When footballers rise to fame and fortune, those who have helped them along the way rarely get to share the limelight.
However, ahead of England’s World Cup Qualifier against Poland in October, it made a refreshing change to hear Manchester United and England midfielder, Tom Cleverley, talk about the influence of his youth team coach at Old Trafford, Rene Meulensteen.
The Dutchman, who is Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-team coach, joined United as academy skills development coach in 2001.
In the club’s own words Meulensteen was brought to Carrington to give United’s young players the ‘armoury to out-manoeuvre any opponent in any given situation’.
Arriving in Manchester, Meulensteen inherited an eleven-year-old named Tom and a nine-year-old named Danny. Today, Messrs Cleverley and Welbeck are now established for club and country.
Meulensteen said: “The players we had at 7, 8 and 9 are coming to the forefront. You can see the players like Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley are skilful, and in the younger age-groups you can see with players like Larnell Cole that they are all comfortable on the ball."
Meulensteen’s methods have had a significant effect on the development of many of those who have progressed through the Carrington system.
He added: “You have to understand why the skill element is so important. The top-level shows, for example with Barcelona, that all these players are able to dominate the situation when under pressure."
Meulensteen went on to stress the importance of skill development: “What I strongly believe in is that you have to create an environment for young kids so that they can become as skilful as they can.
“That’s the first package you give them, which cannot be done without repetition. You need to create a repetitive environment.”
He is also quick to stress that repetition does not mean that practice should be boring. Much of what Meulensteen says is aligned with the principles underpinning The FA’s Youth Award courses.
“As a coach you have a challenge to create that environment. In my opinion there are three ways of doing it: you can work with players individually, you can blend it in within group sessions, or you blend it in within small-sided or conditioned games.”
Meulensteen is in his second spell at Old Trafford. When he left United to join Brondby as manager in 2006, his impact had seen him rise through the academy to lead United’s reserve team.
He returned to Carrington in 2007, again joining the academy ranks before progressing to work as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant with the first team.
His methods always have always remained true to his fundamental principles. Whether he’s working with eight-year-olds or the first team, the focus is on individual improvement.
“The really top performers in any walk of life and in any sport will embrace it if you can add something to their performance that will make it better."
It seems that if others at Carrington were to talk of the key figures in their own stories, Cleverley wouldn’t be the only one to thanking Meulensteen and his approach to coaching the game.
Rene Meulensteen was talking at The FA’s 2012 UEFA Pro-licence course. The full interview with the Dutchman is included in December’s issue of The Boot Room, The FA Licensed Coaches’ Club magazine.
The December edition of The Boot Room is available now to all Licensed Coaches' Club members. To subscribe to the magazine join The FA Licensed Coaches’ club here.
Read issue one of The Boot Room here