Academy changes good for United and England



The Premier League’s decision to ratify sweeping changes to how academies are run bodes well both for Manchester United and the production of talent in England. The so-called Elite Development Plan will make two principal changes to academy rules, enabling boys between 10 and 18 years-of-age to be coached for up to 10,000 hours, and scraping the antiquated ’90 minute rule’ altogether. Additional changes to how young players play and train are expected as English football attempts to bridge the gap between talent development here and elsewhere.

Indeed, these are changes that Sir Alex Ferguson has called for not only this season but over the past decade as the Premier League academy system has failed to produce a talent pool that could take the England national team to a tournament win.

Closer to home, United’s failure to produce local talent in the raw numbers or quality of the early 1990s has prompted something of a rethink, leading the club to search ever farther overseas.

The Elite Development Plan changes, which come into force for the 2012/13 season, replace outmoded current thinking that restricts coaching to just 2,000 hours over the 10-18 age-group, and 3,760 hours to 21. Proponents of the much-discussed ’10,000 hours rule’ – a thesis that states elite sportsmen are born of at least 10,000 hours of focused practice – have long derided the English system.

It has taken a long time but England’s failure at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Barcelona’s growth to European domination over the past three years prompted a review of youth coaching. Barcelona’s youngsters resident at La Masia, for example, can expect to receive at least 8,000 hours coaching before they turn 18; it is a system born of Johan Cruyff’s remodelling of Barça’s approach in the early 1990s.

“We’ve got an opportunity now where, once, there might have been some resistance to change,” argues Gareth Southgate, the FA’s head of elite development.

“What the World Cup did, and the success Barça have had, is give a greater awareness of what is going on in Europe. There is a desire for change. We’ve had Paul Scholes come through who technically would have been able to play in that Barça team because his quality of touch, pass appreciation, ability to play one-touch and manipulate the ball was up there with them. But would we have produced lots of players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi? I suspect not.”

Meanwhile, the much-hated 90 minute rule will disappear, enabling clubs to recruit academy players from anywhere in England. Presently clubs, including United, are allowed only to sign youngsters if they are within a 90 minute drive from the home ground; 60 minutes for under-14s.

The rule, designed to protect smaller clubs from larger predators, has failed on two principal counts. First, it has encouraged the growing recruitment of players from overseas. Second, talented youngsters from the regions risk falling through the gaps at poorly funded low-ranked clubs.

The FA and Premier League are yet to publish a formula for compensation, ensuring that the country’s smaller clubs receive adequate indemnity for the investment placed in youth development but it will surely come. While few England internationals begin life at clubs below the Premier League the transfer system remains an important source of funding for the football pyramid.

Further changes sponsored by Southgate will change how youngsters play, with the former Middlesborough manager keen to eliminate mandated full-pitch 11-a-side games for under-13s that promote physicality over technique.

For United the changes will enable a well-funded academy with some of the finest facilities of any club, anywhere, to maximise the pool of talent available to Ferguson and his successors.

No longer will Ferguson need to complain that “we are only allowed to coach for an hour and a half [each week]. Barcelona can coach every hour of the day if they want and that’s the great advantage they have got. You can see their philosophy through that.”

“It’s a fantastic philosophy and we hope that, in years to come, we have more time with young players, to teach them the basics, the technical ability and to have the confidence to take the ball all the time. We’re good at that, but we’re not as good as Barcelona at this moment in time.”

While scraping the 90-minute rule is unlikely to distract United from a much more globalised outlook to youth development than in the 1990s, it will enable the Reds to scour the country for the best talent.

However, neither change will allow United to immediately bridge to gap to La Masia, which has produced in Andreas Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi the three finest players on the planet, according to last year’s FIFA poll.

Indeed, substantive changes in the talent pool either at United or England more widely will not take place for more than a decade. England under-21s insipid performances at this summer’s European Championships suggests the national team is unlikely to turn a corner any time soon.

Meanwhile, United will continue to assign scouts to every part of the globe.

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Comments

  1. I think that alot of this comes from the lack of respect for quality coaching and hours spent on the fundamentals. We need to get away from the picking the powerhouse players and going for those of good technical ability.

  2. Timley announcement… with the U21s being knocked out
    Maybe in 5-10 years time we’ll see England passing the ball

  3. Gabagool says:

    Agree with Bill. My nephew is a very handy little player and at age 11 was scouted by united and asked along for trials. first question they asked my old man, who was with him at the game, was how tall is his dad? Soon as they found out he was only 5’10 they cooled their interest, and that to me is terrible.
    How tall are messi, iniesta, xavi, scholes? It’s this attitude that stifles young talent and gives England a future of tall, technically shit players.

