Featured Coach: Manu Appelius of Santa Monica United
Our Featured Coach series continues with an interview with Manu Appelius of Santa Monica United Futbol Club.
He currently serves as the club's Technical Director, a role that he has been in since 2011. Having been born in Rome, he played all of his youth club soccer in Italy before moving to the United States in 1992.
You can learn more about his experience in the game by visiting his official Santa Monica United FC page.
1. Who is your favorite professional player to watch, and what is it about his game that intrigues you the most?
Manu: I was born in Rome and have been a Lazio supporter for my entire life. Obviously, having a favorite Lazio player has always been my thing and the one that is currently catching my eye is Felipe Anderson.
He grew up playing with Neymar and a few years ago was considered the real talented one for Santos. I guess Neymar developed a little quicker, but Anderson is definitely one of the players to watch for the next few years. I think he'll go far (hopefully bringing Lazio along with him!). In the current international scene, my favorite is James Rodriguez. I just loved his last World Cup. I really felt he brought something different to the table. He definitely excites me more than, let's say, CR or Messi, even though both are obviously great.
I would also like to add a few names that were absolutely inspiring for me to watch growing up. The first one was Johan Cruyff, just a genius. Then Zico and finally Diego Maradona. I watched him play in Serie A week after week in the 80s. He's just the best that ever was. His ability to play his best soccer on the biggest occasions is unparalleled. When I was a kid, my favorite was Bruno Giordano, a forward that was supposed to become the best in Italian history. He then was involved in a match-fixing scandal that kept him suspended for a few years.
Without the suspension he would have most likely been the center forward for Italy in '82 and today we would be talking about him instead of Paolo Rossi. You can see his goals on YouTube.
2. What are the major characteristics that you try to instill in your players in order to help them strive to become a complete soccer player?
Manu: I think the major thing that I try to instill in my players is the ability to always be one step ahead of the opponents and to always have a plan ahead, before they even receive the ball.
As I often tell my players, soccer is not a game where we can take a timeout every few minutes to discuss the next play. Soccer is a game where decisions constantly need to be made on the spot and where a lot of different problems are thrown at you in a very sudden and unexpected manner. The ability to always find the right solution to the problems and to have a good plan for when the ball comes to you (or even when the ball doesn't come to you) is a must to really master this game.
Good players are able to find solutions to the problem that lies ahead in lightning speed time. That's the biggest ability to succeed in soccer, in my opinion. Of course there are a lot of areas that are very important and that we always teach: toughness, responsibility, confidence, leadership, character, respect and I could go on for a while. But the decision-making aspect is really a key factor.
3. Is there a specific individual training drill that you would recommend for all youth soccer players?
Manu: I have a lot of drills that I like, but I really make sure to diversify my training sessions. It's very normal to be forced to work on the same topic for several weeks. But it's important to always have different drills, so that the players don't become bored always doing the same thing.
I know a lot of coaches who are really good, but they always run the same session. And very soon players become disengaged, because they feel they are always doing the same activity. Work on the same concepts, if you must, but do it while doing different activities, so that the kids constantly feel challenged.
The only other advice I can give players is to constantly work on basic fundamental skills. In my opinion, you are never too good to stop working on your receiving, shooting, heading, crossing, dribbling, footwork, etc. Always challenge yourself to improve your skills with both feet.
4. What gives you the most satisfaction as a coach in terms of player and team development?
Manu: Winning games, leagues, tournaments, etc is obviously fun and rewarding for everybody. I'm a competitive guy and I like to win.
The biggest satisfaction for me, though, is to see that kid that at 10 years of age was considered next to nothing, now suddenly be one of the best at 15/16 years old.
Helping the super talented kids get to the next level is always great. But turning the not so super talented into real legit players that are admired for their abilities on and off the field has always been the biggest satisfaction for me as a coach.
5. What is the most influential piece of advice that you've received that's helped you throughout your career?
Manu: I would say that the best advice I ever got was to be myself and make decisions I really believe in.
It's impossible to never make mistakes. If you have to make a mistake, do it for something that you truly believe was the right thing to do. But don't make mistakes just because you chose something based on other people's opinions.
Listen to opinions and advices, analyze them, but then make your own choices. And if you end up making a mistake make sure you learn from it and never do it again!