Establishing a youth culture part 2: Why the premierleague should be bringing the youth talent to the scouts.

Believe it or not, this is the room in which the annual lower league scout convention is held...honest.

Fun fact: When Swansea won league 1 in 2008, before rocketing up the championship the next year (and now looking to be promoted) They were employing three scouts. and two of those scouts were utilized to monitor upcoming opponents. So basically, the top club in league one that season which emphasises the importance of its scouts uses one paltry scout to find it’s talent.

I’m following on from this article posted a while back, about the need to utilize the lower leagues, and this article is arguably more important. So, back to Swansea. If they have one scout who will be largely looking for the talent to improve the club on a long term basis, travelling all over europe to find the unpolished gems, then how often are they going to see reserve players from the top clubs?
And the obvious answer is very little at all. So in general if a scout is going to go see a teams reserves it’s based very much on reputation, as this blog attests. Which isn’t really very good is it?

I mean it’s great for United, who seem to have the monopoly on loaning players around the premier league lately, and Arsenal who seem to have zillions of players on loan everywhere. Not so great for the other teams, who may well have talented players in their midsts but no-one interested in loaning them because noones ever heard of you if you are a youth player outside of the reputed god academies that are Man U and Arsenal. For example, this season we have loaned out darby, ince, palsson and eccleston of our youth players. Four players, and not one of them has a loan in a higher league then league one.

Now perhaps those are the levels of those players, but arguably, players like for example, Liverpool’s Steven Darby should’ve had loan moves long before they actually got them (Darby’s was the second half of last year, at Swindon, incidentally) and Liverpool have alot of other players who are decent without a doubt, but need some game time to really test their nerves. But we can’t, because there just aren’t enough lower league scouts to allocate the time to watch these talented youngsters.

So how to get these youngsters in the shop window? How to get the likes of David Amoo (again Liverpool) the games he desperately needs to kick on? Easy. Bring the shop window to the scouts, door to door salesman style.

That is to say, a winter or summer tournament for the premier league clubs to take their reserves to in order to show their mettle. Something that was held in London where it’s numerous top stadiums could be put to use, and in close locale, so that any scouts that wanted to watch alot of talented reserves could do, quite easily.

Hell, we know this works. The obvious example being the world cup, there is also the South American under 20 championship to consider. A few notable quotes here:

‘A team-mate of Tevez back in 2003 was Javier Mascherano. At the time he had not played a senior game for River Plate. But he was so impressive in the under-20s that he was fast-tracked. A few months later he played for the full Argentina side – still without having made his River Plate debut.’

‘Another Argentine midfielder, Ever Banega, used the 2007 tournament to give his career an astonishing kick-start. Barely known even to Boca Juniors fans at the start of the competition, by the end he had forced his club coach to find a place for him in the starting line-up, and was just a few months away from winning the Copa Libertadores, being capped at senior level and a big money transfer to Spain.’

It can work, and does in other countries. Where Banega rises to stardom, someone like Steven Irwin (Guess which club he’s at?) is fading away, not getting the chance to showcase himself. Of course, the difference in talent is a debate for another time, but there are plenty of talented players out there, who if given the platform can show what they are truely made of.

It is doable. While it would definately be hard in the winter to find the space amid the christmas fixture congestion. But the benefits for the English game and the talented youngsters that are without a doubt there, would be huge. Not to mention the money that the lower league clubs could save on loaning youngsters they like the look of.

Of course, it is bound to be more complicated then that. However, what is certain is that the premier league clubs need to do more to expose their youth talent to the lower leagues. At the moment it’s all to easy to be a talented player and just never have the oppurtunity – it’s easy for us to say they need to desire to succeed, but at the moment the majority of young talent isn’t even getting the chance to show their desire to succeed. At least, not early enough.

And certainly, a tournament or showcase of these younger players would be a good start.

Establishing a youth culture part 1: Why the lower leagues are key to an English future.

Irwin: So good Liverpool stopped him going out on loan so he could...not get games for Liverpol instead.

When Gerrard was left out of the players that were called to England’s under 16 academy, he was consoled by Steve Heighway, head of Liverpool’s at the time blossoming academy. He said that Gerrard was much better off with Liverpool’s coaches. Considering Gerrard’s career since, you would say that he had a fair point. Back then, anyway. Back then things were different – 11 years later and much more is at stake.

