Former MSYSA director, global soccer advocate Graham Ramsay weighs in on World Cup
SoccerWire reporter Joe Dougherty caught up with former Maryland State Youth Soccer Association director Graham Ramsay to get his thoughts on the World Cup Finals so far. Over the years Ramsay has taken several Maryland youth soccer clubs to Brazil to play against young professional teams and to learn about the Brazilian culture.
Ramsay is director of the Maryland-based “The Soccer School,” and just completed his 13th “World Cup Seminars” aimed at players, clubs, schools and sports journalists. A former professional player in his native England, Ramsay was among the first coaches to receive the USSF “A” license in 1972, and for 17 years he served as technical director of the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association. He has assisted in the development of thousands of college players and many pro players through the years, having held various positions abroad and in American college soccer at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and others.
Ramsay has coached all over the world for the last several decades, and holds coaching licenses in the USA, Canada, Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland and England, and his work has taken him to Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. He has held camps and clinics all over the world. He has also written several books on soccer, with titles including “Soccer for Girls”, “The Joy of Coaching Youth Soccer” and “Skillful Soccer”. Ramsay’s soccer marketing and promotion company “Soccer Sphere” has worked with prestigious brands such as the England National Team.
SoccerWire: As we prepare for the final games of the World Cup, what are your thoughts on this year’s Finals?
Graham Ramsay: I think this has been the best World Cup in living memory. It has had goals, great goalkeeping and thrilling attacking play. Even as the Cup went into the knock-out phase the games were competitive and it was evident teams came to win. On a grading scale, this World Cup certainly deserves an A.
SW: Have you observed any significant tactical adjustments or new ideas from teams?
GR: The teams show more flexibility in their tactical approaches. The many years of “systems” is giving way to the “Principles of Play” where teams solve problems as the game matures. For example, teams switch to a “back three” with three defenders, and then back into a “back four” and then back again, depending upon the course of the game.
This approach applies to other areas of the game. “Total Football” is becoming a common reality, and this means players need to develop an all-round game. Barcelona and Spain have led the way with this pressing and passing culture. I’ll give this part of the World Cup a B+.
SW: What are your thoughts on the United States national team’s performances?
GR: I think this year’s team is about the same as the 2010 team, with the same ending. Sadly, had it not been for Tim Howard the United States could have conceded a ton of goals. For the United States, I’ll give a C+.
Another point: I prefer to see the American teams led by an American coach. When it comes to soccer, we have come a long way in this country, and using the imported Germans was an expedient move.
As I have mentioned in several interviews no country has won the FIFA World Cup with an alien coach. In over 20 World Cups no foreign coach has taken another country to lifting the greatest prize in the sport. With that kind of history, Jurgen Klinsmann was fighting incredible odds. I wonder if US Soccer or the Russian Football Association and other F.A.s that hired foreign coaches knew of these nearly impossible odds.
SW: Any thoughts on how Klinsmann managed the team during the tournament?
GR: I think Klinsmann’s decision to drop Landon Donovan was a mistake. Obviously, Klinsmann had his reasons for dropping Donovan, but it was shocking nonetheless to see the leading player of his generation relegated and off the squad. Even Donovan’s experience coming on as a substitute could generate excitement toward the end of a game, like his goal against Algeria in 2010. For managing the team, I give Klinsmann a C.
SW: What key ideas or lessons can youth coaches take away from the tournament?
GR: Except for the Suarez incident, sportsmanship for the most part has been excellent. Suarez cannot complain about his punishment. As a teacher friend told me recently, if a child did that he or she would be kicked out of school.
My fondest memory was Spain coach Vicente del Bosque going down the bench consoling his players looking like a parent rather than a frantic, angry coach. Even in defeat he showed a world class attitude. Spain will be back with leadership like that.
I think youth coaches should appreciate the importance of developing all round skills and understanding of the game. Look at small countries that care about educating players more than the result-driven mentality that our society craves. In the United States, winning and losing is too important at younger age levels. Look at countries that cherish soccer education: Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany. It is not a coincidence these countries have had so much success.
Here’s an example: How many two-footed players are there in the Washington, DC area? You could probably count them on one hand. I remember closely watching the Dutch team in 1998. Nearly all of those players were two-footed. If we were to put this in basketball terms, how many one-handed players are there in the NBA?
This World Cup has a lot to teach the coaches of our young players, which is why I give it a B+.
SW: Are you surprised at which teams remain?
GR: What surprises me the most? I would have to say the many so-called “small” countries like Costa Rica, Chile and Belgium punching way above their weight. Watching the CONMEBOL (South America) qualification games you could see teams like Colombia, Ecuador and Chile with the established powers of Uruguay and Argentina playing top class counter attacking soccer. It has been a delight to see. A.
SW: Which team surprised you most?
GR: It is clear that Holland and France arrived at this year’s World Cup with fresh attitudes. I’ve also been a bit surprised with the success of Belgium, Chile and Columbia – and even Switzerland, which probably has the top coach in the whole competition in Ottmar Hitzfeld. Deserves a strong A.
SW: Which team was most disappointing?
GR: England and Portugal looked like third-rate soccer powers. At least Spain showed a measure of pride to win their final game.
SW: Any final thoughts?
GR: I recently spent nearly a month in Brazil. It was my first trip in six years, and I noticed the country is changing. Years ago I never met a Brazilian who didn’t think that any country other than Brazil would hold up the trophy, whereas this trip I met a number of people who were not so sure. I think this year’s Brazil team is more immature compared to the teams of past glories. Like several Brazilian friends told me, I think Brazil need to lose a few games to mature, but that’s out of the equation now. Hopefully the Brazilian magic of “gingha” will dust those shoes to give the greatest soccer country on the planet the greatest soccer present it craves – the FIFA World Cup. The chills of 1950 and the name of Barbosa still echo around Maracana.