First off, I’m not being pessimistic about this, I am being realistic. We all know that our national team is miles behind the world powerhouses in terms of youth development, structure and natural talent. The latter nobody can do anything about unless we change the genes of the population…
But seriously, Irish football is too far behind the likes of Germany, Spain and even the USA. If something isn’t done soon, we can forget about ever winning any football competition and leave the glory to rugby and boxing where we tend to be a little more successful.
Personally, I admire the Germans for the way they have rekindled their status as one of the world’s greats. This did not happen overnight. Millions and millions was invested in setting up youth academies. Take Borussia Dortmund for example; in the last couple of years they have produced players like Mats Hummels and Mario Goetze. Hummels was released by Bayern Munich while Goetze was brought up through the youth ranks. From the age of about 12, Goetze would have lived full time at Borussia’s academy complex, learning to become the complete footballer. Compare that to a talented Irish 12 year old. He would play away with a Sunday league side while also playing with a county “development” squad. At the age of 16 he would go to England, away from his family and probably fall by the wayside. This is no way to improve technique or physical ability. How many Irish players have played for Real Madrid or Barcelona? None, because they are not technically good enough.
A change in attitude is also needed in this country. I was at an Ireland versus Spain U21 match two years ago. During the warm up, in the players own time at the end, the Irish lads were “belting” the ball at the goal while the Spanish players were passing in a small circle. What was the result? I think you can guess.
So what is the solution you might ask? Well, we can’t do anything about natural talent. But we can nurture and develop the talent we do have. Centres of Excellence must be opened in all counties, and not just the Emerging Talent Programmes where players train once a week. Players must live, eat, breath and sleep football. Coaches must be educated to a higher level. I admire anyone who volunteers to manage a Sunday league team but once you move up a level, the coaches must be more in tune with the “modern” way in which football is played. Not some old fool turning up with a woolly hat and jacket thinking he’s the business because he took his Kickstart 2 coaching course 40 years ago! It’s an atrocious situation for any young player to find themselves in.
Ireland needs to take a more positive and modern approach to football. Players should be allowed to wear flashy boots if they want, and not be condemned to a life of “Copa Mundials”. As my manager used to say, “look professional, feel professional, play professional” and that’s true. More artificial pitches need to be built with adjoining gyms. Players need to learn about proper diet and how to prolong the length of their careers.
To sum up, Ireland will never win a thing if time and money is not invested within our football. We need to look at the systems of Germany, Spain and the USA to learn how to properly train players. Of course, I don’t think this will happen considering the current economic climate that we’re in, but one can hope.
Anyway, look forward to Euro 2012, and look forward to seeing Ireland versus Spain. Xavi and Iniesta have no chance against, er, Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews…