Why Kreis is Learning the ‘Barca Way’

The “City Way” is modeled after the philosophy made famous by FC Barcelona and Spain
by Nick Chavez   |   Friday, April 11, 2014

Blue City – column on New York City FC (NYCFC) & the NYC area soccer scene.

Major League Soccer’s documentary series MLS Insider recently included a segment called “City Man” with the focus on New York City Football Club coach Jason Kreis, and his time in Manchester learning “The City Way.”

But as we’ve gathered from this segment, and as I’ve been saying since Kreis’s first press conference with NYCFC in January, “The City Way” is actually a style and philosophy that most of us should be quite familiar with by now.  It is the football approach of FC Barcelona, and in many ways while their players have dominated the roster, that of the Spanish Men’s National Team. And since 2006 both the Blaugrana and La Furia Roja have enjoyed their fair share of success applying these approaches to their play.

As Kreis put it, the style of play is modeled after Barcelona a little bit. They want their teams both at Manchester City, New York City and down in Melbourne to be possession-based, possession-oriented teams. I think the easiest way for me to say it is, ‘all about the ball.’”

Sound familiar? The hallmarks of the best FC Barcelona of all-time, and arguably the most dominant spell of any national team with Spain’s consecutive Euro Cup-World Cup-Euro Cup treble, are those teams’ ability to keep the ball, starving the other team of possession.

These 2 teams have put on a clinic of close-ball control for years, with 360-degree vision and passing options in the midfield, rhythmically-tapping around high-percentage short passes that seemingly make any player at any given time as much as a goal-scoring threat as the next since the team works in such a unified system, with players moving interchangeably, confusing defenses.

These teams allow the ball to do the work, exhausting and frustrating opposing defenses that are continuously running and chasing, while these Barcelona and Spain sides resemble the remarkable control and precision in passing and possession of a 5-star team being controlled by an expert player in a FIFA 14 video game.

“My expectation is that you watch a game in 5 years, and you watch a Manchester City game, and you recognize the way we play, and you watch a New York City game, and you recognize the way we play.” Manchester City and NYCFC CEO Ferran Soriano declared. “They will play good, beautiful football.”

This is “the City Way” that Kreis is studying and that NYCFC will be hoping to replicate. Indeed, Manchester City has hired some of the very architects of FC Barcelona’s most successful and powerful team of the last decade, such as Former FC Barcelona Vice President Ferran Soriano, former FC Barcelona Director of Football (now DOF of Manchester City and NYCFC) Txiki Begiristain, and the recent hiring of Rodolfo Borrell, a coach at Barcelona’s famous “La Masia” youth academy for 13 years, who worked closely with the likes of Messi and Fabregas, helping develop them into the players they are today.

After a spell heading Liverpool’s Academy (helping train and develop players like Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan), Borrell will now be the “Global Technical Director” of City Football Group’s talent and football development, whose jurisdiction includes New York City FC’s system.

Manchester City brought these individuals to the club to establish this philosophy and academy which will instruct Manchester City’s first-team and youth teams’ every touch of the ball, to nurture an “identifiable style” of football that is expected to be evident in the styles and performances of NYCFC and Melbourne Heart as well.

As Soriano explained in the MLS Insider episode, “We’re not going to win with bad football (an obvious snipe at Mourinho), having a bit of luck, or just signing the best player every year (a clear jab at his old rivals Real Madrid). This is about building a style of football, some football concepts, that are identifiable.”

Some American fans have voiced an opinion that it is insulting that Kreis, a very well respected and talented coach, should have to “learn” a new system, feeling as if Manchester City is showing a lack of trust in the coach and American soccer expertise.

However, in an interview with Manchester City TV in February when asked about whether he believes “The City Way” would translate well into MLS, Kreis explained, “Absolutely. It's no different than what I tried to instill with Real Salt Lake in the last seven years. It's interesting for me because it's a little bit rewarding to say to myself, well, these are a lot of the same things I've been doing. I certainly know it's possible and you can have success in our league doing it.”

It seems that Manchester City chose a coach whose style already has many of the qualities of “The City Way,” leaving NYCFC in the hands of a coach they trust based on his record and the performances of his impressive Real Salt Lake side. It’s apparent that Kreis was shrewdly hired then for these reasons, as well as his expertise and success in MLS, rather than simply finding a good MLS coach that they can mold and re-educate into a “City-styled” coach.

Indeed, Kreis already had these qualities, already subscribed to this philosophy of attractive, possession-based attacking soccer, and these attributes make for some of the best football in the world. Manchester City and their highly accomplished coaching staff and technical directors are now only inviting him in to be a part of their system, immersing himself with the world-class resources at his disposal as coach of New York City FC, and polishing his still developing talent with some of the most renowned professionals in world football, both at the player and coaching positions.

But, Kreis also has other qualities that he learned well before his time in Manchester. He wisely puts heavy importance in the character of a player, rather than just looking at his talent and resume.

“I have a huge focus on character of people, to try to get the right kind of people, not necessarily the right kind of soccer players,” Kreis said.

The football world is filled with stories of big-name, high-priced players who ended up being very poor investments due to their attitudes, their inability to deal with the adversity of adapting to a foreign culture, their lack of commitment to the club, or perhaps just not being a good fit for a team’s particular system.

Kreis will look to avoid these mistakes, and you can expect him to sign quality players to New York City FC that he can count on, rather than high-priced mercenaries who won’t take the job seriously. He will focus on the strength of the group, rather than relying heavily on individuals.

As he put it, “I strongly believe that you can take Lionel Messi, put him on the worst team in Major League Soccer, and they’d still be the worst team in Major League Soccer.”

This is a comment that you certainly wouldn’t expect the average soccer pundit to make, who often think that signing a player the caliber of Messi in his prime can solve any MLS team’s problems.

Kreis is wise and perceptive enough to realize that even signing a legendary player like Messi will do a team little good if the rest of the squad is in shambles, lacking discipline, spirit or a well-understood system.

With the wisdom and intensity Kreis brings to the New York City FC head coach position, NYCFC fans have much to be optimistic about. When considering that their team will be built upon the system and style that brought FC Barcelona and the Spanish Men’s National Team such spectacular and consistent success, nurtured by the vast resources of City Football Group, NYCFC fans may even have a reason to be bullish as they look forward to their MLS debut in 2015. 

Nick CHAVEZ

Nationality:
USA
College:
SCSU
Club Domestic:
NYCFC
Club Foreign:
Real Madrid CF
Spent most of 2012 in Madrid, Spain and his father's native Costa Rica in what was a pilgrimage of fútbol and a mission to learn Spanish. Now, this proud American Outlaw is home in the CT/NYC area to report on New York City FC and promote MLS/US Soccer.
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