The (Level 3) Sanctuary

Posted by royhendo on July 29, 2008, 09:23:07 AM

This is an amalgamation of the original thoughts on the whole three parts of roy's war and peace post on Level 3 football and the part three at Roy's request.


Before you read this part, please note it's the third in a three part series (links to the first two parts are included in the opening paragraph below).
___________

Having introduced RM's framework in part 1, and looked at it in more depth in part 2, the final part gets into the practical application of RM's teambuilding categories, the three development phases a team moves through on the road to its maturity, and the final step in Rafa's plan for Liverpool Football Club.

The Three Development Phases

Back to the subject of overall progress at first team squad level under RM's teambuilding process. RM doesn't explicitly set development phases out in his book, but reading between the lines it's clear that three levels of quality exist:

Level 1 - Backs to the wall football

Level 2 - Compactness, organisation, and counter-attacking football

Level 3 - Domination, play-making, and circulation football

Let's look at each of these in turn.



Level 1 - Backs to the wall

We don't have to spend too much time on this one. What I'm talking about here is the 'Redknapp to relegation-threatened Pompey' scenario.

In this situation, a coach inherits a nightmare scenario, and has to quickly organise his side based on the limited resources available to make them difficult to beat, and encourage a siege mentality and team spirit that will see them fight their way out of the mire.

Liverpool's never really been in that situation in my living memory, and certainly not under Rafa's tenure. We might have played as if we were under the cosh while Ged was at the helm, but the reality was we were never truly in peril.

Since Kenny left (a time when we were comfortably at level 3, with some of the best football anyone has ever seen)we've been in some variant of level 2...



Level 2 - Compactness, organisation, and counter-attacking football

As hinted at above, Rafa inherited a squad who had learned to play an ultra-defensive, risk averse brand of football. He also inherited a squad of mixed quality - a few gems, a few functional pros, and a few genuine duds.

So Rafa's footballing life at LFC started in the lower regions of level 2. He quickly set about implementing the RM-style team building plan.

Level 2's where RM starts bringing in the detail of his 'Team Tactical Teambuilding' framework. This corresponds to RM's 'Counter Attacking Strategy'. Now I'm massively oversimplifying things here, because clearly teambuilding development is a continuum - there's no instant jump from one level to the next. You'll see elements of level 3football at level 2, and at level 3, not only will the team lapse into level 2 on the odd rare occasion (nobody's perfect), but it will also be able to master a full repertoire of playing styles, shifting balance and style as appropriate based on the situation they face in a game. But more on level 3 later - let's look at level 2 in detail first.

So far under Rafa we've demonstrated our ability to 'control' opponents. We've become good at playing compact football, and at exploiting our opponents' weaknesses on the counter attack. That's not to say we haven't dominated teams at times - sometimes we've done that beautifully, with memorable results - but we don't yet do that on a consistent basis, which is what, for me, equates to 'Level 3 football'.

So what characterises 'Level 2 football'? There's no point reinventing the wheel here - RM lays out his guidelines for the counter attacking strategy clearly, and as you read, you recognise the key tenets of our European success over the last few years.

Over to you RM...
Quote
"The accent in the counter attack style of play lays on the defensive team function, with the emphasis being on the defender's own half of the field and letting the opponents keep the initiative of the game. This is to take advantage of the space that opens up behind their defence for the build-up and the attack. The most important guidelines are:

Defensively
  • When the team has the time to organise, they will fallback on their own half of the field.
When attacking, more players are and will remain behind the ball in comparison to in front of the ball.
  • There is limited space between the goal and the defensive line.
  • On your own half, the marking remains aggressive.
  • The spaces between the defensive, midfield, and forward lines are as limited as possible. This is a matter of creating a compact defensive block.
  • The midfield line acts as the first line of defence. This midfield line plays close to the defensive line and thus defends on their own half of the field.
  • To be able to defend under the pressure of the opponents requires good man-to-man markers and level-headed defenders.
  • To be able to defend under the pressure of the opponents, it is also required that the tactical coherence between the defenders is optimal. In the manner, you can close down the operational attacking space of the opponents.

