Gibraltar U21 face Switzerland U21 after seeing new process of preparations
Ahead of this Friday’s UEFA Under 21 Championship Qualifying round Group E match between Switzerland’s U21 and Gibraltar U21 at the Stade de Tourbillon - Sion, the Gibraltar FA have provided an insight into what is now being established as a new process towards preparation of youth teams.
Although this Friday’s match will see David Ochello as head coach, changes in the structure within the Gibraltar FA since last season has seen both senior head coach Julio Ribas and his assistant José Carlos Gil Prieto also overseeing preparations and planning of the Under 21s and Under 19 squads. Both of which have been training together alongside the national squad in recent weeks.
This has allowed for an easier transition for players moving across the categories. This seen this Wednesday when the senior squad lined-out with five players within the first eleven against Latvia who were 21 or under.
Ochello’s squad for his trip to Switzerland had to take this into account as the selection process partly also became dependent on who was playing in the senior squad.
However, the new process has seen the transition between categories ease the pathway for players.
This Thursday, ahead of the under 21’s first encounter with Switzerland in what is a double header with the second match to be played at the Victoria Stadium on Tuesday, the association has provided an insight into how the new process has been working.
As this newspaper has observed in recent weeks as it watched preparations across the various squads preparations have been different and with greater intensity and focus than in previous seasons. Squads such as the under 19s have had regular sessions for several months already even though their matches won’t be played until November. This providing already a continuity and preparation which past selections have not seen.
Similarly the under21s, under 17s and under 16s have been actively preparing with training starting early in August in some cases and continuing through until now. These including practise matches against visiting sides as players have gained additional minutes on the field in competitive matches rather than just training.
In an in-depth interview published in the Gibraltar FA official website Jose Carlos Gil Prieto provides a review of the plan, the current process and the aims for the future which outlines the many changes which have been seen.
The following is the interview published in The Gibraltar FA website.
Jose, talk to us about the new processes in place which has seen our U21 and U19 squads preparing for some months now? When did this all start and what was the thinking behind it all?
Realistically, the groundwork and the planning behind this huge project began in 2018, when Julio took over as Gibraltar Head Coach and I became his Assistant. After three years of working towards this, a three-year period that has seen a lot of hard work done by players, coaches and indeed members of the Association’s Senior Management, we were able to finally implement the plan earlier on this year. But it is very important to remember that this is a short, medium and long term plan not just aimed at getting the players ready for their next international match this Autumn (whether it be at U19, 21 or Senior level) but a long term methodological process of training and developing them into potential international footballers.
I think it’s important that we do not forget that before we came in in 2018, there had been four long hard years for all of our National Teams across all age groups, which instantly made us realise that we needed to focus on setting some important standards and baselines that we required from all of our players. The Senior Team were at the bottom of the World and European rankings so we set ourselves the initial target, or first phase of the project, of working as hard as possible to give the players everything they needed to improve our overall world ranking because, simply put, Gibraltar’s players have always shown that their talent deserves more than that.
As well as the methods and techniques we introduced, a key part of the first phase of this project was also incorporating a set of core values they we wanted the players to buy in to, and showwing them that if they did buy into the values, interesting things would and could start to happen. For example, we had never got so much as a point in a competitive international before 2018. All our positive results had come in friendlies. The players bought in instantly and look at what happened! We got that much coveted first competitive win away in Armenia, with a team full of players who had worked so hard over the years. We supplemented that key core of players with youngsters who were hungry. These youngsters would prove to be a part of the generational transition that the National team needed to begin.
And once we had achieved our first target we moved swiftly on, to our next target, which was striving to achieve this continuity of players and values going forward. Striving to make sure that all the top-level work that was being done with the national team was mirrored right through our international setup, all of this with the aim of making sure our players had all the tools they needed to develop their game and ultimately perform on the international stage.
The great thing about this is that with the launch of the Gibraltar FA Academy, these building blocks will begin to be instilled in players from a very early age, which is amazing now.
Each squad has its own technical team overseen by Julio and yourself. Has this been crucial to ensuring continuity across all our national teams?
Yes indeed, and this is a crucial part of the second phase of our long-term Project. To have a coaching team at each age group who have the belief, the desire to improve and to work together towards the greater goal and to implement the core values and methods that we have instilled is a key part of the process.
