The second season of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Youth Department under the direction of Performance Director Patrick van Leeuwen has come to a close and we sat down with the Dutchman to discuss some of the highlights of the campaign, the successful season had by the clubs and much more. Van Leeuwen also talks about what chances the players have in advancing to the First Team, the goals ahead and the path to success.
This is your second season at the Club. How would you sum up from your point of view this most successful season that saw each age group winning their league title?
“I would sum this season up as a continuation of building the program via our football philosophy. Our starting point was much higher this season than last. After a full campaign where our players were able to get used to the philosophy, they came into the season much better prepared at the beginning of the year. We had an excellent training camp in the Ukraine which included the Under-19, 17 and 16 teams. They all had the opportunity to play against top level European clubs and the chance to see how our squads stacked up to theirs.”
Van Leeuwen continued: “In terms of results, we had a very successful season and each age group from the U15’s to the U19’s won their respective championship. Of course, this will create expectations for the upcoming season and we will have to live up to those standards. The professional staff and management added new things into the regimen in order to strengthen the clubs. We are very satisfied with the final results and how we continued to advance our philosophy across the department. Many of the teams played at a very high level and at the end of the season took home the league championship. It’s not because we demanded that, but because we continued to play football the whole season. I believe that all of the titles won were because of our football philosophy and we have been working very hard on this specific way in order to be successful as well as enjoying the game itself. We attempted to teach the players as much information as we could for each specific age group. This way gives gives clear results and we’re talking about 4 individual teams that were successful following this methodology. Our way of football is based on a specific philosophy and now we have good fundamentals in order to continue our work next season.”
At the beginning of the season there was criticism leveled at the department, the results proved them wrong:
“There was some “noise” outside of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Every place where I had worked in the past be it in the Ukraine or Kazakstan, when you make changes there will always be some people who won’t be happy. The “noise” came from people within the club, some of them finished their time at the club and some left voluntarily. They were the ones who tried to create a little bit of “noise”. They tried to make my personal and Maccabi’s success more difficult. I believe that the youth department coaches and players said their piece with the results that we achieved at the end of the season. If you look at our internal success, there were plenty of players that were invited to the various different Israel National teams. We all worked well together to suppress the “noise” around us. Of course, today the reviews have changed to a pat on the back, good words and the desire to be even more Yellow & Blue.”
Is there a specific model throughout the world or a club that you aspire to be similar to?
“The model which we are using has been put together specifically for Maccabi Tel Aviv. We take advantage of the opportunities we have in training to do the maximum. The advantage we give the coaches is that they receive a tremendous amount of both theoretical and practical information. When our coaches went to educational seminars abroad they were able to see that we are similar to some of the best academies in Europe. However, in terms of our facilities we still have a way to go. In addition, during the two years that I’ve been here, one of the positive things that I’ve seen is that there are many talented footballers in the country, not just at Maccabi Tel Aviv but at other clubs as well.”
In terms of the players in the youth department, there were a number of them from the U19 to the U16 level who trained with the First Team. Do you feel that the homegrown players have a place in the top team?
“At the start of the season, players from the Under-19 squad trained with the First Team as per the coach’s request. During the second half of the season, there were players who were consistently training with the First Team like Tomer Altman. There were additional players from the Under-17 and Under-16 sides that also had the opportunity to train with the First Team for a variety of reasons. I believe that these chances definitely gave the feeling that there is a connection with the First Team and that it’s possible to train with them. The feedback we received about the players was of course very positive, about their passion and desire that they saw. The older players who are closer to the First Team in terms of age, were able to see where they need to improve. At the end of the day, this whole process helps show that there is a path from the youth department to the First Team and that there are opportunities.”
The owner says that his desire is to see the First Team made up of home grown players, how do you see this challenge?
“I believe that every talent deserves a chance. The Under-19 team players showed their quality and deserved the opportunity to train with the First Team. Once they receive that chance, the responsibility is upon themselves to prove that they deserve playing time. I think that it’s possible to have a high percentage of youth department players with the First Team over the next few years. It’s a challenge and I believe that it’s within reach. As a club, it’s important to give these players the opportunity. We must create a culture that there are candidates every season so that they can get a chance. If they don’t succeed, there should be an alternative in the second division, where a number of players can have the opportunity to take the next step together.”
What are the short term and long term goals for the youth department?
“For the foreseeable future, the goal is reinvigorate our football philosophy each season and that should be part of our culture. In the long term, we want to create candidates for the First Team from the Academy and be able to give the coach a number of players who he can test out. Another goal which I hope to be a part of is the whole issue of developing the facilities that we have in the department which can be done in parallel to the football development. If we don’t have the right tools to give that extra football development, then other clubs will be able to close the gap due to better facilities and their football advancement as well. So it’s important for the club, the youth players and coaches that we improve our facilities.”
There have been discussions about developing young players through an Under-21 league or an option for teams to register players up to the age of 21 in the lower leagues. Van Leeuwen believes that this should become reality: “There are examples from Germany, Portugal and Spain that there are other teams that play in the second or third division. For example last season in Portugal, Porto’s second team won the second division championship. There was a similar case in Holland when Ajax won the second league title and there isn’t an option for them to be promoted a league, but they are playing at the highest possible level. This is a wonderful chance for players between the age of 18-21 to play at a high level against professional adult teams.”
About the National Teams:
“The National Teams are good for our players. We have many players who are playing with various age National Teams. The Under-17 team was in the European Championship which is the top of the top. They showed that they have ability but I think that the methodology should be more like a team. The players can’t be influenced just through a week or month of training. The preparations need to be very specific because there is potential and quality in the Israel National Teams and you have to make sure that it’s reflected in this type of tournament. It’s different at a football club as there are more opportunities with the players. I think the Football Association needs to look at how to properly prepare a team for these types of important tournaments.”