A few years ago I came across an interesting topic on the subject of eugenics (see attached link) http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/eugenics Eugenics is a practice which involves identification of superior genes in humans and harnessing the genetic values in order to improve the human gene pool. So, what does Eugenics have to do with football you ask? Well, football in general unwittingly practises a much less extreme version of eugenics by way of selection and rejection. There is no doubting that Select level football requires a process of selection and elimination. When one selects a team, they are always on the lookout for the best players and as the saying goes the cream will rise to the top! or does it. Throughout my time in football, I have seen many talented individuals who have never realised their potential. Therefore, if we are to continue to practice any form of selection process we need to look carefully at how we are going to determine who is in and who is out. More importantly, we need to not only find a better method of identification but a better method of nurturing the talent long term.
When I turned 15 I was selected for the provisional squad in preparation for the first ever U16 world cup. Unfortunately for me, I did not get selected in the final 18-man squad. The irony of not getting selected is that of the eventual 18-man squad less than a handful went on to play in the NSL and from memory only 2 made the full Socceroo’s, they were Craig Foster and Paul Trimboli.
The question then arises why so few made it. In theory, every one of those players should have gone on to at least make an NSL team, after all, they were deemed to be the best 18 players that Australia had to offer at that age. Did the selectors get it wrong? I feel the answer to that question is that there isn’t a simple answer to that question.
I think we have to question, contemplate and somehow create a more detailed selection process. Perhaps the criteria need’s to be formulated by more than just opinion, not only should we select talent based on size, speed or even football talent. We also need to factor in: Genes, cultural background, social background, character, intelligence and even the impact of the parents (a football family), work ethic and personal circumstances. It has been proven many times over that size should not be a crucial factor. There are so many variables present that it is almost impossible to ensure that any selected player will go on to become successful. However, we can increase the odds by improving our system of development, the environment and the culture that surrounds it.
let’s look at the best-modernised development system in the world today. Spain is a modern nation unlike many of the South American countries which continuously produce abnormally large numbers of talent due mainly more to the social economic factors than actual youth development. We cannot replicate Brazil’s system or culture because quite simply we are not Brazil. Economically, culturally or philosophically. We never will be. We are however a modern rich country similar to most European countries and right now Spain is a leader in this field, the number of fully qualified coaches is mind boggling and in particular, the FC Barcelona model is by far the platform for which many aspire to replicate!
Spain has the greatest number of accredited coaches in all the big European nations. They play on small fields right up to the age of 12. The Barcelona model is about identifying players with potential then nurturing it both academically and characteristically. The players are schooled to become intelligent and down to earth (humble) Values based on principles are instilled and as the character is shaped the football development is about quality over quantity. The methodology and philosophy are created in a conducive environment that allows players to experience opportunity.
Here in Australia, they have tried time and again to create programs that identify talent and brings them together to have the best training and playing against the best. In theory, this is common sense, the problem, however, is under what criteria is a 9-13-year-old regarded as the best. In FC Bologna Italy, they do not offer contracts to minors at least until they turn 14 as it is their opinion that it is not possible to determine who is going to progress until the later formative years, more so if we don’t have the culture or education to properly create an environment conducive to improvement and best practice does this therefore not undermine the whole principle of creating these programs at what point is it a development program as opposed to just another revenue stream for the powers in charge.
These are important questions we need to ask:
How do clubs value players education in order of importance?
What educational program exists for the parents in order to ensure that they understand what the program will eventually provide for their kids?
How does an elite program ensure that they (players and parents) understand why the program exists?
What do they need to do to support their children in this journey?
What guarantee do the players have that they will not be cut from the squad after only one season?
If players are cut under what criteria does the selection process warrant a player to be cut from the program?
Isn’t it the role of the coach/club to improve the players capacity, if a proper scouting and selection process is in place wouldn’t you identify prior players that aren’t up to the level. Unfortunately, there is very little of this that happens across a broad spectrum, perhaps some of the new A-league franchises have the capacity to now set up scouting networks to identify kids, but in general it is difficult to operate any kind of decent identification system for most clubs are vastly under-resourced and undercapitalised. However, this does not preclude the responsibility of the club if the players they pick are picked because that is all that is available. What one needs to ensure is that if you pick them you teach them and give them the same opportunities, if at the end of the season the player and his parents have not made the required effort to attend training, be on time and most importantly the child must bring the right attitude to training which is partially created by the club by in general, this is of the responsibility of the parents to ensure that their children have the structure and discipline to understand that training is a place for serious fun. If this aspect of the individual is beyond the clubs ability to change then removing players from elite programs can be justified but even then under what criteria? What if the child possesses advanced qualities but has trouble concentrating do we discard these kids or do we open dialogue with parents and discuss difficult topics in order to help the child.
We need to remember that only a finite number of players make it to the top. So how do we know that all the money and time invested by parents will eventually leave children with some success? There needs to be more to elite football than becoming a pro. Barcelona understands this, this is why they place more importance on school grades and the overall development of players more so than just the footballing outcomes.
When we look at the successful youth system that clubs like Barcelona have created, would it not be ideal to attempt to formulate a youth development system based on their principles, however, let’s be realistic here. La Masia has an enormous running cost with which the cost is justified by the long-term benefits it produces and revenue it creates through the sale of players on buy out clauses. On top of that very few if any club in this country is even close to being run professionally bar the new A-league Franchises which represent just 10 clubs and limited opportunities. The question then beckons why? To get to a point where we can have clubs that are able to attempt a similar model much has to change, our system our structure, our leaders and more importantly our culture.
I'm a former professional footballer, part-time blogger, football fanatic, sporting director of Foundation Football. Father of two brilliant musicians, ideas man, inventor, a drone pilot, handy with a lightsaber and lifelong partner to my soul mate. My views and opinions are my own and you're all entitled to them.