Rafa Alkorta Aims To Make Lezama The Best Youth Academy In Football
When Rafa Alkorta was approached by Aitor Elizegi to join his campaign and potentially become the next Sporting Director of Athletic Club it wasn’t surprising at all. The former defender had been working on his plan for Lezama for years and was happy to accept the offer. Now that he is officially in the role he’s trying to learn as much as he can about the inner workings of the academy before making changes. Speaking with Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo Alkorta revealed that he is trying to decide what fits moving forward and what needs to be changed.
“I’ve met many people at Lezama. With many of them I understand how they work, and with others that I don’t know how they work. What I’m trying to do is analyze and see if everything here fits for the coming season, for my way of seeing and understanding Lezama. Right now is simply a period of learning and information. It would be very difficult to assess whether or not it is worse than expected. It is what it is.”
Athletic recently announced that they have hired Andoni Bombín, a highly respected person in the field of youth development, which was a huge win for the new Sporting Director. When asked about it Alkorta stated the he believes Lezama needs a new methodology which all starts with finding the players that the club wants at an early age. Bombín will play a big role in this area.
“I decided to hire Andoni Bombín as Head of Methodology because I know him and because certain things about the methodology had to be changed. We are not going to invent anything, but we believe that with another methodology we can reach different goals. One of those goals is finding the players we want. We want our players, the traditional player from here, from the north; but with that technical evolution that football has had in recent years. We don’t want to forget our roots.”
The club is understandably excited to have brought on Bombín as the new Head of Methodology, but for the moment he’s simply analyzing the current state of Lezama. Athletic’s Juvenil A and Cadete A teams have struggled this season and it is Alkorta’s goal for every youth team to be successful on and off the pitch.
“Bombín isn’t putting his methodology into place yet. He’s analyzing what there is because not everything is bad or needs to be changed. What we are going to try is adapting our way of seeing the development to what we have in place now. There are many good things in place. Seeing our top Juvenil and Cadete teams so far from the top of the table isn’t good and there is work to be done. It is what it is in these moments. In any case, it isn’t normal that they are both in this situation. Hopefully something like this won’t happen again. A chain of events has led to this. Juvenil B and Cadete B, on the other hand, are doing much better. It’s not about blaming anyone, but about not letting it happen again.”
In the past the club put a heavy emphasis on the height and strength of young players, but that won’t be the case with the new regime. Alkorta cares more about the actual talent of young players and how well they understand the game. That will be his focus moving forward.
“The height of players doesn’t matter. I like the talent. I don’t notice if the family is tall or short. What interests me is that the boy knows how to play football. That is one of the premises that we have to impose to the scouts above all else. We like those who play football well. Then we will see if they grow or not, if they become strong or not. The first step is finding the players, and the most important step is seeing if they know how to play football. When I see a child who plays football well, I fall in love and I don’t care if he’s the youngest on the field. My brother was always the smallest on the team and he was the best.”
Alkorta went on to explain that the club isn’t ready to discuss specific playing systems and coaching styles within Lezama. At some other clubs every youth team is taught to play a certain way to prepare them for the first team, but Alkorta doesn’t care about that. He wants players to be well-rounded and made it clear that he hasn’t told any coaches how to play. Youth coaches have been given the freedom to use whatever system they believe is best for the team and the development of the players.
“We don’t want to get into the question at the moment about coaches using a specific system with their teams, mainly because there are coaches who have been a certain way for years. Next season we will start from a base, although we will give freedom to the coaches so they can also create their own systems. Right now we have not told any coach how he has to play. They have the freedom to do it however they want, which has been the case. Some prefer to play with four in defense and others with three. We don’t care. We haven’t told anyone how to play.”
One of the biggest topics of discussion when it comes to youth development is the importance of winning. While at the academy players are being developed and growing in hopes of becoming a professional footballer. Some believe wins and losses don’t really matter at this stage of their formation, but Alkorta wants to win. He recognizes that it isn’t the most important thing, however if the teams are playing it’s always better to win.
“We live from training, but I always like to win and I like to celebrate all the goals. I like the players to know what it means to do what the coach says and then win the game. Winning and losing is part of the formation, but I prefer to win. Real, Eibar, and Alavés are doing great things with their academies. They will force us to be the best again and we will be. We will be the reference in scouting, in coaching, in working methods…All these clubs have good budgets. They come into Bizkaia and they sign players, they have good residences. We must sharpen the ingenuity even more so that all the players in Euskadi want to come here.”
This summer will be a very important time for Lezama. Rafa Alkorta, Andoni Bombín, and the rest of the Sporting Committee will begin putting their plans into action which could see some major changes at the academy. As he’s stated on several occasions, it’s Alkorta’s goal to make Lezama the best youth academy in football. His project is constantly evolving and what he and his team learn the rest of this season will go a long way in helping shape the Lezama of the future.