Phillip Cocu was appointed as Derby County’s manager at the beginning of July and, almost five months on, he’s enjoying being fully invested in the meticulous work taking place behind the scenes outside of the public eye.
Cocu, who turned 49 last month, signed a four-year deal to take charge at Pride Park Stadium.
During his time as manager at PSV Eindhoven in Holland, Cocu delivered exciting and highly successful football, whilst also demonstrating a strong ability to develop players and in particular up-and-coming talent.
His experience and qualities made the former Barcelona midfielder the standout choice when Frank Lampard departed to take over the reins at Chelsea.
Executive Chairman Mel Morris CBE commented at the time of Cocu’s arrival that the Rams were continuing to develop their footballing philosophy and that from his first conversation with Cocu, and his team, it was very clear they shared similar views.
Morris also admitted that there was a determination to build on the team’s style of play, club values, and the increasingly important role of the Academy.
While understandably the focus is very much on first-team matters, Cocu is directly involved in the work with the club’s exciting young talent, alongside Academy Director Darren Wassall, with all the teams playing in a style modelled by the Dutchman.
Cocu believes the steps which are being put in place, as part of a long-term vision, will help players coming through Derby’s Academy system be prepared as well as possible to handle the step-up to the first-team football.
Explaining the process to RamsTV, Cocu explained: “The main thing what we are trying to build is a Derby County model.
“For example, say a young player arrives next season at Under-9s level, goes through all the age groups and makes his steps (through the Academy).
“For him, he will know every aspect of football and every core value of Derby County Football Club when he comes through and arrives in the first team.
“If you make the right steps, using the jumps to the next age groups and especially the last one into the first team, I think a lot more end-product from the Academy can end up playing in the first team. That is the main goal and target of the club.”
He added: “That is the main thing we work on, not only myself as a manager, but everybody within the club.
“We have to align all coaches, players and medical staff; everybody who works here has to do their part and speak the same language and know what we want to achieve and how we are going to do it.
“That takes some time and a lot of meetings. We talk a lot about our vision, and it has to be a club vision.”
Cocu’s arrival came at the beginning of the first-team squad’s pre-season so one of his primary roles was to prepare the Rams for the start of the 2019/20 campaign.
Alongside that, he also began the process of planning for the future alongside Derby’s talented Academy staff.
The Rams have held Category 1 Academy status for several years and in May the club’s Under-18s were named as National Champions after a hugely impressive campaign.
Cocu is keen to ensure Derby remains on an upward trajectory when it comes to planning and working towards the future.
One key aspect he has been keen to implement is a way of working that is not solely for the first-team squad, but right across the club, and he’s focussed on building on the many positives running right through the Academy.
He said: “After a few weeks here I got all the coaches from the Under-15 to Under-23s plus the technical staff of the first-team together.
“We discussed all the players from Under-15s to Under-23s just to get an idea about their potential, their strengths and their weaknesses, what we could work on and what was their key asset to a team.
“I think that was an important kick-off to make the next step. Then it was looking at how are we playing as a first team, how are we training, what kind of physical loads we are giving the players and what do we expect from the mental aspects of players.
“We make a plan for the first team of what is required in the way we play football and then we talked about how we simplify it for all the age groups down to Under-9s.
“We first cut it in half for Under-15 from the first-team. I call them young adults and they can copy a lot of the sessions and things that we do in the first team. The second part will be to simplify it to the lower age groups and focus a little bit more on the technical side of football. They are young and have to touch the ball as much as possible.”
He added: “Last week I had a meeting with Darren Wassall (Academy Director) and with Mike Scott (Head of Academy Coaching). They understand how we work, how we do the exercises and why we do certain exercises.
“In the next couple of weeks we will have many more of these meetings so they can talk with the other coaches and see training sessions of Under-16s, Under-17s and help everyone get the alignment in the way we like it and want it.”
The work taking place isn’t just limited to specific football sessions either.
“The other example is the physical part,” Cocu explained.
“You can think of strength in gym sessions and core stability. It is different for a boy of 15 and a player in the first team so you cannot copy everything; you have to adjust.
“You can do certain exercises and more exercises that are doable for a younger player so when they come up to the first-team they know the exercises and they build up the resistance.
“We divide everything into different aspects and translate it throughout the Academy. In my experience, it is very helpful for young players to get used to this kind of aspects throughout all the years and finally up to the first team.
“The main goal is when they arrive in the first team, they only need to focus on their training or the game rather than new stuff like different exercises or the physical aspects they are not used to.
“It may be easier said than done because it is a very wide perspective in football, it is not only a training session and playing the game in the same style of football as the first team.”
Cocu is confident that while there’s plenty of work to get through in the weeks and months ahead, it will prove to be worthwhile for the club in the long-term.
He is of the belief that the Rams are moving in the right direction and has also highlighted the importance of the role the Academy plays in the club’s set-up.
He said: “There is a lot on our plate, but all of this is really good to do.
“I like also the people who work so passionately here, it feels like a family and that is something I value a lot because all the young talents that come through the club to the first-team, they come with the core values of our club.
“Of course, we will buy a few players to complete the team and to give something extra sometimes, but the players who are here for many years are very important for us.”
The full in-depth interview with Phillip Cocu outlining the club’s footballing vision for the future is available to view on full on RamsTV.