Barcelona Interviews

Schreuder: “Opponents just slap Messi down with a flat hand”

Lionel Messi in action in the Spanish Super Cup final / David Ramos / Getty Images Europe
Lionel Messi in action in the Spanish Super Cup final / DAVID RAMOS/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

Barça’s assistant coach Alfred Schreuder spoke to Dutch newspaper AD about the progress of the team, working with Messi and more.

It has been about eight months since Alfred Schreuder (48) joined fellow Dutchman Ronald Koeman as a part of the coaching staff of FC Barcelona. Before becoming an assistant coach in Spain, he was the head coach of the German club 1899 Hoffenheim.

He has been interviewed by Dutch newspaper AD, where he among other topics spoke about adapting to life in Catalonia, the difference in cultures, and coaching Barcelona’s stars.

On the 3-0 win against Sevilla

“It’s beautiful to see how players like Messi, Busquets and Piqué experience something like that. They have already won everything, been through everything, but they’re still as happy as little kids. It indicates that this team contains energy, fun, and also development. Sure, this is not the Barcelona of seven or eight years ago, but the team really is moving forward. We also see talent breaking through from La Masía again. There’s still potential for much more.”

On Ronald Koeman

“I knew him in a general sense, through football, but not on a personal level. When he was the head coach of the Dutch national team, he was planning on visiting Hoffenheim, where I was the head coach, but then he had some trouble with his heart. We eventually met in Ibiza, where we coincidentally bumped into each other on vacation.”

“Ronald said: “You never know whether I might need a field coach at some point in the future.” Then the 8-2 against Bayern Munich happened and he called me three days later.”

On former Barça assistant Henk ten Cate

“He was the first person I called for advice. He told me two important things: don’t try to behave like a typical Dutch coach in the Spanish culture, and start to build a good relationship with the players as soon as possible, then you can later become gradually more critical of them too.”

On coaching some of the best players in world football

Messi, Busquets, Ter Stegen, that’s the highest level there is, also in the way they think about football. It would be weird if you were going to shout at them, or be a smartass and tell Messi to make sure he passes the ball to his teammates’ favourite foot.”

“What you try to do, is making the players do things we want them to do without them noticing it, forcing certain behaviour through the form of an exercise. For example, if we want them to cover from behind, we draw a line on the field at training games. The goal only counts if everyone from that team is over that line.”

On working with Lionel Messi

“This week was typical. There was an exercise that Piqué had never done before because he was injured. I was about to explain it to him, when Messi came over and said: “Alfred, you don’t have to do that, I already updated him.” That’s Messi, he sees everything, he understands everything, he keeps an eye on everything concerning the team and is always thinking ahead, just like we do.”

Dušan Tadić does the same thing at Ajax. And Daley Blind too. But to the extent of Messi, I had never seen it. I started laughing to myself: even knowing that Piqué has not yet done this form of exercise, that’s how smart you are.”

On coaching in different countries

“What stands out, is that always trying to explain everything is typically Dutch. Koeman sometimes deliberately doesn’t explain things at all here. When internationals with a big status are benched, my initial reflex was to explain. “No,” Ronald would say. “We’ll leave him alone for a few days. Let it simmer, see how he reacts.” He has experienced what it is like as a player at the biggest clubs.”

Hierarchy also works in a different way in Germany and Spain compared to the Netherlands. At Hoffenheim, the youngest players still have to carry the equipment. 18 years? First, go and prove your worth for a while. In Spain, the youngsters also know their place, although Pedri (18) does not have to lug around with the ball bag here. He, and other youngsters, are cheeky when they have the ball, but otherwise, you don’t hear them.”

“The winning mentality in Spain is unsurpassed. Getafe, Atlético Madrid, Bilbao, they’re all willing to do anything that’s forbidden. Messi has already been hit five or six times in matches. Without an audience, you literally hear everything opponents say to each other. When Leo gets the ball, you hear them say: “Make a foul! Kick him down!” But then they can’t, and then they slap him down. Just like that, with the flat part of their hand.”

“That would always be a red card in the Netherlands, but here, in Spain, they just give a yellow, and then we play on. In a way, it’s also a good thing, wanting to do anything to win.”

On staying calm in difficult situations

“Now that I’m in the middle of it myself, I think it’s impressive how Ronald always stays calm, also towards the players. Even in the most difficult parts of this season, with all kinds of peripheral issues and politics involved. You can see the most important players listening attentively during discussions. Whenever I’m an assistant coach, I pay attention to that: the way players look when the head coach talks. There were also clubs where the experienced players thought: whatever.”

“In such a season with presidential elections at the club, you have no certainty as to how long you will stay. Tomorrow is the day of the elections, an exciting day for our future here.”

“When we started, Ronald said, in a joking way, that we should at least keep it up until the audience is allowed to join again. Because that is the only thing missing now: you also want to feel what it is like with 100,000 fans at the Camp Nou.”