The next generation of footballers, with Tony Strudwick

What does the man that’s coached Ronaldo, Rooney, and the man of the moment, Marcus Rashford, look for in the new generation of players? We sat down with Tony Strudwick, ex Head of Performance at Manchester United, and current Head of Performance at Wales, to discuss.

What does a footballer need to get to the next level?

A young footballer needs three key attributes: passion, desire and ambition. The successful athletes have all got that ability to challenge themselves to get to the next level. They’ve got talent, they’re coachable, and have the ambition and drive. From that ambition, they’ll use everything in their tool-kit to improve, from looking at their match statistics, to the right nutrition.

What do you look for in a striker?

First and foremost, they need hunger and drive. What I’d look for first would be the ambition to score goals. We always talk about how with centre forwards it’s the ambition to score goals – they want to score goals, they want to get in the correct positions to do so, and have that hunger and desire to score. Beyond that – it’s all about having the technique and demonstrating that technique in the right place – they’ve got to be smart with their decision making. This is where heat-map data comes in. If you have that positional awareness, or if you’re able to reflect on the area you’ve covered in the pitch post-game, where you’ve made your attacking runs, you’ll likely succeed a lot more in the technical elements required to finish off the attack.

What are the key attributes a midfielder needs?

When we look at the Premier League, the average centre mid has 2.2 touches and has the ball for 2 seconds. Taking that into account, they need the ability to move the ball quickly, to read the game effectively, and as such, decision making is very important, particularly with more tactical flexibility and dynamic set ups. So on the whole, I’d say reading the game and having the anticipation to do that, and the ability to move the ball quickly, are the key traits of a modern day midfielder.

What makes a defender stand out?

The art of defending; wanting to be a defender and stop goals is very important at any level. Top defenders have ambition to prevent goals, but the icing on the cake is having a generation of footballers who are also good on the ball and who can bring the ball out from the back.

First and foremost for defenders – do your job – stop goals. Secondly – the ability to bring the ball out. In order to be at the next level, we need ball playing defenders who can do both. Today’s game is increasingly becoming that way – you only have to look at modern day full backs – it’s one of the most important positions on the field.

How important is it to reflect on your performance post game?

Regardless of your level, it’s important for all footballers to reflect on their game – it’s not just a case of when the game finishes to stop thinking about performance. Top players are always planning, they are always retrospectively analysing their game through another different method or mode, whether it be through statistics, like GPS stats or video analysis. They reflect, and they plan. This is the ‘slow thinking’ bit that takes accelerates them back into the fast game of football.

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