Building-up
  • The emphasis within the build-up of the counter-attack strategy lies in taking advantage of the space behind the defence of the opponents. This demands insight to profit from the game situations. You need to have a few very fast attacking players in your team when playing the counter attack style.
  • They prefer to win the ball during the build-up of the opponents.
  • When forced to build-up from the back, a super fast transition is required, including good positional play in a fast manner and in a forward direction.

Attacking
  • Mostly, the fast target player who is good with the ball will be the basis. With the big spaces around him he remains an important target to play the ball to. He takes the pressure off his team by being able to quickly receive the long pass.
  • A characteristic is the overlapping midfielders and deep sprinting attackers who have a good sense for the tactical spaces and timing.
  • Many actions are performed at full speed, which is an added difficulty. The trick is to still get the optimal result out of the counter attack. Usually the finishing on goal is done too hastily.

Remarks
  • Counter attack football places high demands on the team tactical and mental qualities of players.
  • Counter attack football is easier to train. For example, you are able to start earlier in building set patterns in comparison to the game making strategy.
  • When being behind the game, a counter attack team has trouble taking the initiative. Against a weaker team, the coach will have to fall back on a more attacking variation of his counter attack style of play. Most of the time this is not very well mastered. They lack the set patterns in their style of play and the specific players to perform this.

On the other hand, a play-making [level 3] team must also be able to fall back on the tactical counter attack variation. However, this is mastered much more easily.

Counter attack football has shown to be the most efficient when short-term success is desired. [/b]

Later, while still describing the counter-attacking style, RM tellingly remarks:
Quote
Coaches and players will have to realise that 'midfield play' is a means to be able to play the ball deep, and not an aim in itself!

In my view, the passages quoted above encapsulate the stage we reached under Rafa in his second season at the helm. Since that time, it's my contention that we've been 'tweening' (to use an animator's term) - we've been making the difficult transition to level 3 - what RM calls 'the play-making' or 'game-making' style. The reason we've 'tweened' (alternating between periods at level 3 and level 2, or for long periods reverting to level 2 - what seems to be termed a 'slump' in our current context) is that the transition to level 3 is, in RM's words, 'sensitive to quality'.



Level 3 - Domination, play-making, and circulation football

And so to the end goal of RM's teambuilding process. Here's a quote from Eduardo Macia (from the same interview linked above) that tells us something about the intent behind our project - the aim of Level 3 football.

Quote
When you play for a big club - particularly in the Premier League - everyone else will be doing their utmost to beat you every weekend. You've got to be able to deal with that and produce your best.

For example, Lucas Leiva says 'give me the ball, even if I make a mistake I'm not afraid to take responsibility in big games'. That's what we require. They are strong minded individuals who can think for themselves and don't need to be told what to do, clever guys who can make their own decisions on the pitch and help you win. When you combine that with quality then you've got the best players.

That quote, for me, is symptomatic of the intent behind our plan, and hints at what we can expect from our youth pipeline, and from the successful instances in our scouting of senior players.

We're trying to implement RM's highest level strategy. Again, we might as well hear it from RM himself.

Quote
The play-making strategy.

The play-making strategy is not often seen. This style of football is risky to play and needs to have a lot of players with individual qualities. In most football cultures the coaches are scared to use it...

...This risky style of play demands individually a lot of football capacity. It entails that you have to operate in small spaces during the build-up and attack and defend large spaces with few players. This style of play requires a methodical process in the youth program, and also specific types of players; such as the wing forwards and defenders who get involved in the attack.

It's worth pausing to emphasise that last sentence. Keep it in mind as you read onÖ

Quote
Defensive Guidelines

When losing possession in the attacking phase, the entire team has to be tactically able to defend. Preferably by keeping the opponents in their own half or by dropping back more if you do not succeed in that. This demands good positional play in tactical coherence with each other.

