Paul Maclean and Luke Richardson: Straight Outta Amsterdam

I read a book this past summer. I read it from beginning to end, in that order. Admittedly, I don't do this often, but I had the time and the will, so I picked up Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany, and Brazil Win, and Why The US, Japan, Australia, Turkey - and Even Iraq - Are Destined to Become The Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport. The title's a bit of a mouthful, but if you like sports analytics and/or soccer, I highly recommend the read.

The book covers many diverse topics such as "Why soccer managers suck" and "Why you shouldn't buy players on the transfer market" and "Why hosting a World Cup is good for you". These are all fine chapters, but nothing worth talking about in a dedicated hockey blog such as this. However, towards the end of the book, there's this little chapter of narrative excellence about Johan Cruyff and how he brought the Dutch school of "Total Football" to Spain.

Cruyff was a sort of Gretzky of his time. While he didn't put up the prolific scoring numbers we associate with The Great One, like Gretzky his vision and passing and overall mastery of the game were unparalleled in his era. Also unlike Gretzky, he was arguably a better coach than he was a player. He brought his methods of teaching and developing players from the Netherlands to Barcelona's Nou Camp. Among other things, the key to the Cruyffian system of player development is continuity. To wit:

Barca's youth teams all played the same 4-3-3 as the first team. When the opposition's left-back had the ball, Barca's players, from the under-eights to the first team, knew exactly which positions they had to occupy to press him. When the outside-right from the under-eighteens made his professional debut, he felt entirely at home. That was one reason Barcelona happily threw kids into big games: Iniesta, Xavi, and Leo Messi were all playing regularly in the world's biggest stadium while still in their teens

The effectiveness of player development continuity made a great impression on me as I read this book, and there's certainly no arguing with the results that this system has produced in Spain. One need look no further than recent Champions League results, or the results of the last two World Cups to see that the proof is in the pudding.

Fast forward to this past Monday. As I read Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts, something stuck out to me when I read Numbers 25 and 26.

Back in AHL training camp, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean and Binghamton counterpart Luke Richardson discussed philosophy. Richardson wanted to play the same way as the big club for consistency. MacLean wanted Richardson to have some flexibility. They decided to co-ordinate terminology and drills. One of the reasons the Senators are holding on amid all their injuries is, when players get called up, the familiarity creates comfort. For example, one of the ideas MacLean likes to preach is "fast defence." Basically, he wants his forwards to create three lanes of support for defencemen trying to move or pass the puck out of their own zone. When the AHLers are called up, they understand what that means, no explanation necessary.

If you want to know how so many players could come in from Bingo and not look a bit out of place, and what it is that separates Ottawa from so many other NHL teams, you need not look much further than the above. Many teams have excellent prospects and excellent farm systems to develop them in, but Ottawa's ability to be able to "Plug-and-Play" their prospects and career minor leaguers due to the systematic consistency is likely the determining factor that is still allowing them to fight for the playoffs. It's been working for Barcelona for years, and now it's working for Ottawa, and people are taking notice. Hopefully those voting for the Jack Adams Trophy will take notice as well.

For now, it's just another reason to Trustache.

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