As part of Sky Sports' Sky Bet Championship spotlight, Adam Bate talks to Brighton manager Oscar Garcia and midfielder Keith Andrews about the Spaniard's coaching philosophy and the challenges of implementing the Barcelona way at the south coast club...
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 29/11/13 11:24am
Three wins from the opening 14 games of the season wasn't the most encouraging of starts to Oscar Garcia's time at Brighton. But the Spaniard has since seen his team win three matches on the bounce as his methods start to bear fruit on the south coast. For the 40-year-old coach who has spent almost half his life at Barcelona, it's early days to talk of vindication. And yet, there is a growing confidence that his way is the right way forward.
In conversation with Garcia, the recurring theme is one of philosophy. When the results were going against his side, he would point to the possession numbers and the passing accuracy percentage - a hard sell to most fans accustomed to the muck and nettles of the Championship. The only statistic that matters is the number of goals, they will argue. But football is a low-scoring game and managers are at the mercy of fortune when judged so quickly. Now Garcia has wins in the bank.
"I knew before I came here that the Championship is a tough competition with well-balanced and physical teams," he tells Sky Sports. "It's like I expected. It takes time because it's not easy in three or four months to play as I want but they are trying to do it. We are looking to improve every day and this is the key to becoming a better team. We knew when we started to be more clinical and better in front of goal then the results would come and this is what's happening.
"We want to play differently. We want to play according to our philosophy - to have more possession than the opposition - because if you have more possession of the ball you will have more chances to score. We wanted to be proactive. My philosophy is that if you have the ball then the opposition don't have the ball. In football, if you don't have the ball it's difficult to score. We try to get the ball off the opposition as quickly as we can. This is why we have had some clean sheets. Obviously, it's not easy to do this against all the teams but we are trying to do it."
It's a way of approaching the game that has been forged in Barcelona. A contemporary of Pep Guardiola - "he was always asking questions, always wanting to know why we are doing this and why the manager wants this" - Garcia made his breakthrough at Camp Nou during the legendary reign of Johan Cruyff. He finished as Barca's top scorer during the Dutchman's final year in charge and his attitude to football has evidently been shaped by that experience. Garcia even worked as an assistant to Cruyff when he took charge of the Catalonia national football team in 2009.
Significantly, it was Cruyff's son Jordi, in his role as sporting director at Maccabi Tel Aviv, who tempted Garcia away from his role coaching the youth team at La Masia. Maccabi Tel Aviv had gone a decade without winning the title prior to his arrival but finished 13 points clear at the top last season. Given that Garcia's only coaching experience had been with teenagers in his native Catalonia up to that point, it was a vital affirmation that his methods could work elsewhere.
"It was Jordi who offered me the job," he explains. "His father had a lot of influence on my philosophy. I was very pleased to go there and be a successful manager there. We wanted to play football the way we wanted to play football and we did it. The results came. We're very happy with what we did there. There are some successful teams here in England playing attractive football and a possession game so I'm sure it can work in England too.
"Of course, (coaching senior players) is different but it's a step I wanted to make and I did that in Tel Aviv. In England there are plenty of good players with talent. English players can play good football and they can also different styles which is a very good thing. But the main differences are the problems of the players not the coaching. The problems you have when you're 18 are not the same as when you're 34. There are different problems at home and on the pitch, different problems physically and mentally. But if they want to improve, I don't care about their age."
Encouraging words if your name is Keith Andrews. The Irish midfielder has joined Brighton on a season-long loan from Bolton and is candid about his reasons. "To be honest with you, he was a big part of the reason why I upped sticks and moved 250 miles to play football," Andrews tells Sky Sports. "Even though I'm 33 years old, I want to further my education as a player. I want to stay in football when I'm finished and this is a guy who has coached at Barcelona and earned his stripes.
"I've been very impressed with him. In fact, all of the staff have been great. It's struck me that he is a very calm person. He never gets too carried away by the ups and downs, he never veers from the training programme and routines. Brighton have a tradition for playing football but he has just tweaked it here and there. He's not had us playing FIFA computer games and pretending to be Lionel Messi or anything like that!"
With seven games in four weeks, the Championship's winter months will be crucial to promotion hopes and the constant grind could require pragmatism from an experienced team looking to pass their way to success. "It can be done but there are days when you can't play the football you want to play, when the passing game is just not working you," says Andrews. "That's when you need that Plan B. You need to adapt, win second balls, win your challenges. Fight to win, basically."
Garcia appears to be in agreement, looking to the division above for examples. "In the Premier League you can see some teams playing attractive football and some teams playing a different style of football," he adds. "But I also like to see other styles of football. I don't want to be manager who is closed off in his mind and saying there is only one way to play football. There are lots of styles. You can get results with different styles."
It's an intriguing answer. Certainly, Garcia stops some way short of sounding like a zealot on this matter. And yet, just when you think compromise is on the agenda, there comes the caveat. "But I go with one style and one philosophy and I think it is the best style for me to manage a team." With Brighton moving into the top 10 for the first time this season ahead of Saturday's televised clash with Bournemouth, it seems he might well be right.