The defensive line need to push up right away towards the midfielders. In general you defend far away from your own goal.

There are 3 or 4 players in the defensive line. The 4th defender will play as a free defender and pushes into the midfield. Defensively this means that you have an extra player to put pressure on the opponent.

The 3-man defensive line must be sharp while defending the spaces and they must be fast.

The keeper acts as a sweeper when a counter attack team unexpectedly plays a long ball through.

The midfield line must have controlling players with tactical insight and discipline who will remain behind the ball during the attack.

No player may get passed in his zone. This is especially a point of attention for the defensively vulnerable forwards.

Players who can regain the ball are indispensable.

Let's pause for breath here. My argument in this post is that Rafa's realised the squad is ripe for the final push to 'Level 3' football. Why do I think that? Well, looking at each of the guidelines RM lays out, ask yourself who fits the bill...

This style demands players throughout the team who are prepared to sacrifice their own agenda and work to defend from front to back. First up - we got confirmation in the last few days that Rafa approached Porto about Quaresma. Quaresma wasn't happy with his proposed role... a role that sounds a lot like one described by RM above. 

Quote
Liverpool? Well yes their representative came to me, and we spoke. They did not reject me, I believe they wanted to kind of change my role; they wanted me to be less expressive on the pitch and be more aggressive.

Next up, defenders with attacking intent. RM clearly would have seen yorkykopite's point... 

We've recruited pacy defenders with the ability to step out of the defensive line and disrupt the opposing side's organisation. That's not a new development especially (for example, we had already brought in Agger, San Jose, Aurelio, Arbeloa and Insua), but it's clearly been prioritised this summer. We've seen the addition of Degen and Dossena - two attack-minded full backs - and with the news that Degen's injured and that Arbeloa may have to return to Spain, we're linked with another of a similar ilk- Rafinha. These players are a clear signal of intent in the shift to level 3 football. Sweeper keeper? Check. Controlling midfield players? Check.

Players who don't let their direct counterpart past them? Check.

(Incidentally, RM's take on this last aspect is interesting- he's critical of Ruud Gullit's inability to 'perform his basic team efficient task' when playing for Holland - that of tracking his own man. Amazing to get an insight into that kind of thinking.)

Lastly, we have players throughout our side who are physically imposing and capable of winning back possession when it's lost. We hunt in packs and we're increasingly good at closing down space.

The trickier aspects come in the build-up and attacking phases...

Quote
Building Up
The team must master the 'ball circulation' component to be able to determine the correct moment to start the attack. However, ball circulation is a means, not a goal in itself! To carry the play on the opponents half of the field places high demands of the build-up. There is not much time and space to work in and you have to deal with high defensive pressure. Fast combinations and excellent positional play are a must. Circulation football!

To lose possession close to the middle line when building-up is almost 'suicidal' in this risky style of football.

One touch passing is also a must in the building-up team function of this strategy. This demands additional tactical insight from the players as situations quickly have to be surveyed. Each player has to anticipate even more.

To carry the play means that one time you choose to play in a high tempo and the next time you use delaying tactics to slow the play down.

A play-making team must take full advantage of the space and must have defenders who can quickly change the point of attack, wing forwards who remain on the outside, etc.

The transition from defence to build-up must be executed very quickly.

The team tactical manpower in the centre of the field(central defenders, midfielders and striker) is of great importance.

During the build up, the tactical coherence between the central defenders who must be thinking of playing the ball forward, the attacking midfielders and the central striker is very precise work. When possession is lost, it starts in the opposite direction.

Good ball circulation puts high demands on the quality of the positional play, the mastering of the tempo and the speed of action.

Now here's a key point for me. Level 3 football demands effective ball circulation. It's stated as a cardinal sin to concede possession in the build-up phase, and it's equally stated as a cardinal virtue to play it simple, with one touch passing, quick release of the ball, variance of tempo, and so forth.

