The reaction Spain received at this summer’s Euros from English football fans (predominantly) was enough to say it all about the way football is viewed in this country. Some might want to take offence to it, and that’s fine, but why should Spain have to apologise for excelling at the technical aspect of the game? Their performances and ability far outweigh anything England has been able to produce, and yet English football seemed to be the standard that the Spanish were failing to live up to.
Worryingly, this view isn’t just concentrated to a select few who prefer a more direct approach to the game—again, something which is fine. But the view of football in this country has and may continue to severely hamper the wider football education of young people.
At some point it has to reach a bigger audience that pace and power and lumping the ball up to the big man is a horrible way to educate youths on the game. It encourages people to disregard any real technical ability and composure, and discourages smaller kids from pursuing the game.
The changes the FA proposed earlier in the year was hugely refreshing to see. Instead of the regular 11 a-side games dominating football from all ages, the changes will see younger players in the correct environment of smaller pitches and teams and a great emphasis on seeing more of the ball. A good start and something which should pave the way for a much improved level of ability over the next few decades.
But is it enough? The Premier League should also consider launching a league that sees youth players in much more competitive environments, rather than lending each club the choice of whether to compete in a reserve league or not. While it is important for younger players to be educated in a manner which flies in the face of the win at all costs approach, they also need to be made aware of competitive matches that aids them in their development toward top-flight football.
Spain operate in an interesting way, whereby clubs have their youth teams playing in the lower divisions and in weekly competitive matches. It forces the issue of players working to the ideals of the first-team and eases the transition from one level to the next. However, that proposal may not be as easy to introduce into English football, but it’s worth looking at the positives it brings.
With the Premier League launching an academy league that mirrors the top-flight of football, it will also give less importance to clubs loaning out their younger players for competitive action. For example, Tottenham’s reserve team last year were playing games that certainly didn’t compare to the type of football youths at that age should be exposed to. Yes it’s good to receive match time, but where’s the significant level of competition that allows the players to progress.
The Next Gen series was hugely successful this past season, opening up the door to genuine interest into youth football. The participation of a number Europe’s biggest clubs next season will also be a great bonus for the competition and, of course, the competitive nature that youth players need. There was certainly a feel of a European competition to the tournament, and the interest does appear to be growing. However, it would be a good move to see domestic leagues build on that and force the issue of needing to reignite youth football closer to home.
Youth football in this country is undoubtedly flat, and with the Olympics approaching, Team GB (horrible name, by the way) do not create the same type of buzz and excitement that you’d find from other nations. If the younger players in this country are truly found out, it really does just give another incentive for youth football to be taken a little more seriously.
America is currently, and has been, thriving off minor or youth leagues across a number of sports. The NCAA is fantastic, whereby college students compete nationwide for trophies and personal accolades. Of course, there is also a great deal of emphasis on being drafted into the major leagues, but college basketball and football do have an extremely large and loyal following. The facilities are outstanding, as is the coaching. It would be great to see youth football in England take off in a similar way in the future.