  4. Yep a prehistoric attitude to footballing ability.
    Xavi, Modric, Scholes, Maradona, Sneijder & Messi. Who’s the tallest?
    Scholes at 5 ft 7 1/2.
    Those players run games on their own! Shaqiri, Rooney, Wilshere and Eriksen all no taller than 5 ft 9.
    Those stats just knock you over.

  5. united arent height orientated at all. If anyone has followed the youth team you will no this because players like lingard and cole have excelled despite being small and nimble and struggling physically at first. Next years group is even smaller and more technical. The current academy teams are as technically good as you will see anywhere in europe and easily the best in this country (though arsenal and liverpool are also now doing well). I dont think we will truly see the fruits of this with england tho until the coaches and mentality changes. Maybe we will see improvements in players at u21 in 2 or 3 years time. With united, although we have been slower to cotton on than our European neighbors, we have made strides a few years ago to alter our academy mindset from an early age. Fergie will no best and with players like morrison pogba etc, the future is bright for united.

  6. England’s problems were summarised pretty well when Pearce claimed the reason the U21s were so poor was because they lacked ‘doggedness’. Typical. Then he was given a new contract!

  7. Too little too late. A whole generation has been lost…stupid archaic FA!

  8. Commenter said:
    England’s problems were summarised pretty well when Pearce claimed the reason the U21s were so poor was because they lacked ‘doggedness’. Typical. Then he was given a new contract!

    Pearce “I put Welbeck on, but I decided he wasn’t running around so I substituted him back off.”

  9. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    not all this technique bollocks again, that’s a class group of under 21s we’ve got, the problem was defenders in midfield, midfielders on the wing, creative players on the bench, identical strikers up front and our best players watching at home cause the fa bottled it

  10. There’s two parts to this. There is a lack of appreciation of good coaching by the FA, players and the public in general. If we produced good coaches then they would coach better technique, read players best positions and place them there early to learn their trade. How many youth players have been ruined by playing them in their wrong positions. Half the time its “to do a job” in the name of victory at a level where it really doesn’t matter that much.

  11. uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    not all this technique bollocks again, that’s a class group of under 21s we’ve got, the problem was defenders in midfield, midfielders on the wing, creative players on the bench, identical strikers up front and our best players watching at home cause the fa bottled it

    Aye, it’s not all about technique. We have skillful players.

    It’s about how we approach football and how we play the game. We don’t pass the ball. There is no emphasis on passing ball. Instead there’s this bullshit myth that if we play Premier League football, we can beat anyone. And it’s total bollocks.

    We need a monumental shift in approach, something akin to United away in Europe. Get clever and savvy, and start playing.

  12. A great article if not a bit old on the German method, which is the best way forward I believe.

    Inventing The New Germany: Youth Development and the Bundesliga
    Posted by Tom Dunmore on Sunday, July 4th, 2010 at 7:32 pm in Diary | 5

    One should be wary of generalising too much from a sample of five games, but Germany’s tremendously successful World Cup so far and the quality of its young players, with its youngest-ever team at the tournament averaging out at 24.7 years-old, has sparked plenty of understandable interest in its youth development system.

    That system seems to be the product of far-sighted planning based on disappointment with the quality of players the country was producing at the turn of the millennium, coupled with the priorities of the elite professional structure reflecting a recognition of the benefit of development for the national team along with a strong economic incentive to prioritise young domestic talent.

    We can draw these conclusions from two articles in the past few days, by Jamie Jackson today in the Observer and by long-time translator of the German game for an English-language audience, Raphael Honigstein at Sports Illustrated.

    Between them, we get a picture of German soccer at a crossroads in the late 1990s. The World Cup winning team of 1990 and the fruits of reunification produced surprisingly diminishing returns as the decade wore on: disappointment at USA ‘94 was followed by success at Euro’96 in England and a quarter-final exit at the ‘98 World Cup. A very rare group stage exit at the 2000 European Championships was the final spark for a rethink on the structure of youth development, as the proportion of foreigners had risen massively in the Bundesliga during the 1990s, Honigstein tells us:

    Below the radar. . .something strange and disconcerting was happening: Germany was running out of decent players. The influx from GDR-trained professionals that was supposed to make “Germany unbeatable for years to come” (according to Franz Beckenbauer after winning the World Cup in 1990) had dried up along with the funding for the specialized sports schools where they had been drilled from a very young age. In the Bundesliga, newly rich clubs awash with TV money had gone on a spending spree, doubling the number of foreigners from 17 percent (1992) to 34 percent (1997) in five years.

    Desperate for strikers in particular, national manager Vogts ensured that South-African born Sean Dundee, a Karlsruher FC player without any German background, was fast-tracked for German citizenship. Dundee received his passport in January 1997 but never played for Germany after picking up an injury before his first scheduled game, a friendly against Israel, and losing his form soon after.

