Professor Mauricio Marques, Marcelo Serrano, USL's Gordon Bengtson, Professor Osvaldo Torres (L to R) / Photo courtesy Gordon Bengtson / United Soccer League
TAMPA, Fla. – Any opportunity to travel to one of the spiritual homes of soccer is one worth jumping at, but for USL Vice President of Competition & Technical Development Gordon Bengtson a recent trip to Brazil offered a vast array of food for thought as the league continues its initiatives to continue the rising level of competition across its clubs.
Invited to be a guest speaker for the Brazilian Federation’s recent seminars for Pro and ‘A’ License candidates on behalf of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Bengtson was surrounded by some of the best and the brightest minds from the historic soccer nation’s recent past and present.
“They are a very progressive organization in that they like to bring people in from outside their country to present to their coaches; most recently, Frans de Kat from the KNVB, in addition to a whole host of others throughout their process,” said Bengtson. “This was – from their perspective – the opportunity to bring in somebody to represent the United States and detail the growth of the game here to further educate their ‘A’ License coaches and Pro License coaches.
“On the flipside, for us and for me specifically, it was an opportunity to learn and interact with some of the top coaches in the world. They had five former World Cup champions as part of the ‘A’ and Pro Licenses, the current U20 and U17 National Team coaches, five or six former national team staff, and 20-plus Brazilian Serie A coaches. The opportunity to go down there and interact with candidates who have such incredible experience was one that was a once in a lifetime. In addition, to see firsthand how their federation sets up their educational process – which has been revamped in a similar way to US Soccer’s in recent years – was truly a fantastic opportunity.”
The Brazilian Federation has undergone major changes in its coaching education system over the decade, adding new elements to a curriculum that is currently overseen by Professor Mauricio Marquez and Professor Osvaldo Torres. It preceded the recent overhaul by the U.S. Soccer Federation of its coaching education program that has seen the introduction of the USSF Pro License – a course four current USL Head Coaches recently completed.
Photo courtesy Confederação Brasileira de Futebol
For Bengtson, the most interesting aspect of his time with the group was the openness with which rival coaches – many of whom square off competitively on the sidelines in Brazil’s Serie A – discussed their approaches to the game, coaching methodology and getting the best from their players.
“To see CBF Academy’s approach to candidates sharing their knowledge with one another in this environment was a bit surprising, but that’s a credit to the culture and environment they create in those coaching courses,” said Bengtson. “Professor Mauricio Marques and Professor Osvaldo Torres create an environment where these candidates can share their knowledge and challenge each other. It’s done in such a respectful manner and to such extreme depths that it allows them to further validate their approach to the game, or potentially alter how they see things through the discussions.”
That attitude toward the game, and the one that pervades Brazil’s culture as a whole, has been one of the foundations for the players and teams that have shone throughout the modern history of the game. Where before to be from Brazil was to have the technical skill and flair that brought fans to their feet, however, nowadays there is an added pragmatism to the way the game is being taught tactically that has helped maintain the country’s position at the forefront of the modern game.
“That was a big talking point throughout the course in both the ‘A’ License and the Pro License,” said Bengtson. “Traditionally, Brazilian players are incredibly technical, skillful, creative and have lots of flair on the ball, but what many shared with me was that when they went to Europe, they would sometimes lack a bit of tactical understanding.
“The expansion of knowledge in the technical and tactical aspects of the game has allowed the Brazilian coaches to impact young Brazilian players who have traditionally lacked that aspect of the game earlier in the development process. It is critical for young players to gain a comprehensive understanding of these tactical components as early as possible. Then, the learning curve isn’t as steep as players get sold and begin playing in Europe or in any of the other top leagues around the world. Players can then can be more effective, and essentially more valuable.”
Photo courtesy Confederação Brasileira de Futebol
That continued ability to evolve, while maintaining the traditional ethos that provides the core spirit of the game, is maybe the biggest thing Bengtson has brought back with him from his experience in Brazil. As soccer in the United States continues to grow, the institution of the best practices that can be found from the sport’s leaders around the rest of the world will provide a platform to push the game forward in this country, as continues to occur around the major soccer hotbeds elsewhere.
“I think there’s an opportunity to continue learning from everybody around the world, and our federation has taken the same approach in collecting some best practices from many countries,” said Bengtson. “From this experience in Brazil, the depth of the knowledge there, the openness, the passion and the fact that the game is in the fabric of the country’s DNA - whether you’re a soccer fan, a soccer player, or simply a Brazilian - the opportunity to share how far they’ve come and how open they are to collaborating is an exciting opportunity.
“Everything - from the culture, player development practices, coaching education, their tactical and technical perspective - there’s so much opportunity to learn from what they do there. The fact that they’re open to learning and sharing what has made them the most highly-decorated soccer nation in the world is incredibly progressive. They’re not only on the forefront of soccer thought and leadership, but they’re also willing to learn from other cultures, federations, and individuals. The fact that they’re so collaborative and open to other schools of thought, even as the most highly-decorated soccer nation in the world, is truly a testament to their commitment to sustaining their place in the upper echelons of the international game for decades to come.”