When Rafa Benitez appointed Mikel Antia to be his number two, there were eyebrows raised.
The relative unknown was a surprise choice, with the expectation being that a more high profile and experienced assistant would have come in.
However, with Rafa Benitez looking to transform Newcastle United from top to bottom and across the youth set-up as well as the first team, maybe things have become a little clearer.
Mikel Antia’s role before joining Newcastle was coaching 13-18 year olds at the Aspire Academy in Qatar, with money no object in bringing the latest state of the art equipment and ideas to their set-up.
In an interview in Spain, Rafa’s new assistant has talked about how excited he is to be joining both Benitez and Newcastle United, plus also a bit of background to what he can bring to the table.
Jurgen Klopp achieved so much at Borussia Dortmund and at the heart of his training was the ‘Footbonaut’ and his version comprised of a ball-feeding machine erected on a 14 metre square grid. The player would take him place in a centre circle and the ball is fed randomly to him at a variety of heights and angles.
The player must then control the ball and deliver it to one of 64 targets within the cube. the target is identified by the lighting up of the square surround.
All the action is filmed and analysed instantly. The results are transmitted directly onto a coach’s iPad.
Amongst the many coaching aids used in Qatar, Mikel Antia has spoken of the Footbonaut as a prime example that develops the quick passing and awareness.
Jurgen Klopp is reported to be introducing this to his new players at Liverpool and hopefully now with Rafa Benitez and his progressive looking coaching team, we can see improvement at last throughout Newcastle United.
Mikel Antia speaking to El Diario Vasco:
“I have a relationship with him from when I was a player in the ranks of Madrid and Valladolid.
“That he has remembered me now gives me great satisfaction because it is the opportunity to work with a coach at in a historic club in England.
“It’s an adventure, a challenge that I take on with a lot of enthusiasm.
“Newcastle under certain circumstances lost their (Premier League) status and so the goal is clear: to climb back to the Premier. On July 1 the pre-season begins.
“In Qatar we worked more a process of training and now entering a professional stage in which the result is the boss, which decides if you are good or not so good.”
What is your assessment of their (Aspire’s) work in Doha?
“It has been an amazing experience, we have developed a very nice project to which we have devoted much effort and dedication. Now we began to feel the personal satisfaction of seeing players come to the selection of Qatar or a club like Villarreal one of our players.
“I do not think there are many places in the world where you can work with the high level of tools you have at Aspire.
“The experience has been great because it has allowed me to learn about the latest technical developments related to football, such as the Footbonaut machine in which the player, within a cube, must control balls spewed by robots from the sides. It is a joy for the child’s development because the working pass, control … is an example of the technical and human resources that we had available to us. We had a high budget and can say we were privileged.”
What was your exact role?
“I was coordinating teams aged between 13 and 18 years.”
What age overall in Aspire?
“Kids are managed from five years. As they grow they train more days a week. From 5 to 9 years training three times a week; 9 to 12 years, five times and 12 to 18 years, ‘full time’, studying in the centre itself”.