It was a hideous day in Auckland today. Cold and wet and, as if those two things weren’t enough, there were occasional claps of lightning followed by bellows of thunder. But out at Bill McKinlay Park in Panmure stood two guys who, despite living in a country where it’s the middle of summer right now, are spending some downtime from their glamorous jobs doing a far less glamorous job! Teaching New Zealand kids how to play football the Italian way.
Matteo Fazzini and Alessandro Limone are two coaches with over 30 years’ experience between them, and who coach youth teams at prestigious Tuscan clubs by the name of Fiorentina and Empoli respectively. They are here, chasing winter around the world, in order to impart their knowledge and spread the word of how they do things in Italy.
What’s in it for them? Not money, and certainly not a nice cushy holiday! Their organisation, ‘Soccer Italian Style’, was founded by Fiorentina’s Mirko Mazzantini due to, in his words, “a desire to learn and share knowledge”. His philosophy is that “like a player, if you are a coach, you need to study. There is something to be learnt from everyone.” By travelling to New Zealand and other parts of the world it is hoped that these coaches will learn and grow just as those whom they coach will grow as players. Everybody wins!
So what can New Zealand players and coaches learn from these guys? According to Mazzantini “there is only one secret and that is work, work, work. Being technical is king. The physical attributes can be developed in time. Speed and agility can all be improved but in my opinion a player must work on his technique.” He identifies ball coordination – control and touch – as the key skills that New Zealand players need to work on above all.
This week, Matteo and Alessandro are running a school holiday programme at Bill McKinlay set up by Altan Ramadan of ‘Top Flight Football Academy’ – an organisation that, with the assistance of former All White captain Earle Thomas, trains around 35 players three times a week at Ellerslie Domain.
Altan told me that “every detail today is exactly what they do in Italy. It’s intense, there’s no babysitting and no nonsense but the kids really love it. The first year we had 20 kids, last year that number grew to 36 and this year we’ve got 58. It’s just grown through word of mouth.”
In addition to the school holiday programme there is also a desire to run coaching clinics but as yet they haven’t been able to generate enough interest. Whether that’s a symptom of Italian football not being fashionable enough at the moment, Italian philosophies not quite fitting with the New Zealand way of doing things in the eyes of the establishment, or tired old stereotypes about catenaccio and diving – I don’t know, but it seems like a bit of a waste. Surely as a country we would want a range of different tools and techniques in our national coaching toolbox?
But what do I know. Maybe next year they’ll get some cut through. In the meantime, it was simply fascinating to pop out there in my lunch break today and see some pros from my ancestral homeland in action.
I even got a “Forza Roma” out of Matteo! I promise not to tell his boss…
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.