    Vogts’ successor, Erich Ribbeck, equally desperate, approached another Bundesliga import, Brazilian forward Paulo Rink (Leverkusen). Rink, it turned out, had German grandparents and was quickly introduced to the national team. He picked up 13 caps from 1998 to 2000.

    The cases of Rink and Dundee, both unprecedented in German football since the war, demonstrated that something was very wrong. The disappointing quarterfinal exit against Croatia at the 1998 World Cup then made it plain to see: not enough talent was coming through. In the Bundesliga, the percentage of foreigners had risen again, to 50 percent by the time the season kicked off in 2000.

    At this point, Honigstein explains, a new structure in Germany’s youth development system was implemented, with 121 national talent centers built for 10-17 year-olds, emphasising technical skills, with full-time coaches at a cost of $15.6 million over five years. Meanwhile, all professional clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 were required to build youth academies by the German Football Association.

    Jackson explains the consequences, quoting Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga’s CEO:

    Seifert said that the national team’s stark improvement was a direct result of the overhaul of Germany’s academy system, with all 36 clubs in the two Bundesliga divisions now obliged to operate centrally regulated academies before being given a licence to play in the league. Of the 23-man national squad now in South Africa, 19 came from Bundesliga academies, with the other four from Bundesliga 2 academies.

    The most significant change, said Seifert, was insisting that in these new academies at least 12 players in each intake have to be eligible to play for Germany.

    “That was the key difference,” he said. “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.

    “In 2003-4 we had 44% from foreign countries,” Seifert said. “Right now it is only 38%. So 62% are able to play for the national team.” In England it is the other way around, with an approximate 60/40 split of foreigners and nationals.

    Interestingly, one key cornerstone of German professional soccer and one key economic development provided the underpinnings for this system to be successfully implemented.

    Firstly, as Honigstein puts it, economic necessity forced a focus on cheaper domestic talent:

    The Kirch TV conglomerate that had bankrolled the Bundesliga boom since the early ’90s collapsed in 2002, leaving the clubs in severe financial difficulties. Faced with huge, unsustainable wage bills, they found that the easiest way to cope was to release all the well-paid but fairly mediocre foreigners on their books and replace them with young, much cheaper recruits from their own youth teams.

    Secondly, unlike in England, a unified approach and the requirement that clubs are majority owned by local supporters made it easier to put in place a focus on domestic youth development, according to Jackson:

    “In 2003-4 we had 44% from foreign countries,” Seifert said. “Right now it is only 38%. So 62% are able to play for the national team.” In England it is the other way around, with an approximate 60/40 split of foreigners and nationals.

    Seifert emphasised that essential to the system’s smooth operation was the unity between clubs and the German FA, achieved in part through the stipulation that no single entity can own more than 49% of a Bundesliga club.

    “This way you don’t have a foreign owner who doesn’t really care for the national teams,” said Seifert. “The clubs have a very strong relationship with the FA: we are all engaged in discussions [about youth development].”

    That is in stark contrast to England, where infighting between the FA, the Premier League and the Football League resulted in the Professional Game Youth Development Group being disbanded last year after just a year of operation. Since then, no single body has been in control of youth development in England. Instead, the power has rested with Premier League clubs.

    Germany’s system emphasises development in elite centres from a slightly older age, and focuses on small-sided skills at younger ages. Via Honigstein: “We start with the U-9s. They play four-a-side, on small pitches, to encourage individual skills,” said Thomas Albeck, head of youth development at Stuttgart. “We then add players every year, only the U-13s are playing with full teams.”

    There are many lessons here to consider for countries around the world struggling with trying to work out the best way to develop young domestic talent.

  13. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    sidney said:
    Aye, it’s not all about technique. We have skillful players.

    It’s about how we approach football and how we play the game. We don’t pass the ball. There is no emphasis on passing ball. Instead there’s this bullshit myth that if we play Premier League football, we can beat anyone. And it’s total bollocks.

    We need a monumental shift in approach, something akin to United away in Europe. Get clever and savvy, and start playing.

    germany play like us and theyre successful in every tournament, we should except what we are, fucking do it and stop worrying about trying to be fancy dans

  14. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    oh and theres an article about germany, which im not reading but clearly backs up my point

  15. uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    germany play like us and theyre successful in every tournament, we should except what we are, fucking do it and stop worrying about trying to be fancy dans

    They pass the ball though. They tore us a new one from back to front with crisp, sharp, one touch passes, and lots of movement.

    This talk of high-tempo Premier League football never materialises. They start well, then after 5 or 10 minutes the tempo drops and the opposition kick on.

    In the last tournament and in subsequent games it’s as though we don’t have a style or an approach; it’s just 11 players on the pitch trying to break down their defence.

    Actually, recently, it’s been worse. The Swiss dominated the ball and the centre circle, and we couldn’t get near them.

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