Fast forward to 2007 and the following alleged events took place: Stevie Irwin requests a loan move in order to get more football. Rafa Benitez refuses, saying he wants to keep the youngster under Liverpools better coaching. And today, this article wonders wheather that was the right descision, and further, wheather youngsters should really be kept for so long in a clubs clutches before seeking first team action. (Added note: As of today, Steven Irwin is rumoured to be training at Aberdeen for a week or going to the MLS. As of today, he has had brief appearances in pre season friendlies, and that’s about it.)

There are notable problems with keeping a youngster in the confines of a top team, regardless of his talent. Firstly, without match experience a manager is going to be less willing to try a youngster. Stuck in the back of his mind will always be the doubt that said youngster can cope with the rough and tumble of the premier league, wheather he outplays senior opposition in training or not. Reserve games, while generally competitive, is not a physical league – it will not offer the same challenges that any of the top three or even four english leagues can offer, and that is the essential difference – the reserve league with the top teams best talent in still is a shadow of the pace and physical battle that is an English league.

Secondly, a player is in a safe environment in one of these top clubs – that is, an environment in which he is familiar and used to. Then if he is given a premier league debut they are instantly forced into this high pressure game in which every point matters toward your season aims. And this again, is in a managers concerns. A youngster may adapt to the pressure. He may not, but as we all know these risks are not the type that a premier league manager wants to take.

The crux, and general conclusion of keeping youngsters at home is that they stay young. They stay soft and untested untill they are released without exposure, without hope of finding a club because they have no real, vital experience. And they will be dismissed as not being good enough because they never got the experienced – young lions released into the wild unable to hunt. Old fashioned ideas of nurturing youth within the club have to change. They have to grow up quicker – coaches have to have some idea of what the youngsters will do in the vastly different conditions of the English leagues compared to reserve level.

For this the players have to be exposed to these conditions at a younger age, to sink or swim as fit. If it were me, I would seek to link with as many clubs in these lower divisions as possible. It wouldn’t matter if our club was paying the entireity of the youngsters wages to save the smaller club money – he is getting experience in a whole different way – in a way that would give them the steel and competitiveness to try for the first team.

The loans would have to be structured in such a way that the players technical ability doesn’t suffer. So the player spends the first half of the season with his premier league club, in order to refine his skills and ability in the reserve league and with the top class coachin staff. Then in January these players go off to clubs who want to bolster their squad, who need quality to stave off relegation. You either put play games clauses in for those who have the talent but not the experience of the physical strength. Or you don’t put them in for those who need the experience, a shot of determination from simply fighting to get into a first team.

To get to the point, in order to make the best out of their youth talent Premier League clubs must look to simply give players experience of the likes of league one and two at an early age. Looking to the increasingly able championship to farm these players off to will ultimately end in failure for all but the best – a school system where a youth player seeks to get loans to ever higher clubs, progressing from leagueone to championship to premier league, possibly from the age of 18 to 21 when they can sink or swim, find their level or become a club player for the club they love, possibly a legend. Both better then talented players stagnating at clubs which can’t, must in their managers eyes risk them.

The loan move should become dominant among the top clubs in order to give their talented players the tools to compete at the top level. I do not believe that we as a country are lacking in talented players – I believe we lose them through neglect of the experience they need quickly in order to build on their potential. For this, the premier league needs to connect more with it’s lower leagues, possibly make a brief tournament for players the premier league want to loan which the smaller clubs can easily scout.

I think I’m done. I believe we as a country do have talent – you hear constantly about young players who are made out to be the next big thing only to disappear. The premier league should do more at a younger age to ensure that this doesn’t happen to their youngsters. And lets be honest – with all the money the league gets, it’s perfectly capable.

Why Ali Dia is a massive legend.

Note:  Today I decided to upload my articles from the official Liverpool forums, and I’ve done a fair few to bulk up the blog a bit. So, here we go.

Look at him. Just look at Ali Dia. Isn't he just fantastic.

