trick. Instead it becomes a skill.

"It's like teaching someone to write - you teach them the alphabet but what they write is down to their creativity."

But despite waxing lyrical about the Brazilian philosophy, Spry is not about to denounce British coaching methodology in favour of the skills revolution.

Instead he is keen to nurture a newer generation of footballers with a greater emphasis on skills rather than athletic ability.

"We are more interested at winning at a young age, we must get out of this mentality," said Spry.

Brazil street football at its best
The 'lingua da rua' has developed some of Brazil's greatest players

"You see it at six, young kids playing with parents and coaches screaming at them, the kids are terrified. There are none of those pressures on Portuguese or Brazilian players.

"They are more interested in development. They have a wonderful saying in Portuguese - when you start playing football, the word is play football and you don't spell play 'WORK'.

"Football is freedom and expression, joy - it is a spiritual experience with your friends whether you are playing with or against them."

Spry is currently working as a consultant to the Austrian FA, spending eight days a month working with the national team.

He still keeps in contact with Mourinho, Quieroz and Wenger, but rather than reminisce about the good times Spry is busy spreading the skills gospel to the world.

And he is quite content being the most famous man in football you have never heard of.



SEE ALSO
FA combats English lack of skill
29 Jun 07 |  Football
Is the Premiership a turn-off?
25 Oct 06 |  Premier League


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