we can learn from the youth training of AZ

we can learn from the youth training of AZ
Joy in the AZ dressing room

NOS Football

  • Thierry Boon

    At the Youth League in Geneva

  • Thierry Boon

    At the Youth League in Geneva

With the Swiss mountains in the background and Lake Geneva in sight, a big grin appears on Paul Brandenburg’s face. What compliments he, as head of youth training at AZ, is currently reeling in?

“The other day when we visited FC Barcelona we received the biggest compliment imaginable. Normally they never give a tour or an explanation of their youth training. But for us they did. They said: clubs from whom we think we can learn are always welcome.”

And whether at the top Spanish club, famed for its own youth exponents like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, they can learn from AZ. In the Youth League, the Dutch talents dried off the Catalans in Spain 3-0.

Joy among AZ players

It is a unique success: a Dutch club winning the youth version of the Champions League. Along the way, not only Barcelona was beaten by large numbers, but Real Madrid (4-0) and Eintracht Frankfurt (5-0) also went down rock hard.

What’s the secret?

Like Hajduk Split in the final at the half-full Stade de Geneve. The Croats were given soccer lessons. From Mexx Meerdink, from Ernest Poku, from Wouter Goes, from Dave Kwakman, from Jayden Addai, from Fedde de Jong, from Kees Smit and all the others.

That stand full of members of Hajduk’s hard core? It didn’t seem to impress the AZ talents. Just like the chants, smoke bombs and bangs from behind the goal. After all, the real fireworks came from AZ. On the pitch.

What is the secret of the successful AZ youth? ‘Never deviate from your vision’

“There isn’t really one,” states technical director Max Huiberts. “Make sure you bring a lot of talented people together, with a good program and good facilities. We’ve been doing that well for years, I think. That’s no big secret, but that’s what it comes down to.”

And then sticking to a vision. “It’s simply put, but at the same time I think it’s the most difficult factor,” Huiberts said. “Regardless of periods of setbacks or just success, keep persevering.”

Surprising children

In the youth, AZ mainly tries to trigger talents to think about the game, Brandenburg says. “We have a different theme every day, so the kids are constantly surprised.”

He gives an example. “We change surfaces, balls, formations. And put a lot of responsibility on the players. After all, they want to go into professional soccer.”

Paul Brandenburg at the AZ training complex

AZ sets the bar high. “When I have new parents of a talent with me for the first time, I show a video of Barcelona, from the good times. Then after ten minutes I ask how many formations they have seen. Then they often say two or three, but there are thirteen.”

According to Brandenburg, the road to winning the Youth League is priceless for the development of the talents. “They are golden experiences. Not only because of the travel, the European experiences and learning from other cultures.”

“But especially because of putting down multiple top performances in quick succession, dealing with the media attention, the fans, everything.”

Leaving Alkmaar pays off

AZ’s current success cannot be separated from the club’s move a few years back. It was Louis van Gaal who had the honor of opening the state-of-the-art AZ sports complex in 2016.

From the “distant” Alkmaar, the club moved to Wijdewormer, just above Amsterdam. “About seventy percent of our talents come from the Amsterdam area. They used to have to travel half an hour to three quarters of an hour in a van. Not anymore,” Huiberts says.

Of this Youth League team, almost everyone comes from our soccer school. That is also the cool thing about this story: we want to give boys from the area the chance to realize their dream.

Paul Brandenburg, head of youth programs AZ

“Players also used to choose another club sometimes, because AZ was quite a long way away, after all,” knows Brandenburg, head of youth training since 2015. “We moved closer to our kids and that gave us a boost.”

“From this Youth League team, almost everyone comes from our soccer school. That’s also the cool thing about this story: we want to give boys from the area a chance to achieve their dreams.”

To add with a laugh, “Only Meerdink is an odd duck. He came from De Graafschap when he was seventeen.”

A duck with a bloody hard shot in his legs, though.

Kayleigh Williams