Fun fact: Ali Dia wasn’t a very good footballer. At least not by the standards of your Ronaldo’s or Messi’s. Nothing to be ashamed of – very, very few of us will be blessed with the talent of the players fans staple as flops, let alone be as good as the greatest players in the world. Apparently in the premier league for example, 67 English players played in the premier league on a weekend in December 2007. Our male population measures up as around 28 million males (apparently), which doesn’t stack up very well for you aspiring superstar footballers out there. Especially those of you who don’t actually play football. In fact, one in every 417,910 English males will be good enough to play in the premier league, accordig to my calculator. (Some might be lucky enough to play in the premiership and not be good enough, but that’s a big can of worms.) So yeah, good luck.

Of course taking into account world population those odds grow even smaller. Billions upon billions of passionate, die hard football fans who will never ever, ever, ever, get a sniff of playing for a league two club, a league one club, let alone a premier league club, let alone their favorite club which plays in that league. We just don’t get that honour, that privelige, for all we care and love. That privelidge belongs to celebrities playing charity matches, not to us common folk.

Enter Ali Dia.

Ali Dia was a professional footballer for Senegal, but don’t let that fool you. His record in his entire career at professional clubs was 2 goals in 17 appearances for 6 recorded clubs in 9 years. As a striker, which isn’t quite Torres-esque even in Torres’ current form. And in 1996 he was 31 years old. His spluttering career winding down. The poor guy, stuck miles away from the glitter sprinkled stage of the premier league, wandering conference leagues as a journeyman.

What follows is the greatest prank/fluke in English professional footballing history, if not the world.

It isn’t even a particularly well concieved plan, all things told. Ali Dia enlists the help of a fellow university student to call around premier league clubs claming that he was George Weah, and that Ali Dia was his very talented cousin. He rung around premier league clubs, trying to promote Dia’s services.

Of course this is ridiculous. This is an utterly ridiculous plan which if done a hundred more times would never, ever succeed in getting a player like Ali Dia a trial at a premier league club. It would be utter madness for clubs that employ handsomely paid scouts the scour the world for talent to just give any old player a trial without knowing anything about the player or not even having heard of said player. Utterly ridiculous.

Except for Graham Souness, who proceeded to sign Ali Dia up on a month contract. Giving little Ali Dia, in the twilight of his career, the chance to train with the likes of Matt Le Tissier for at least a few days. What fan wouldn’t jump at that chance?

Of course that’s where this story ends. He was found out in training, exposed for being the below grade that he was, and dumped quicker then diahorrea. Game Over for his career, back to mediocrity with the rest of us. Not.

Souness was obviously stuck on the idea that he had acquired a striker with George Weah’s awesome power, and that Ali Dia just needed a little time to adjust. Ali Dia was set to star in a reserve game, and it was there he was found out. Or then again, not found out. The reserve game was cancelled, due to a waterlogged pitch. If this was a sign of god using his awesome power to just screw with Souness, then he was just getting started. Souness, having barely seen Dia play, remained set in his belief that he may just have picked up a great player for nothing, and the fates seemed to be conspiring to lead this view on, lead Souness on, to probably Souness’ most bewildering day. 23rd of November, 1996. Southampton take on Leeds, and Dia gets a place on the bench.

Of the somewhat thin evidence that God is a Liverpool fan and was waging furious vengeance on Souness for Liverpool’s fall from grace, this day must rank up there as one of the bigger pieces. Matthew Le Tissier injured, substituted off on 32 minutes, and Souness, inexplicably deluded, sent on Ali Dia.

What probably ranks among Souness’ worst minutes as a manager, was probably Ali Dia’s greatest 22 minutes of his life. He was rubbish. He missed an open goal, along with another fairly decent chance. He wandered all over the place. He couldn’t control the ball. He was substituted after 53 minutes. In the words of Le Tissier,‘His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn’t really have a position. He was just wondering everywhere. I don’t think he realised what position he was supposed to be in. I don’t even know if he spoke English – I don’t think I ever said a word to him. In the end he got himself subbed because he was that bad.’

Most fans probably think this a bad thing. The most notorious player ever according to most in fact. Number 1 in several bad transfer lists. But I tell you now that Ali Dia is a legend. Most of us untalented footballers will never play for a premier league side, or even get close. Ali Dia managed it, with a massive amount of luck, but with balls and with persistence, and with the help of a friend who goes sadly unremembered. Ali Dia is the fan in the crowd supporting his beloved team who is suddenly called up to by his manager to get laced up, to take the field and play. And Ali Dia nearly scored. Twice.

Dreams are made of what Ali Dia built.

