IN the shadow of Pendle Hill, and under a gun metal grey sky, Charlie Jackson offers a few words of quiet advice to a gaggle of enthusiastic nine-year-olds as the drizzle begins to fall again.
They pass and move to Jackson’s coaching system called Matrix, specifically designed to turn them into total footballers, meaning an outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team.
It aims to encourage young grassroots footballers to touch the ball as many times as possible and the old coaching mantras of two-touch and one-touch are banned under the laws of Matrix.
There’s no fear. No well meaning parents pushing them the wrong way, or a frantic winner takes all coach turning every game into a bruising cup final or a touchline war of words.
“It’s peer-led, by the players, not by a bully, coach or parent, “ says Jackson, the brains behind Matrix and Moorland School’s director of football.
“Why limit the imagination of a player. They are allowed to solve the problems and it’s all about developing a culture which encourages free play.
“The children have to work things out: open the body up, twist and turn, make a decision on how you receive the ball.
“You have six parts of the foot to receive the ball.
“How you do it is up to you.
“We don’t want to put the fear of God in them so they are too scared to express themselves.”
According to Jackson, the fear of failure holds back many youngsters’ footballing development in their formative years at school.
“I had a conversation with a dad who wanted his son to join a team – the lad was six,” he added.
“The dad was saying he should be playing competitive football and I was saying rubbish.
“The other week I went to an indoor football arena and what I witnessed was shocking.
“It was like a pit bull fight. There were dads leaning over shouting and screaming.
“It was like they had just shoved their kids in an enclosed area and then watched them have a fight with each other.”
Jackson bases many of his coaching methods around some of the greatest moments in football history and his sessions are noticeable for the absence of any coach interference.
As they pass and move, dribble and interchange, the boys chat about how Argentina built that astonishing 25-pass move for Esteban Cambiasso’s goal against Serbia and Montenegro in the 2006 World Cup.
Apart from Nicolas Burdisso, all Argentina’s players were involved and Mascherano, Crespo, Saviola, Riquelme and Cambiasso are used in Matrix’s masterclass technique.
“The role models we use are Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – and any player who shows creativity in the Premier League, Italian League, La Liga or Brazilian football.
“We want to give a kid the illusion that he is Messi, Andreas Iniesta or Ronaldo.
“And we use a lot of these key phrases when we are coaching. We say to them, ‘What would Messi do?
“Kids pick up on key words and they’ll think, “Yeah. Messi does that.
“By challenging children to maximize touch and technique I believe we will have some really great players.”
The proof is in the pudding and Jackson’s CV continues to impress many good judges.
He spent seven years at Blackburn Rovers’ academy as an advanced skills coach and he has used those methods productively, guiding Moorland to the final of a nationwide competition.
Joe Grayson, the son of Preston North End boss Simon, has scored in every round of the competition, while Niall Mason, who left Moorland last summer, is creating a big noise with Premier League Southampton, as one of their rising stars in the Saints Academy.
Striker John Cofie, another Moorland product, started his career with Burnley before signing for Manchester United.
“We could have an abundance of talent but we are looking at six to 10 years before we start seeing the real fruit of our labours,” added Jackson.
“I spoke to a scout at a tournament and he said I have watched your players and I can tell they have been to you.
“They are brighter and their touch is better.
“I see a lot of schoolboy football and it’s poor.
“People will always produce footballers with or without us.
“All we are trying to do is make a difference and create a better footballer.”