Manchester United’s recent Champions League final loss to Barcelona highlighted the gap in technical quality of both nations. Barcelona literally ‘passed’ Manchester United off the field, with the Catalan side dominating with 63 per cent possession. Manchester United completed 301 passes; the Barcelona trio of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta completed the number between themselves. Even Sir Alex Ferguson and his players acknowledged the passing and movement of Barcelona belonged to a completely different level of the game.
Barcelona’s treatment of the ball was nothing short of mesmerising, passes were completed effortlessly and dribbling was a delight to behold. For any youngster being schooled in the game, Barcelona are the team in which to study how the beautiful game should be played.
If other football nations are to compete with Spain’s stranglehold over the game, then there must be reform. Germany has seen a boom in young talented players coming to the forefront recently, have embraced changes both at club and national level. In England, a debate rages about whether or not there are enough talented young players developing and maturing to become top class professionals.
Investments in youth academies, with reforms in how they are run, and how they are financed must be undertaken. Football academies need to be attached to top flight football clubs, with lower division clubs being attached to teams in the higher echelons. This will provide a natural pathway for players to progress, and enable clubs to groom young players for the first team. While many clubs already have this kind of setup installed, the structure and running of the programs needs to be reformed. These clubs are simply not producing players as they should be; coaches are only allowed a limited amount of time with young players.
“People have to understand the mechanics of the industry we are working in… we are only allowed to coach youngsters for an hour and a half, they [Barcelona] can coach every hour of the day if they want to”, Ferguson recently stated.
English coaches need to spend more time focusing on developing players at an early age. English Football Association and Premier League rules stipulate that coaches cannot spend more than 90 minutes with players under the age of 16 per day. Clubs elsewhere in Europe, like Barcelona, have schools, boarding houses, round the clock assistance and full time training regimes for players, allowing a maximum amount of training during the crucial years of development.
While some may argue that a heavy training workload is dangerous for young people, clubs like Barcelona have provided medical, educational and domestic assistance to the players, as well as their families. The most noted case of such being Lionel Messi’s growth hormone deficiency at a very young age, in which Barcelona paid for his medical bills, as well as settling his family in Spain.
English clubs need to spend more time with youth, as well as a change in football philosophy. The British game needs to come into line with mainland European football mentality – the possession game. If a team has the ball, it is impossible for the opposition team to score a goal, only when you lose the ball, is it a threat to concede. This theory is common in both Spanish football, as well as the Dutch style of “total football.” An argument that clearly weigh’s on Alex Ferguson’s mind,
“That’s the great advantage they have got. It is a fantastic philosophy,” he said.
“We hope that in years to come our coaches will be able to spend more time with young kids, to teach them the basics, the technical abilities and the confidence to keep the ball all the time… we are good at it, but not as good as Barcelona, at this moment in time… it is a wonderful challenge and we should always accept a challenge.”
Football fans love to see home grown clubs producing young players with the potential to break into the first team. Not only is it good for the competition of places, but it is exciting for fans, as well as being a statement of pride. Teams such as the famed Manchester United ‘Class of 92′ which emerged from the Old Trafford youth system which produced the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt are testament to this ethos. These teams have great a great history not only because they win titles, but because they, ultimately produce great British players.
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