July 25, 2010
Overview of a good article on youth development, plus my thoughts on Ryan Mason vs New York Red Bulls
There was an interesting article about youth development in ‘Sky Sports Magazine’ (included in yesterday’s Times).
- Huw Jennings, head of Fulham’s Academy and former Head of Development at the Premier League, has pointed out that young players in Europe tend to make their first team debuts aged between 21 and 22, when they are physically mature. In England, players debut at an average age of 18 years and four months, and are often judged critically.
- “Is there a need for much more competitive reserve team football?” asks Gordon Taylor. “You have lads on the bench who don’t get used and then when they are, they’re not match fit.”
- “I [Taylor] had a long chat with Rafa Benitez soon after Liverpool won the FA Youth Cup. We talked about why these youngsters, who were the best team in the country for their age, were not getting first team opportunities. He said that you need a manager who’s strong in his tenure because it’s almost like taking orchids out of the greenhouse – you take them out then you put them back in for a while before you bring them back out again. You can’t thrust youngsters into a first team, particularly when you’ve got top class foreign internationals. Managers have short reigns and may not risk blooding young talent.”
- As John McDermott, academy head at Spurs, said last year: “You once had to be among the best players in Britain to make it here. Now you have to be among the best in the world.”
The article also includes a list of “How many current pros started out at your team?”. Spurs are third with 50. United have 63, and Arsenal 52. It’s about quality not quantity though, I guess.
If anyone is interested in where McDermott’s quote came from, it’s here: Football academies: kicking and screaming by Sally Williams of the Telegraph. It’s over a year old, but some may find this interesting:
‘Opportunities [at the top level] are very tight,’ agrees John McDermott, the academy head at Tottenham. ‘Boys have to realise the path is not what it was 10 years ago.’ You once had to be among the best players in Britain, now you have to be among the best in the world to make it here. Three of the 23 scholars at Tottenham are European (a Swede, an Italian and a Belgian).
At age 16 the 90-minute rule goes out of the window and clubs start to bring in boys and their families from all over the world. ‘It must be hugely frustrating for kids at English clubs to be told they’re not good enough at 16 because of the number of overseas youngsters filling academies,’ commented Trevor Brooking, the Football Association’s director of football development, in a recent attack on youth football. ‘When we set up the academy system, I don’t think anyone envisaged it would be filled with anything other than Brits.’
McDermott, a former FA national coach, takes a Darwinist line. ‘My belief is that talent will get you through. Cream will rise to the top.’ But not necessarily the very top. ‘If God has given you the ability to play in the second division and you achieve that, then that is a success. (Jim White told me that non-league football, which used to be filled with butchers, bakers and lorry drivers, is now full of kids who have gone through the academy system, but haven’t quite made it.) Plus, McDermott urges, give academies a chance. They’re only 10 years old. It’s only now and over the next year or two that you will see the real worth of the system, and he has several players who are ‘very interesting’.
He is keen for me to meet one of them, Ryan Mason, 17, a Tottenham scholar who is tipped to be a potent force. I find this hard to believe because the figure who emerges is unequivocally unathletic: pale, nervous, gangly, shuffling into the meeting room at the academy HQ at Spurs Lodge, Chigwell, with none of that high-testosterone swagger of pro footballers. ‘Physically he is very underdeveloped,’ admits Allen, who remembers him being so scrawny at 12 that he couldn’t even kick the ball across the pitch. But this doesn’t matter – everyone agrees he is brilliant and scores loads of goals and in fact recently played with the first team in the Uefa Cup game against Dinamo Zagreb.
Everyone is looking to Mason as evidence that the academy system works. He joined Tottenham’s academy soon after it launched in 1998, when he was seven. His father, a BT engineer, got him playing aged six for a Sunday league team near his home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Mason says he’s thrilled to be here. It’s fun, but also very hard. ‘I’ve seen around 100 boys released,’ he says. One was a good friend. ‘We’d been close for about six years, our families too. My dad would drive us [to training] on a Monday and his dad would do Wednesday, and then he got released.’ He shrugs. ‘But that’s football isn’t it? Technically he was fine, but mentally he wasn’t there. He would go out with his mates,’ he explains in a tone that says, ‘Need I say more?’
So what has Mason got that the others haven’t? Mono vision, says McDermott, who believes talent alone will take you to the age of 16, no further. ‘He’s incredibly dedicated, verging on obsessed.’ When Mason’s not playing football, he’s thinking about it or watching it and spent last night analysing the Arsenal game on Sky – he has a TV in his bedroom. Everything in his life is football and he never loses focus. He may be 17 and have left home – he lodges with a landlady – but he looks at me as if I’m deranged when I ask if he ever goes to clubs or gigs. ‘Nah! Nothing like that! I don’t do anything [that’s not related to football]. I’m pretty boring to be honest.’ So, what will he do with his four GCSEs should it not work out? ‘I’ve not thought about that,’ he replies. ‘I’d rather not.’
And while I’m on the subject of Ryan Mason, I was encouraged by his cameo against New York Red Bulls – he only had a few touches of the ball, but he caught my eye, so I thought I’d look closely at his moments on the ball.
- Frustrating moment for him just after he’d come on – he made a clever run in behind the full-back, Taarabt just needed to slide him in for a one-on-one, but Taarabt waited too long and lost the ball – see below.
- He filled in intelligently at left back and helped defend a chance (and cleared the ball up the line – the only time he surrendered possession).
- He won the ball back in our half, before receiving it back, and keeping it well.
- He received it on half-way and kept possession (pass to Rose, before Taarabt lost it).
- He received the ball in our half, and kept possession when nothing else was on (pass to Bale).
- He intelligently intercepted in the NY half, fed Taarabt, who passed to Keane. Mason ran off Keane and could have been one-on-one, but Keane wasn’t aware of his movement, and the move eventually broke down after an over-hit Jenas pass – see below.
- He received the ball from Bale in our half, looked around, played back inside to Rose as nothing else was on.
- He received the ball from Rose deep in NY half, tried to look for a one-two with Bale (played a short angled pass, first time), but didn’t get it back.
It’s only pre-season, and he came on against tired legs, so no point making snap judgements, but his defensive awareness impressed me – that’s something that has developed on loan at Yeovil IMO.
The other thing I would say is that, although he didn’t see much of the ball, he didn’t lose it once (aside from a clearance). Interesting to compare that with Taarabt, who played (plays) a constantly (and often unnecessarily) high-risk game, and lost the ball more often than not.
I’d like to see him get more game-time this evening, perhaps starting up front with Obika, as they have an understanding.