For me this provides some insight into some of the real reasons behind the Alonso v Barry saga. I guess I'm risking a mob lynching here, but for me, this last while we've seen him dally in possession, and occasionally lose it in critical areas. With level 3 football in mind, that's the cardinal sin. Barry's renowned for playing it simple and moving it quickly. I know this always sparks debate, so sorry for opening old wounds - I may be wrong on this, but the way I see it, the end goal is improving our ability to play our football in the final third - to maintain our pressure, circulate the ball, and wear out the opposing team's resistance. That's something we've struggled with in recent years. If the Barry thing falls through, I know in my heart of hearts Xabi's capable of getting it right from now on -and if we do get Barry, maybe this provides some insight as to why we wanted him.

It also tells you something about the reason Lucas is rated so highly by the coaching staff. Rafa's decision to bring on Lucas away v Everton - a situation when we clearly needed to adopt a 'play-making' style, and play the ball deep in their half of the field - thinking back on it, you can see what went through his head based on RM's ideas here.

Robbie Keane is another player with good technique and soft feet whose addition only improves our ability to camp in the other team's final third. He finds space, he manipulates the ball well, and he's capable of doing serious damage in the tight spaces between the lines. Which brings us to...

Attacking

RM goes into great detail regarding the various attacking strategies available. He concentrates on both flanks, and on more direct routes through the centre. It's best to summarise the key points here.

The qualities needed are:
  • Physical strength
  • The ability to cross 'with feeling', particularly when running at speed
  • Strong technique
  • The ability to switch positions (strikers and wide players)
  • Intelligent running and correct use of space
  • Strong tactical discipline when wide players are used...

...and so forth. but the key point for me is the mention of the second forward.

Quote
Due to the fact that the central forward is the most tightly marked player, it is important that a second player supports him. This player needs to be active while moving in the correct position, and he needs to be strong on the ball. He needs to operate in front of as well as behind the striker...

...Such a player has the technical and tactical qualities of a playmaker however he operates in smaller spaces than the classical number 10 (attacking midfielder). He is a player who can dribble, give chip-passes, play give-and-goes and shoot on goal.

Sound like anyone in our squad? In fact, sound like quite a few coming through our ranks?

 Circulation Football

Quote
Circulation football is the name for a specific build-up style.

Not many top teams master this well. This strategy is distinguished by the ability to circulate the ball from player to player until the correct moment arises for the attacking phase and thus, the ball can be played deep. That moment can arise very quickly, but it can also take many passes over many stations. This strategy only then makes sense, and is only efficient when it starts a good attacking phase.

As has been said before, only a few teams master this style. It places a high demand on the build-up qualities of the team, together with high-quality positional play. This is a tough assignment, especially if the opponents pressure you constantly.

Quality of the Individual Player
In conclusion: no matter how effective the performance of the team may be or how well the tasks, functions, and strategies are executed, everything rises and falls with the individual qualities of the players. I can not repeat this enough. His technical, tactical, physical and mental baggage is the determining factors.

This is a golden ground rule.

... and there endeth RM's lesson, so to speak.

Now, do you think it's fair to say that, since Rafa's second year in charge, in spells we've seen football that fits the photo-fit description RM sets out above? I'd argue that's a fair assertion. At times we've played wonderful dominant football - the ball's been moved with precision at one-touch pinball speed, we've seen quality opponents struggle to move the ball out of their own half, and we've seen us crush a few quality sides.

What level 3 involves is the consistent ability to do that kind of crushing, and the crucial point RM makes is that it's risky - it's 'sensitive to quality'.

As such, the possibility of consistent level 3 football becomes greater with every 'monster' you add to your squad. Obviously Mascherano's an example, but the clearest description I can remember was in McManaman's autobiography when they described Fernando Redondo. There they described a player who could all but dominate a midfield full of world class opponents on his own. This class of player doesn't become available too often, and if he comes cheap, it's a massive stroke of luck; but when he does become available, you need to take the chance.

