Since the World Cup there has been one major debate amongst England fans. Youth. Every one of our 60 million football experts has the idea of how we should bring through swarms of talented players to annihilate competition. Who should the FA be looking at to find the blueprint to dispel a 50 year enigma?
Who has the best youth system? No one can say for sure and there are varying criteria that people look at before plumping for their opinion. Is it the historic triumph and trophies from Brazil or as simple as listing great French players from the last two decades?
There have been many pointers towards the German system in particular, especially after watching their young team marauding through South Africa. You would expect nothing less than an efficient academy system from Germany. The key for the recent regeneration of their national team can hugely be put down to far sighted planning.
A group stage exit at euro 2000 rattled alarms and sparked a change. Money was re-channelled back into the youth, building a staggering 121 national talent centres for 10-17 year-olds, emphasising technical skills, with full-time coaches.
The German FA then brought in regulations for Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 where by meaning all clubs were obliged to erect centrally controlled academies. “That was the key difference,” said Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga’s CEO. “Fifa’s 6+5 rule means only that players must have grown up in the club. For example, Cesc Fabregas was developed at Arsenal, but is Spanish. In Germany, our academies must have 12 in each group able to play for Germany.”
Since that restructuring, the proportion of Germany-qualified players in the Bundesliga has changed significantly, thus leading to their rejuvenation at the World Cup.
A clean sweep of European champions at under-17, under-19, and under-21 level further strengthens their case.
If you’re looking at continual and historic success coupled with unpredictable attacking football as a barometer of how to develop players then you can’t look beyond Brazil. Sun, Skill and Samba. On the surface it would look as if street football and tennis balls are the way to go but there has to be more to it. Argentina have a very close ethos along with Spain and Portugal who both have strong ties with South America. Could it perhaps be a slight genetic advantage, that would certainly clear up as to how Brazil have dominated world football.
Brazil continues to produce a ceaseless line of top-class players and one of them who lit up the Premiership, Juninho, said this after watching an FA youth coaching session in England: ‘This is a load of rubbish. It’s like learning to swim on dry land.’
Futebol de Salao is a brand of football that children are encouraged to play across Brazil. It uses a smaller heavier ball which forces you to play a certain way. The long ball in out of the question, short quick passing is needed alongside support and finding space. It leaves no surprise that they can step onto a bigger pitch with a lighted ball.
From my experience it is in stark contrast to English youth, where a lot of focus is ‘’over the top’’ a la Sam Allardyce. Quite often Brazilian’s never even kick a full size ball till the age of 14.
The Dutch and Spanish have another meticulous philosophy on football, concentrating on coaching technique and tactics. It shows too, there is a clear high grade technique on view from their players that you don’t see from the English boys. Fantastic touch and ball striking makes football a whole lot easier. This allows them to play tight controlled football, in and out of pressurised area with ease.
The Dutch have a massive amount of patience with their players sticking with them until they are 22 and not discarding them at 18 due to a lack of strength!
In theory Holland are the best at squeezing everything from their youth system. From such scarce resources they have maintained a high standard of football and great football players throughout history.
Ajax has a reputation for using home-grown players even when they were a European powerhouse. Looking in depth at their coaching is like being back at school in a science lesson. Detailed coaching schedules, diagrams and charts for all the different age-groups are used to analyse and teach the kids
To start with 7 to 12-year-olds have one aim, to work on individual skill and playing on their own. This is then succeeded by a series of very small sided games and drills. Arjen Robben is the clear example of this upbringing. This system has come under a little criticism recently, with too much attacking emphasis. Can you name a truly great Dutch defender, Kalid Boulahrouz was considered the best they have for a while and he wasn’t up to much.
The Spanish are currently reaping the rewards of a ten year investment. About 40 percent of players in the Premier League qualify to play for England but in La Liga 77 percent of players qualify for Spain, quite a contrast.
The great thing about their system, in particular Barcelona, is that their academy aims to shape the boys’ values as well as their football. At the age of 13 or 14, boys who live outside the city are housed in Barca’s academy, letting the club mould their futures more fully, and making sure that the training is not interrupted by wasteful travel. On average a boy aged 14 will train for 6 hours a day and play one 90 minute match a week.
‘It was the best year of my life and I made friends for life there,’ remembers Fabregas.
Among them was a timid and tiny Argentinean boy who spent the first few days cowering in the corner, speaking to no one. His name? Leo Messi.
Clairefontaine is the word screamed from the rooftops when it comes to France, it’s their National Technical Centre. It is thought by millions to be the finest academy on the planet. The centre has a mega reputation for producing a host of talent including Anelka, Saha, Gallas and Henry. They continue to develop players such as Gabriel Obertan and Hatem Ben Arfa even after they have made a move to the Premier League. The philosophy at Clairefontaine is based on an all round game. Technique, movement, psychological and tactics are coached to all players.
Since it opened in 1988 the national team has had a catalogue of success including World Cup and European victories, and a host runs in major tournaments.
All countries have an ingrained style of their football, and this in some part comes down to culture which can have big effects on sports. This is true of the English style, strength pride and passion is a part of the game. So big centre forwards and direct play stems from our philosophy, which can lead in two directions. One, embrace it! Instead of half heartedly playing this football when chasing a game, go for it from the start. Get Big Sam in and get behind the long ball.
Or, and most people’s favourite, change coaching, build the technical centres and concentrate on technique and skill giving us more flair and the ability to beat top sides regularly. Make the new generation pass and move, develop both feet and their awareness. It’s why there is such hysteriabout young Jack Wilshire, as Arsenal have taught him that way.