I recently interviewed Tim Sparv who gave phenomenal insight on his journey from Southampton academy to FC Midtjylland and captaining Finland. One of the questions that I was keen to ask him was how FC Midtjylland embraced set -pieces in terms of the preparation and work on the training pitch. You often hear a collective sigh from the players on most teams when set-pieces are announced on the training plan. As everyone makes their way towards one of the goals, focus and enthusiasm can often leave the environment completely, never to return that day. Tim's answer below indicates that a key to the player buy-in comes from the attitude of the staff. We talk a lot about commitment levels with our players but perhaps the most committed person has to be the leaders, which FC Midtjylland certainly have had with Rasmus Ankersen and Matthew Benham playing pivotal roles by implementing their vision at youth and senior levels.
On reflection, this is definitely a mistake I have made with teams in the past. Did I communicate the urgency and importance of set-pieces throughout the week rather than just the day before a match? Did I focus on the details and consistently challenge staff and players to work together to problem solve in these moments? When we had Ben Garner on the Modern Soccer Coach Podcast a couple of months ago, he talked about Tony Pulis' approach to set-pieces when they worked together at West Brom and it was pretty consistent with the message that Tim gave. Below you can see that, as an assistant coach, he went above and beyond in his preparation as he knew how much it meant to the head coach.
Another aspect that perhaps can be challenged in set-piece training is that it can be pretty mundane and require a constant 30 minutes of players heading the ball over and over again, which potentially can increase the chances of injury. Here are a couple of FC Midtjylland corner kicks that I studied since the interview. You can see the detail in the movements and the organization take priority over physical dominance and superior headers of the ball.
Alongside this aspect of challenging conventional thinking, I really enjoyed Tim's insight into their unique culture at the club. It seems today that so many teams want to borrow or copy the successful cultures that we see and read about with teams like the All-Blacks or Barcelona. What makes FC Midtjylland so unique is their culture seems to be centered around growth mindset and daring to be different. You rarely hear a player describing their culture as "innovative" ahead of words such as 'together' or 'hard work' and I think this is a really powerful identity for a team. When an exciting and forward thinking vision is embraced by the players and leaders on the team, it can then create the opportunity for co-creation between players and coaches, which then provides even stronger connections and higher buy-in and standards. So overall, you create the opportunity of impact and success in both short and long-term, which FC Midtjylland have seemed to master.
You can watch the full interview on our YouTube page below. The Podcast was sponsored by Total Football Analysis which is an outstanding resource for coaches. They feature a monthly magazine, with 120+ pieces of analysis per month, along with a website which has an all-access subscription, allowing you get back access to all the magazines plus every piece of content on the site. They are offering podcast listeners a special discount code: MSC20, which gets you 20% off anything on the site up until end of April. Please go ahead and check them out here.