It's my view that we missed out big when Alves slipped through our fingers, for example. There's a player who could have answered all our right-sided issues in one fell swoop, and brought us to the cusp of Level 3 football far quicker. I understand why we let him go, but I'm not sure if we'd make the same mistake given a similar opportunity for similar value. Actually, while we're on this subject, I should point out that this is my only real gripe with Rafa's approach - the issue of 'squad depth'. I actually wonder if his experiences at Valencia in 2004 have caused some kind of aversion here.

During that season, his squad worked almost to breaking point to achieve success, and Rafa left as a result. He now likes belt, braces, and elasticated waistband as a result. For me, it's the only weakness - one that's possibly hindered our progress to a degree. Possibly a few less players signed as squad cover (the likes of Zenden for example) would have freed up funds for genuine 'monsters' like Alves when the opportunities arose... but that's our manager's preference, and we have to accept his ways, warts and all. That said, I feel it's only delayed the pace of our first team's progress - that progress has now started to bear fruit regardless.

You get the feeling we've realised our error, and we've taken decisive action with a core of players - extending the contracts of the core of our squad - players who really do the job of two or three ordinary players on their own. These are the core players who can adapt to any strategy or balance we choose; whose mentality and leadership is beyond question. We've got a growing core of players in this mould, and we've even more coming through our youth ranks...

Anyway, I digress again. Back to the point.

I'm sure we can all think of other examples of sides whose level reaches 'level 3'. It's funny, but the majority of our football media would quickly tag Arsenal's football in this way, for example. But that misses RM's point. Sure, Arsenal mostly play a brand of play-making and circulation football exactly as described by RM above; however, RM also makes the point that a level 3 side can vary its approach as suited to the conditions and the opponent - it can switch seamlessly to the counter attacking style, and back again to the play-making style as the situation dictates.

We've often heard the phrase 'they've got no plan B' -well, level 3 football is winning football - it involves plans A, B, C, and D, right through to Z. It involves having a squad full of players who are capable of making decisions on the pitch, and who are schooled in the kind of team-tactical work that takes years to bake in on the academy training pitch. Arsenal's squad wasn't ultimately strong enough to sustain that type of football last year, and when things went wrong, they couldn't ride it out in level 2. They couldn't adapt their style when the situation dictated the need for it.

RM elaborates on this.
Quote
Every player has to be able to perform his specific role in a team efficient manner. Being team efficient means: to create as many possible chances to score, and to give up as few chances as possible. This will give ground to success.

I deliberately do not say: 'team efficient solutions will guarantee success'. To score and get scored on depends to a large degree on the quality of each player.

This is also the reason why, thus far, we've 'tweened', or faltered on the road to consistent level 3 football. We haven't got the balance right, we don't spend enough of our time carrying the game to our opponents, and we haven't yet mastered consistent circulation football against all comers when the need arises.

Reaching that point is the zenith that truly enables a title challenge - the point on which future domination pivots. Reaching it and staying there is the whole aim of the project. Our technical analysis, academy structure, scouting methods and scouting strategy all point towards it.

We're seeing certain styles of player being introduced at all levels - the types of player described in RM's text above.

For me, the summer's recruitment so far (Dossena, Degen, Keane, and the mooted interest in players like Barry, Silva, and so forth) tie in perfectly with RM's description of the players needed to play consistent level 3 football -dominant football that carries the game to the opposition, but with players who are intelligent enough, individually and collectively, to adapt their strategy as needed during a game.



Conclusions

A few words from our Gaffer...   

In his column for El Mundo during Euro 2008, he made his intent perfectly clear - there's no doubt he's singing from the same hymn sheet as Michels.

Quote
In the first place, I will let you know that my idea of good football and my concept of a good team relies on team order, balance on defence and cutting-edge on attack.   To accomplish this you need players who are able to read the game well, who know when itís time to play short or long passes, when you need to attack through the middle or down the flank, when itís time to keep possession of the ball or when you need to start a quick counter-attack. Iím talking about real footballers, who will take advantage of their abilities to help the team win by playing as well as possible, who will be able to adapt when needed, who will try to impose their style of play, but who can also vary that style for the benefit of the team and to help it win games.

