The hardest thing to coach is creativity

The following quotes about Manchester United’s current style of play are very relevant to youth player development and coaching:

“There’s a lack of creativity and risk. It seems Van Gaal doesn’t want players to beat men and it’s probably not a team I’d have enjoyed playing in. The hardest thing to coach is scoring goals and creativity.

-Paul Scholes, played his entire professional career for Manchester United and is the most decorated English footballer of all time, having won a total of 25 trophies, featuring 11 Premier League titles and two Champions League titles.

“Manchester United are suffering from a lack of freedom. You see players where the ball could have been played forward with a little bit of risk but they tend to go square or back.

When Sir Alex Ferguson was at the helm there was a clear style and identity but we also gave them the freedom to come up with their own solutions. There’s a lack of freedom now.”

-Rene Meulensteen, first-team coach under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Source for Paul Scholes quote here.

Source for Rene Meulensteen’s quote here.


Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

4 thoughts on “The hardest thing to coach is creativity”

  1. Man U is second in the division. They have by far the fewest goals against (9 vs 20+) in the top 20, but also the fewest goals for (13 vs 20+).

    In other words they play defensive, play the numbers soccer that creates (mostly) winning outcomes.

    While it’s fun to watch hi risk, creative soccer, the reality is that soccer is a multi million $ business, and the coaches, managers and players are paid to win.

    Based on that criteria Man U is doing the right thing and doing it well.


    1. Yes, Man U managed to work themselves back up the table this season and, for short-term financial reasons, need to at least secure one of the top four Champions League spots but it isn’t clear whether this defensive and uncreative style of play is sustainable over the medium- to long-term.

      It might well be just an intentional temporary phase for the club to stabilize things after the tumult following Ferguson’s retirement, and they might turn back to a more creative style of play that Man U (and other top clubs) have been known for these last twenty years.

      To win the big trophies that are expected of a club like Man U they almost certainly need to play a much more creative (to beat top teams in key matches) and entertaining (for the supporters) and enjoyable (for the players) style of play.

      And as this post relates to youth player development: It’s very important to develop creative players with skills and a (smart) risk-taking attitude. If we don’t encourage this when they are young (and instead play defensive and ‘simple’ soccer with little risk taking to win more games) then it will be almost impossible for them to learn that when they are, say, 18.

      And these kinds of players are then molded further into a pro-club’s style of play, of course, including times when a ‘boring’, conservative style of play is necessary (and the players have to adapt to that), but by then they have the toolkit and attitude to play both creatively and conservatively and anywhere in between, depending on what’s needed.


      1. Totally agree with having to teach creative play, if for no other reason than to keep,it fun for the 99.99%!of kids that will never even play college ball.

        I would have just picked a team other than Man U to make my point about uncreative play “not working”.

        Im also not a big fan of any retired sportsperson trying to compare what they did to what the current crop of players are doing. Invariably the current players are far better athletes than older players, playing a different game, at a faster pace, against better educated opponents. Applies to soccer, football, tennis, etc.

        But the main point stands – we need far more creativity being taught, which means allowing kids to experiment and get things wrong, without being yelled at. As an example, my son has two players on his team who have recently attended an “elite” soccer camp. They both “hated” one “very good” coach, who would yell at them for the slightest mistake. You can bet your behind those players aren’t going to take risks and be creative when that coach is in charge!


        1. Yes, a very important point to emphasize is that this is not just about the elite players. Youngsters at all levels should enjoy the game and nothing kills the enthusiasm more than being forced to play a simple, risk-averse style of play. Youngsters need to be encouraged and celebrated for trying things even when they fail most of the time.

          The more they try the better they become and the more they enjoy the game. It’s those, say, one in ten moments, when something creative works that the youngster remembers and gets motivation from. And over time it will work every other attempt, not just one in ten.

          The coach you describe will probably have a better success record initially (fewer mistakes + simpler soccer + strong kids = winning), but that’s the beginning of the end for the love of the game (and success) for youngsters playing under him.


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