(PUTRAJAYA, MAY 21) Earlier in the evening, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin released a press statement to address the latest MCO 3.0 status.
Due to the high number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, the National Security Council (NSC) held a meeting today chaired by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to discuss the possibility of imposing a full-scale MCO to curb the country’s raging Covid-19 outbreak.
The Prime Minister asserted that stricter measures will be introduced but did not confirm as to whether a total lockdown similar to the first MCO last year will be implemented.
Further details and new SOPs will be announced by Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob in a press conference tomorrow.
The dramatic results of the penultimate round mean that the title race goes down to the final day, with Atléticode Madrid leading city rivals Real Madrid by two points. The relegation battle is still very much alive too, with SD Huesca, Elche CF and Real Valladolid fighting for the one remaining survival spot and with the other two to join already-relegated SD Eibar in going down to LaLiga SmartBank.
As well as hoping to throw a spanner in the works of the title race, Valladolid need three points for their own objectives. They must win and hope that results in the games involving Huesca and Elchego their way. Both of those sides have home fixtures to look forward to, with SD Huesca hosting Valencia CF and Elche welcoming Athletic Clubto the east coast.
SD Eibar’s match against FC Barcelona is also being played at the same time because it could have an impact on the relegation battle. Even though the Basques are already certain to go down, a victory for the minnows over Lionel Messi and co. could impact Huesca and Elche’sfate. An Eibar win combined with defeats for Huesca and Elchewould leave all three teams on 33 points; the ensuing triple tiebreaker would see Elche survive. But, a two-way tie on 33 points between Pacheta and Fran Escribá’s men, without Eibar in the mix, would save Huesca instead. It’s a complicated business and, with all the games taking place at the same unified time slot, that only adds to the excitement… and nerves!
Also in play at that 6pm CEST time slot is the musical chairs game of the Europa League and Conference League spots. Fifth and sixth earns passage to the former, while seventh place means a ticket to the newly formed Conference League competition. Currently, Real Sociedad sit in fifth on 59 points, while Real Betis and Villarreal CF are sixth and seventh respectively on 58 points each. That means Real Sociedad’s visit to CA Osasuna and Real Betis’ trip across the country to face RC Celta both mean a lot, while the Yellow Submarine will be fighting for position in that potential title decider away at Real Madrid.
There are three other fixtures in this final weekend where there isn’t quite as much on the line. On Friday night, Levante UD and Cádiz CF face off knowing that they’re both long saved from relegation. Both coaches have been rotating their line-ups since securing survival, giving opportunities to some of their talented youngsters. Some of the stars of the future could, therefore, be on show.
Then, on Sunday, Granada CF host Getafe CF in a clash that could mark the end of an era for both clubs, as big summers of change are expected at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes and the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. Sevilla FC vs D. Alavés will be the final fixture of what has been an incredible LaLiga Santander season. By the time that game kicks off, we’ll already know which team is the LaLiga champion for 2020/21.
Given that there is so much at stake and given that so many matches could have an impact on other teams, there will be seven LaLiga Santander fixtures taking place simultaneously at 6pm CEST on Saturday evening. In the title race, Real Madrid host Villarreal CF, who still have something to play for too as they want to secure Europa League football instead of entry to the inaugural Conference League. Meanwhile, Atlético de Madrid visit Real Valladolid, who are fighting for their lives as one of the teams in that aforementioned relegation battle.
Atleti know that if they win at the José Zorrilla then they will be champions no matter what happens elsewhere. But, if they fail to win at Valladolid then Real Madrid can pip them to the post with a victory over Villarreal. It could hardly be tighter.
Atleti are used to doing things the hard way. Not only did they have to produce an epic comeback to defeat Osasuna 2-1 in the previous matchday, but, spooling further back, nine of the 10 Spanish championships they have won in their history have been decided on the final day. The last one was in 2013/14, when Diego Godín’s famous goal at the Camp Nou made history.
Funnily enough, Real Madrid have actually never managed to win the title when entering the final day in second position. On 10 occasions, they came into the final round in second and with mathematical possibilities of becoming champions, in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1953, 1960, 1966, 1981, 1984, 2010 and 2016. In this incredible season of firsts, it might be 11th time lucky for Los Blancos!
Sevilla FC are achieving ever greater results on the pitch and this can be traced back to the work being done in their academy, where they develop top footballers and the next generation of coaches and professionals too.