In todayís football, cutting-edge in attack is becoming more and more of a collective or tactical effort, depends more on a group of players or positioning on the pitch than on a single player.  This is why a skilful player tends to draw our attention more often, but we must be able to distinguish between the skilful player and the cutting-edge player.

The first will dribble or dwell on the ball showing his technical ability; the second wins matches, is a constant threat to opposing teams and the solution for his team-mates when they canít find their way. With a single touch he can find an open team-mate, he can find an open space when and where he should, makes an effort to do things the right way and always tries to  do what will benefit his team the most. In other words, he will play good football in order to win matches, not just for show.

For me, the buys he's made and the players he's been linked with over the course of the summer show he's reached a genuine level of confidence in the abilities of the squad's core.

We've also seen the addition of real quality, both at first team level, and in line with the other two categories in Macia's 'three tier' plan. (For more on this, see this thread.) We've seen genuine talent added in the likes of Buchtmann, Ince, Saric, Weijl, and NGog. The production line has already added several genuine prospects to our first team squad including Insua, Plessis, Pacheco and Nemeth.

I reckon our manager's recognised that our squad is ripening nicely in terms of RM's framework - he's making clear changes to improve our chances of playing this type of football consistently.

It's my contention that he's not quite there yet - our finances dictate that we won't be able to bludgeon our way to the title by first team buys alone. We are equipped to challenge, and again we'll be competitive on all fronts...but...

It's not until the youth pipeline bears its proper fruit that we'll see the kind of quality in depth that's needed to play truly dominant football - consistent league winning football. As RM emphasises, you need players throughout your squad with the correct mentality, quality, and team tactical schooling to sustain all variants in our pattern of play.

We'll get closer year-on-year, and we might even go mighty close to a win this year, but one thing's for sure - the longer we stick with the long-term plan, based on RM's teambuilding framework, the better chance we'll have of returning to our rightful place - consistent domination of domestic and European football.

For that reason, I'd call on everyone to check their expectations this year, no matter how many titles our rivals have accumulated - remember how close we are, remember how good our project is, and remember how hard it is to find talent of the sort we have at the helm of the club.

I'll finish by restating my own reply to L6's most excellent 'PS3 for Xmas'-based post.

Quote
while we're on the Xmas theme, let me don my Ebeneezer Scrooge hat for a moment...

This [optimism and belief that we're going to win the league next season] is exactly the kind of thinking that might hamstring our long-term progress (which has continued year-on-year under Rafa, regardless of the neverending sequence of boardroom catastrophes and signing debacles that have hindered him).

"this year I expect the league" is exactly what leads to the mass knee-jerk calls for Rafa's removal down the line if things don't go exactly to plan, and that's precisely what we need to avoid at all costs. we have a sh_tstorm behind the scenes that badly affects our club's finances, but even in those conditions, Rafa and his staff have a sophisticated 3-tier plan in place that's going to ensure we can still improve and win trophies when times are tight and the banks are on the blower asking for their interest payments. we have a sophisticated set-up in place and we need continuity.

That's why Carragher's call to 'challenge' is more sensible. in case you haven't noticed, we don't seem to begetting Gareth Barry, and we've been unable to get one or two other first-choice picks in the not too distant past. this might be rafa's squad, but in quality terms we've got a year or two to go before we reach the level you're hinting at here [a squad that's choc full of Rafa's first choice players] - we still have the odd chink in our armour. I'd not hold Cavaieri out as an unqualified success just yet, for example.

Rafa and his staff need enough time to demonstrate the results of the youth pipeline. I for one won't be demanding justifications until the likes of Pepper and Dalla Valle reach age 21-22. then the plan will have been seen through its first cycle, and we'll be in a genuine position to judge its effectiveness. the results thus far are impressive - everyone's agreed that Pacheco and Nemeth are exciting prospects. give it time and let's keep our heads on, cos unqualified expectation is a dangerous thing.


Cheers!



