Behind the scenes at EURO 2020: meet the technical observer

The ex-Finland and Latvia national coach Mixu Paatelainen has served as a member of UEFA’s select group of technical observers since 2014, drawing on knowledge gained across a career in football that has taken in six countries. Here he gives an insight into his role and how UEFA technical reports benefit the wider coaching community.

Mixu Paatelainen has been a UEFA observer for seven years

Mixu Paatelainen has been a UEFA observer for seven years

Name: Mixu Paatelainen

Role: UEFA technical observer in Saint Petersburg at UEFA EURO 2020

Experience: Worked as a technical observer since 2014, contributing to previous UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and EURO and U21 EURO technical reports.

What is the role of a EURO 2020 technical observer?

We analyse the match tactically. We look at how teams defend and how they attack, and their transitions. When a team wins the ball, are they going to build a slow or fast attack? And when they lose the ball, what’s their first reaction? Are they going to press high immediately or withdraw?

We look at the goals in detail: how were they scored? We look if there is something special in set plays. We also look at how coaches use their imagination to get an advantage and how they nullify their opponents’ strengths. We choose the man of the match and highlight the best individuals from games. In tournaments, we choose the all-star squad and the best player. Additionally, we look to identify trends. How do the top teams play?

Corinne Diacre is UEFA's first female technical observer at a EURO

Corinne Diacre is UEFA’s first female technical observer at a EUROUEFA via Getty Images

What are the essential skills that every observer should have?

An observer needs to have experience in seeing inside the game. You look in detail – players’ positions, what the first passes are when they win the ball, how they combine, how they anticipate things. And coaching decisions, such as how they change the way their team plays and tries to win the match. Many times when a reporter or a fan watches a game, they don’t see these little things – whether the full-backs are a little bit higher or deeper, to give a simple example. These are things we highlight and bring to people.

What is the role’s biggest challenge?

I don’t see any big challenges, as such. We are privileged to watch these matches and follow these tournaments live. A match is a match – you analyse what happens there and let people know.

How has the pandemic impacted the technical group’s work?

The travel restrictions deny us the opportunity to be all together and those are always fruitful occasions to be with knowledgeable football people, to discuss the game and how they see it, and to exchange information. That is a downside but is understandable. Instead we do online meetings to make sure we are together and exchanging views. Also we can’t interview the coaches in person as they work in a bubble. In normal times, it’s nice to hear from them in detail as to why they make their decisions.

Fabio Capello leads UEFA's group of 16 observers at EURO 2020

Fabio Capello leads UEFA’s group of 16 observers at EURO 2020UEFA via Getty Images

How do you think your insights will support the technical development of the game?

All this information goes to everybody – it is available to coaches all over Europe who will benefit from it and be aware of what football was played at a specific tournament like EURO 2020. They can hopefully learn and take something from it for their own use. In short, we are noting what football is being played and distributing that knowledge to coaches.

What positive lesson or experience will you take away from EURO 2020?

On the field, more goals have been scored so far compared with the last EURO. Teams are playing more positively and transitions are quicker when teams are winning the ball. The time that teams are in possession before they score is less, so it seems teams are more effective in possession when they have the ball.

Tactical trends of EURO 2020

Who are UEFA’s technical observers at EURO 2020?

Since 1996, UEFA has published more than 130 technical reports on its club and national team competitions, creating a technical and tactical insight into the evolution of the European game over the last quarter-century.

Led by Italy’s Fabio Capello, a total of 16 technical observers will cover EURO 2020 – a sign of how the role has developed since UEFA fielded a team of five observers at EURO ’96 in England: Gérard Houllier, Daniel Jeandupeux, Rinus Michels, Tommy Svensson and Roy Hodgson. The 2020 team also includes Corinne Diacre, the French national women’s team coach, who becomes the first ever female technical observer to work at a EURO final tournament.

“The analytical work of this expert group will be the basis for monitoring the evolution of the modern game,” said Capello before the tournament kicked off. “The reports will highlight the different styles from the various teams, as well as how coaches adapt in light of the impact that COVID-19 has had on players, teams and match preparations. The findings will be fed back into education, too, and this is crucial for the continuous development of the game.”

The full EURO 2020 technical observer line-up is: Packie Bonner (Republic of Ireland), Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina), Fabio Capello (Italy), Cosmin Contra (Romania), Corinne Diacre (France), Jean-François Domergue (France), Dušan Fitzel (Czech Republic), Steffen Freund (Germany), Frans Hoek (Netherlands), Aitor Karanka (Spain), Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland), Ginés Meléndez (Spain), David Moyes (Scotland), Mixu Paatelainen (Finland), Peter Rudbæk (Denmark), Willi Ruttensteiner (Austria).

How UEFA’s observers are providing a clear view for coaches