Ian Holloway: Seeing why Spain reign is life-changing

Overseas trip re-energised me and I've already introduced new techniques into our training
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The Independent Online

I am 48 years old and feel as though I'm just starting out as a manager. That might sound a bit strange coming from a bloke who realised his life-long ambition last year by becoming a Premier League boss, but it is the truth.

I can't think of a time when I have been more excited about the game of football and what might be possible. The reason is my trip to Spain.

I flew to Madrid last weekend and spent five days being shown around the set-ups at Real and Atletico Madrid and Getafe, and watching the national team training. It sounds a bit dramatic to say it has changed my life but that is the way I feel.

Spain are the reigning World Cup and European champions and it has not happened by fluke. They are doing something different to everyone else and I think I have worked out what it is and how they do it.

Without going into loads of boring detail, the long and short of it is they dominate possession. Unlike English teams who like to lump it in the box, they are patient with their build-up. When they do lose the ball, they press and close opponents so quickly that they win back possession almost straightaway.

Then they keep the ball for a few more minutes – and when you do that it is almost impossible for the opposition to function effectively, as Arsenal found out against Barcelona.

The highlight of my trip was seeing the Spanish squad train twice. That was a bonus as I didn't realise they'd be based five miles from where I was staying. The training was better than watching a game. They shortened the pitch and played a match between the main Spanish side and the 11 reserves... though it's a bit of an insult to call them reserves because they were just as good as the first-choice players.

It was 1-1 by the end of it but because of the small pitch it was played at an electric pace and it was stunning to sit watching Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and all the others strutting their stuff.

I sat at the side with a notebook, frantically scribbling down what they were doing. The whole experience has left me inspired and re-energised to an extent I didn't think was possible, and I've already introduced some of the things I've learned into our training at Blackpool.

Mind you, I might have learned a load about football but the language is coming on a bit more slowly. I was there almost a week and "dos cafes con leche por favor" is pretty much still the only thing I can say. Ah well, I'll work on it.

A class act – that's Zamora

Bobby Zamora and I go back a long way, so if you are reading this, Bob son: go easy on us today! I am delighted he is over his broken leg and in and around Fulham's first team again, but dreading the fact that he might take out his frustration on us.

I was in charge of Bobby at Bristol Rovers. It was my first job in management and I had just come from playing Premier League football for QPR alongside Ray Wilkins. I played 3-5-2 at Rovers and ask any fan who watched us – we were terrific.

We should have gone up from what is now League One to the Championship. We were four points clear of Preston with 10 games to go, but unfortunately they caught us, so did Burnley, and we missed out on the play-offs altogether in the end.

That summer we sold 50-odd goals worth of strikers out of our club, with Bobby and Jason Roberts leaving. That is never a good idea. I've followed Bobby's progress ever since and I'm delighted he has become the top-class player I knew he could be.

He would have been an England regular by now if he hadn't suffered his injury because he was playing superbly at the start of the season. He was quite brilliant against us at Bloomfield Road when we drew 2-2 in what was our first home game.

After today, I hope Bobby does well for the rest of the season.

My chicken house was blown over – and that was before the Blackpool earthquake

I wasn't a happy man on Thursday. I woke to find my chicken house that I've had for ages had blown over because of the wind in the night. I spent the entire day in the garden trying to fix it – without success – so I had to go for an Indian that night with the family to cheer myself up.

The next day an earthquake hit the North-west, with its epicentre in Blackpool. It wasn't a big one, in fact I didn't even notice it, to be honest.

All it did was make me think of the people in Japan, who are still suffering so much and can't relax because there might be another.

I still can't believe what has happened over there and my heart goes out to them. It puts a knackered chicken house into perspective.

King of Ghana is the saviour

My heart swelled with pride when I watched my keeper Richard Kingson do so well for Ghana against England in midweek. He had never played at Wembley before and he was really looking forward to it. He made some fantastic saves.

Watching my players in action for their countries is a new experience for me. Unlike most other Premier League managers, I still get excited by it.

I look at the TV like a starstruck kid going: "oh, he's a Blackpool player, oh, so is he, this is brilliant!" Mind you, I might have changed my mind had my skipper Charlie Adam been hurt playing for Scotland. He went down clutching his knee against Brazil last weekend and I was thinking, "please God, don't let it be serious".

Luckily he's been OK in training, though a little down because he didn't think he had a great game. On the flipside Stephen Crainey played well against Brazil so he has been buzzing. Swings and roundabouts.

I'm just relieved that of the eight lads we had away, only one has come back injured – David Carney hurt his shoulder playing for Australia.

That is a shame because he scored in Australia's 2-1 win over Germany and played well, so I was planning to use him in my squad today. Unfortunately that's gone for a burton now.

Give us more top-flight cake!

It was nice to see 80 per cent of Premier League managers had voted Blackpool team of the season in a poll.

I felt quite good reading that, because one of the main reasons I came back into football after the bad experience at Leicester was to try to produce a product I'd pay to watch myself. I think at Blackpool I've done that and it was nice to get some recognition from my peers.

But kind words mean little and if we get relegated no amount of praise from Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp or whoever will be able to cheer me up. It is a results industry and these next eight games are much more important than getting pats on the back from others.

I've had a taste of this lovely Premier League cake and I want another giant slice next season.

Harry attack vs Jose defence

Tottenham versus Real Madrid will be a terrific match and I am probably going to organise flights over to watch it. I watched Real train as part of my trip to Spain and if Harry Redknapp rings me for some tips, I'll just say "all the best, mate!"

The set-up at the Bernabeu is unbelievable, as is the standard of their training. Like me, Harry won't change his philosophy. His attacking against Jose Mourinho's defensive tactics should make it fascinating.

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