David Jones: A unique insight into Dick Advocaat’s coaching methods

Dick Advocaat casts a watchful eye over a Sunderland training session.
Dick Advocaat casts a watchful eye over a Sunderland training session.
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I was offered an insight this week into the methods of Dick Advocaat that have helped to keep him so in demand as a coach across the globe as he approaches his 68th birthday.

What emerged was a story of a man for whom discipline and structure was at the heart of everything he did.

Training was meticulous too; there were no wasted drills, even in pre-season.

The Dutchman may have softened now, but certainly whilst winning titles at Rangers, the team always came first and anyone who jeopardised the routine would be punished.

If you were a second late for dinner by Advocaat’s watch you would be fined; if you disregarded the team’s dress code you would be fined; if you left the table before everyone was finished you would be fined.

Team meals were always taken together: arrive together, eat together, leave together.

A disciplined team off the pitch meant a disciplined unit on it.

Training was meticulous too; there were no wasted drills, even in pre-season.

Each player was given a sports watch pre-programmed with timings for specific training runs.

Player A was faster than the group and wanted to show his manager what good condition he’d maintained through the summer months.

He earned a rebuke from Advocaat for racing ahead – “you have your time on the watch, stick to it, stay with the team,” he was told.

The player felt he wasn’t being worked hard enough and had more to give.

But as soon as the ball was introduced to the group he changed his mind: the intensity of every session was staggering.

Players were broken up into triangular units depending on their position: a right-back would team up with his winger, right-sided centre-back and a central midfield player; the left winger would be drilled with his centre forward, central midfield player and his full-back.

They had to get to know each other’s games inside out so those units would flourish in the pressure of a game.

Passing drills were fastidious. Advocaat would stop the session and demand improvement if a central midfield player passed a ball to a left winger’s right foot.

That meant the winger would need two touches to control and manoeuvre the ball into a position where he could play: pass to his left foot and with one touch to control, the play was all in front of him.

Small details that added up could make a vital difference on matchday.

He worked tirelessly on phases of play he felt could hurt any team when set up in a version of 4-3-3, not unlike the one we already saw emerge at the end of last season.

In possession at full-back, the favoured ball was always into central midfield rather than straight down the line.

From there, the midfield player would look for the feet of his centre forward who had dropped deep.

Then, rather than the centre forward returning the pass and spinning behind the opposition defence, he would look to play the ball wide where the full back, who had started the play, had joined his wide man.

Invariably, because the opposition had been drawn into the central areas, the two wide players would now be outnumbering the defending full-back.

They could then exploit the overload by working a crossing opportunity, coming inside to shoot, or picking out an attacking run across the box.

Hours spent on the training ground to gain a tactical advantage.

In the 4-3-3 system, as we’ve seen, Advocaat always liked to have three goalscorers at the top of the pitch.

One would stay central, linking play and providing an out ball for his team-mates, whilst the two either side were required to alternate, working back and darting forward to provide a goal threat themselves.

That’s why we saw Jermain Defoe effectively filling in at right and left-back under the new coach: sacrificing himself for the good of the team.

Advocaat will look for players who can fill those roles with greater effect, while a creative midfield player is also on his shopping list.

Quality attacking full-backs are key to his methods, as are two centre-halves he can trust.

It will be a busy summer of transfer activity if Advocaat gets his way: he usually does, and all for the good of the team.