When analysts discuss the success of Sevilla FC, something they are doing more and more frequently given the club’s six Europa League titles and their back-to-back Champions League qualifications across 2019/20 and 2020/21, many point to the transfer market dealings of sporting director Monchi. It’s true that Monchi is a transfer market guru, able to detect talent and bring promising players in at bargain prices, but another key to the Andalusian club’s continued growth is the emergence of so many excellent players from their academy.
Several stars have come through Sevilla FC’s football school over the years, such as current first-team captain Jesús Navas and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, as well as players who enjoyed success on the continent like Luis Alberto or José Antonio Reyes. Up-and-coming stars like Ansu Fati and Bryan Gil have also developed their skills at Sevilla FC, with the former now on FC Barcelona’s books and enjoying a great start to 2020/21 before injury struck and with the latter having caught the eye this term while on loan at SD Eibar.
The great work of Sevilla FC’s academy isn’t only seen through the performances of certain high-profile individuals who have gone on to make a name for themselves elsewhere. The club’s B team, called Sevilla Atlético, has consistently been one of the best in the country and is the most recent B team to have made it all the way to LaLiga SmartBank, Spain’s second tier. This B team was promoted into LaLiga Smartbank in 2016 and then finished 13th in 2016/17 under the coaching of Diego Martínez and with current LaLiga Santander players like Diego González, Yan Brice Eteki and Carlos Fernández. In 2017/18, Sevilla Atlético were relegated back down, but they remain the most recent B team to have played at that level and they have already earned their place in the new Primera RFEF (Spanish third division) for next year.
The keys to the success of Sevilla FC’s academy
Sevilla FC have enjoyed so much more success in the 21st century, compared to the 20th century. Looking solely at first-team trophies, they have won 14 major trophies in total and 10 of these have come since the year 2000, since the year that Monchi took over as sporting director. This isn’t a coincidence, as Monchi has brought a very professional ethos to every level of the club’s sporting department. As a Sevilla FC academy graduate himself, the former goalkeeper has always put resources towards the academy.
José María Cruz is the Head of R&D&i at Sevilla FC and is a key leader of Sevilla FC’s academy project. For him, hiring professionals and establishing a professional attitude is key. As Cruz explained: “Right now, the main hires we make for the academy are coaches and physical trainers, etc. We’re even doing this for the lowest levels of the academy, the Under 12 levels. We want to hire people with very developed and professional profiles. Including also engineers, data analyst, etc.”
Two other key people in the Sevilla FC academy are Pablo Blanco, Academy Director, and Agustín López, Academy General Coordinator. Their extensive experience of many years and their roots in the club -Pablo was even distinguished as one of just eleven Sevilla ‘Dorsales de Leyenda’ (Legendary Players) after 13 seasons as a player- make them two pillars of the academy, responsible for the strategic plan of the youth teams, and in permanent coordination with both Monchi and José María Cruz’s departments.
When it comes to women’s football, for example, that philosophy of hiring the best and most experienced is also clear to see. As Cruz added: “Our director of women’s football is Amparo Gutiérrez, who has been at the club for a lifetime, first as a player and then within the club’s structures. I think it’s a good bet on women’s football.”
By hiring the best, therefore, Sevilla FC are capable of producing the best, such as Jesús Navas. For Cruz, the current first-team captain, who won the 2010 World Cup with Spain and even played a part in the winning goal, is a perfect example of what the academy aspires to be. On the veteran, the director said: “It’s very easy to define Navas and you do so with the word ‘example’. He is an example in many ways, professionally and personally. He unites hard work and success, which don’t always go together. He represents the saying of ‘never give up’. The main stadium of our training complex is called the Estadio Jesús Navas and that says it all. He is an inspiration for all.”
The creation of the R&D&i department
Sevilla FC understand the value of role models and inspiration. At the same time, those in charge at the academy know that there’s a need to work with science and cold hard facts, in addition to harnessing the power of romantic and motivational tales like that of Navas.
This is why Monchi was determined to develop a R&D&i department when he returned to the club in 2019 following a two-year stint at AS Roma. This was one of his key goals and this department has been fully up and running since around October 2020, with a team of eight, as well as three well-respected doctors, led by Cruz. “We like to evangelise our work and it feels like we’re a team of 68, not just eight,” he jokes.