Part one: http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=225700.0


part two:
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=225701.0



________________________________________________

Before signing off, here's some recommended reading submitted by posters in the original thread. We can keep adding to this list as the debate progresses (and thanks guys for some fantastic links - it's the quickest route to footballing enlightenment!).


The link to the Rinus Michels book on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Teambuilding-Road-Success-Rinus-Michels/dp/1890946737/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217368001&sr=8-1

L6Red's "This is the Year":
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=224955.0

yorkykopite's "This Season's Defence - An Attack":
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=224820.0

The "Rafa's Bootroom" series from the LFC.tv site...

interview with Eduardo Macia:
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/features/this_season/FN13191080724-1204.htm

interview with Piet Hamberg:
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/drilldown/N157343071017-0947.htm

interview with fitness coach Paco De Miguel:
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/archivedirs/news/2008/feb/27/N158977080227-1247.htm

interview with fitness coach Gonzalo Rodrigues:
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/features/this_season/FN13306080820-1155.htm

interview with goalkeeping coach xavi valero:
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/features/this_season/FN13231080807-1117.htm

interview with scout mike mcglynn
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/features/this_season/FN13305081112-1316.htm

interview with profile compiler Dave McDonough
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/features/this_season/FN13304080908-1349.htm


interview with Angel Vales:
http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/drilldown/N160347080628-0902.htm

Some more good stuff on Angel Vales (we need ASF to work on this one, but until then, maybe use google translate or babelfish):
http://www.laopinioncoruna.es/secciones/noticia.jsp?pNumEjemplar=2429&pIdSeccion=12&pIdNoticia=113133 

Interview with Italian scout Mauro Pederzoli (a little background on Rafa and his criteria for player selection):
http://aliverpoolthing.blogspot.com/2007/06/truth-behind-liverpools-italian-rumours.html

A post that profiles Arrigo Sacchi, and goes into considerable depth...
http://www.milanmania.com/forums/showthread.php?t=17681 

hesbighesred's post inspired by the Sacchi piece on Liverpool's use of pressing and forcing:
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=225239.msg4615599#msg4615599

hesbighesred's assessment of where our rivals currently are in the level 3 process:
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=225239.msg4602305#msg4602305

joeterp's breakdown of LFC's players by age:
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=204689.msg4610943#msg4610943


Special mention to ASF's translations of Rafa's Euro 2008 columns:
http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4413486#msg4413486

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4421075#msg4421075

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4428156#msg4428156

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4442680#msg4442680

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4453280#msg4453280

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4472481#msg4472481

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4483681#msg4483681

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4491120#msg4491120

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4498571#msg4498571

http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=221890.msg4500279#msg4500279



Some other stuff not directly related to the original posts...

Stussy's recommendation of "Inverting the Pyramid" by Jonathan Wilson:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Inverting-Pyramid-History-Football-Tactics/dp/0752889958/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217418290&sr=1-1

Some excellent analytical pieces by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger (with application of 'Moneyball'-style principles to the progress of Freiburg in Germany) - not directly relevant to the original post, but very interesting stuff:

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=437614&root=europe&cc=5739

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=439196&root=europe&cc=5739

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=440429&root=europe&cc=5739

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=441506&root=europe&cc=5739


clive woodward - podcasts on the sporting project leading up to the England rugby team's world cup win in 2003...

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/related_reports/clive_woodward/article2408545.ece

the individual links...
http://podcast.timesonline.co.uk/serve.php/1274/woodwardonmanagement1.mp3

http://podcast.timesonline.co.uk/serve.php/1274/woodwardonmanagement2.mp3

http://podcast.timesonline.co.uk/serve.php/1274/woodwardonmanagement3.mp3

http://podcast.timesonline.co.uk/serve.php/1274/woodwardonmanagement4.mp3

http://podcast.timesonline.co.uk/serve.php/1274/woodwardonmanagement5.mp3

http://podcast.timesonline.co.uk/serve.php/1274/woodwardonmanagement6.mp3

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