It’s no secret, from day one we have talked about passion, faith and family. The three key words that untie us all as a national team, and now this is becoming a central and integral part of our U21 and U19 squads. This is a fundamental part of our identity now, to allow us to keep growing and developing as a footballing nation. And each of the squads’ coaching teams knows that they have Julio and my support, backing and guidance as they prepare their respective national teams.
Importantly though, once Julio and I have set out the plans, we give our coaches the independence they need to get on with their task at hand and impose themselves as the technical staff of each particular age group national team. Likewise with the backroom, medical and logistical staff. It is imperative that they are allowed to work and that we trust them implicitly as professionals.
And it is because of their sterling work that this generational transitional process has already proved extremely positive and indeed successful. Back in 2018, despite receiving recognition for the number of youngsters we had in the National Team, we had an approximate average age of 30 in squad. Today we have fourteen players who are U21 or U19 who are in the Senior team. This shows how the project as a whole is working.
But that does not mean that we can become complacent. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and realise that there is much work to be done both with our coaches and our players in terms of their development.
Do you think this continuity is key to ensuing a player’s development and preparation for progression into full international football?
Absolutely. Continuity is key. We need to work together as a footballing community to ensure that we can continue this process that we have established this year with our U19s and subsequently our U21s. And our clubs will play a big part in this, as we will need to work together with them to ensure that we have access to the players in all age groups.
Indeed, I would like to personally thank all of our clubs and club coaches and staff who have been so helpful in allowing us to have the youngsters and incorporate them into our national squad training and development plans. With the new season up and coming, we will shortly sit down with them all again to work out how we can progress this.
The U21s restart their qualifiers in September, is it fair to say they have had excellent preparation?
Yes very much so, we have been given everything we have needed in a short space of time to ensure the U21s have had optimal preparation time. We have set out a unique and intense schedule for them (which we will build on going forward) with regular training sessions and behind closed doors friendlies or warm up matches such against teams from Sevilla, Cadiz and others. So much so that the U21 squads involved in those warm up matches have been getting some extremely positive results.
Their schedule proves that we have made a huge step forward and more and more we are seeing a whole new level of professionalism in our U21 and U19 players. Our geographical characteristics as a nation allow us to easily get our players together, something which is not so logistically easy in other countries, so this is something that we are currently trying to make the most of, and indeed something that we are keen to exploit long term.
We have also had the full support from the Gibraltar FA’s Senior Management team, who have been instrumental in allowing us to put everything in place around all of our training plans, sessions and programmes.
So, in summary, yes, the U21 team we have put together have done an amazing job so far and I would like to place on record our sincerest thanks to all of these involved in the project we have set in motion.
And the U19s travel to Croatia in November, how are they looking so far?
Firstly, I can say that as with the U21s we are extremely happy with the work being done at U19 level too. The U19 Coaching staff and setup have put in a tremendous amount of effort as have the players who have been called up to the training squads.
The U19s were the first age group squad to begin their preparations for their Autumn UEFA Tournament in Croatia, in fact because of planned and rescheduled provisional UEFA tournaments from 2020, they actually began their preparations last year and have continued all the way through in and around lockdown and as restrictions have allowed them to. We have even had many of them supplementing the Senior squad sessions when we have had players unavailable to train!
They will be coming up against some very tough opponents in November, in a very hard group, but one thing is certain they will be ready and they will be giving it everything they have got in Croatia.
What does the future hold, is this process something that we can see developing ang growing to ensure all of our squads and age group squads are as best prepares as possible for all of their international tournaments?
A lot of hard work. We need to continue what we have started, as always with all of our passion and faith to keep striving for positive performances and historic results at all international levels.
The 2020 Nations League campaign, in which we won our Group and got promotion to League C, proved what can be achieved through sheer hard work, belief, determination and as a team that is united in our goals.
But, as I said before, this continuity has can only take place if all of our stake holders are buying in, as they are now, and it is important to keep working closely and together with our clubs as they are a huge and important part of this process. This is something that we will continue to do, so that we can carry on in our journey, striving to achieve all of our dreams and to do our country proud.
And our only secret is hard work. Talent is nothing without hard work and that’s our plan - to keep working and striving to ensure we can develop and progress all of our national teams and if we keep dreaming who knows what we can achieve!