Monchi is already using Big Data for scouting around 15,000 players from the elite football leagues, and recognises just how useful it is – even though he maintains that it will never replace the role of the scouts. It’s also used to analyse the performances of all the teams within the club. But there’s much more. Cruz continues: “One of our functions is to enhance and develop all the research related to medicine and sports science, from investigation to promotion to training and so on. This involves the entire academy, not just the first team. In fact, one of the functions of the R&D&i department is to try to coordinate all the departments so that they’re all using the same tools. Another important topic, which helps with the medical side of the academy, is to support the Data Center of the academy. We need to datify everything.”
By converting all this wisdom that has always been a part of the academy into data, Sevilla FC’s entire sporting structure becomes more efficient. This means that directors can easily access whatever kind of information they need, while they are also putting the finishing touches on a Big Data platform for scouting youth categories, which will further benefit the club.
As Cruz explains, having all aspects of the academy datafied can help shine a light on potential issues that might otherwise have been left unsolved. Providing a specific example, he says: “You might wonder: Why does this team have such a high number of injuries in a specific part of the body or of a certain type, when this other team doesn’t? If this player can run 12 kilometres, why he is not doing that? How could we value if this player is really prepared for playing with the first team: if he gets X percent of successful dribbling, or if he blocks X number of attacks, or if he gives X number of successful passes under pressure? Today we have five professionals within the academy unifying all these criteria related to the qualitative aspects of the game, not only the quantitative…”
Such approaches ensure that every level of the academy process is optimised, which ultimately means more time for players to train and improve. Right now, they’re not placing any limitations on themselves, either. The ideal future for Big Data would be to predict things. For example, the chances of a certain player reaching the first team, because that would help you to decide whether he should be in the starting eleven, or renewing his contract… “Just imagine!,” says Cruz.
Training coaches and professionals, not just players
The work being done at Sevilla FC’s academy is about so much more than just producing footballers. That they have a knowledge sharing partnership with the Universidad Pablo de Olavide and UCAM University makes this clear, as does the fact that so many quality coaches, scouts, psychologists, doctors, sports medicine specialists, directors and other professionals have Sevilla FC’s academy somewhere on their CV. “We aspire to be an academy of professionals,” Cruz stated.
There are some very high-profile examples. Real Valladolid’s sporting director Miguel Ángel Gómez and Leeds United’s sporting director Víctor Orta are former Sevilla FC employees. Meanwhile, Doctor Alejandro Álvarez has moved on from Sevilla FC to continue his career with Qatar Federation ahead the World Cup. Then there’s also the aforementioned example of Diego Martínez, the former B team coach who is currently one of the most in-demand coaches in Europe given all he has achieved with Granada CF.
When it comes to the youngsters, Sevilla FC are also keen to ensure they have a good academic education as well as a football one. Cruz explained this, saying: “Not every player can make it to the top level. Even for those who do make it, there is another life after football. Football doesn’t last long, so we have to prepare the players for tomorrow. With that in mind, within the R&D&i department we have a section for continued personal development, which is a concept that I don’t think all football clubs consider.”
To manage this vital function, Sevilla FC have even hired a professional from Airbus España who performed a similar role there in continued personal development. Now, there is collaboration with Sevilla FC’s human resources department to provide support to any academy player or any employee who needs it.
Future plans for the academy
All of LaLiga’s clubs regularly meet at what is called the ‘Encuentro de Canteras’, a meeting for academy professionals to share ideas and to establish what the future of Spanish youth football should look like. Sevilla FC provide a well-respected voice in such meetings and Cruz welcomes the chance to compare notes.
As he said: “It is a super interesting instructional supplement. You go over things and some of the conclusions that we might already know or be working on. Then there are projects being offered like LaLiga Training Hub or LaLiga’s software offerings such as the Academy Management one, which are very interesting for Sevilla FC because they are the order of the day.”
In addition, Sevilla FC have, like other clubs involved in the Encuentro de Canteras programme, requested to help develop ways of improving the system for the transfer of minors, keen to protect players from unnecessarily being uprooted to another city and keen to ensure there is fair compensation for the clubs who put the work in to develop the talents of tomorrow.
With Sevilla FC always on top of the latest developments, it’s a guarantee that the Andalusian club will continue to develop and promote promising youngsters to their first team and that other academy graduates will populate the squads of various LaLiga Santander clubs. The next Jesús Navas could be in their academy in this very moment.