He disappeared into conference mediocrity immediatly after the game, to never be heard of again. But he can tell his kids that he played for a top, top side. He can pretend that he was that good. Hell, he could tell them the truth, and say he pulled the greatest hoax in history, and it would still be amazing. He was the worlds best streaker – he smashed every other mad fan running in every direction across the pitch by a mile. 23 minutes of running headless in every direction and the security guards never caught him.

So this is my dedication to Ali Dia, because one day there will be moves about him, possibly even a trilogy. And a paraphrasal of Mel Gibson/William Wallace shall be in there. Like this:

‘…dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here, and play twenty three minutes for Southampton as a striker!’

Yes, Ali Dia is that awesome. He is the football fan who fulfilled his dreams against all the odds, and in spite of everything you may have read, can hold his head high indeed.

Not so pretty for Roberto Martinez

Martinez: Taking Wigan to better places - or ignoring the cracks in his sinking ship?

Sitting just inside the relegation zone is in itself a sign that things aren’t quite going to plan, but it’s not even a position they entirely deserve – Wolves, as I argued in the last blog entry, should be higher then they are. The good news is that although Wigan lost to the positively terrible West Ham last night they still deserve and are above them, just. The fact that with a win they could hop to fourteenth however, is a very shady piece of good news for Wigan, a little like when a global warming scientist says not to worry, everythings not gone to shit just yet. Wigan can still recover – but they would do well to click into gear. And with games at home to  Stoke, away to Everton and home to Aston Villa to conclude the half way point, things could get much worse, melting glacier style.

Martinez came with a great deal of promise. He was playing excellent football with Swansea, taking the newly promoted team to within inches of a playoff place, before Wigan came calling as Sunderland poached Steve Bruce from the Lactics before he had been there much time at all. And again, as I tend to I thought Wigan would play some lovely stuff and shoot up the table. Alas, you have to look at Wigan’s progress over the past few years and wonder if he is overcomplicating a little. While the likes of Blackpool, Bolton and West Brom are looking secure (as you get in this topsy turvy season) Wigan have looked inconsistent, struggling against anyone, dominating against anyone, which tells you in a way that Martinez hasn’t got to grips with the premier league, and his vision isn’t quite there.

Of course the young players sprinkled through what is essentially a team without massive strength elsewhere is always going to cause trouble. Di Santo up front, Moses, Cleverly, Mccarthy and McArthur, all players who feature on a regular basis who you could easily describe as raw materials, who will have to mature fast over the coming months or sink with Wigan. And the combination of trying to play nice football and include alot of young players has without a doubt affected Wigans progress, if not sent it in reverse. And worse, their star player could well be gone in the next transfer window, which would be a devastating blow to Wigans hoeps of survivial.

In general however, the long term plan is a good one. Good football with good young players is bound to take you places, eventually. But there is such a thing as looking too long term – letting it affect your ability to win games (and perhaps trophies, Arsenal) And Wigan are taking a big gamble for their future.

That said you can’t help but think Martinez didn’t choose a great project for his move to the premier league. Football in Wigan is in most cases going to be second favorite to rugby and the Wigan Warriors, a fact of life which is always going to stunt Wigan’s ambitions. And perhaps that can be changed. But it would take a herculean effort from the club to make good football thats as attractive as seeing one of the top rugby sides in the country play. And if it were to be done, it would take a long time.

Perhaps Martinez will in the coming months wonder if achieving something great for Wigan Athletic is too hard. That said, his long term plans could yet come to fruition – and Martinez is not going to want to leave the club he played for for six years with a whimper.

 

Is the writing on the wall for cursed Wolves?

Mccarthy's bemused face...honest.

I know Luke Varney is undergoing something of a revolution under Holloways management, but when a player who wasn’t exactly prolific in the championship cuts in from the flank and volleys a 25 yard screamer in over your keepers head, you know that it just might not be your day.

If  you then go on to have the better of that half (Holloway’s words) only to end it 2-0 down, the second a goal that could and probably should have been disallowed, and then you remember every other performance this season where you have deserved better then zero points (a somewhat useless currency in the premier league table) you realise that you are Wolves, and if there is a god of luck out there, she hasn’t heard of you, but her gypsy cousin who knows a good curse or two does.

It was notable to see that when Doyle finally headed in, (to cut the deposit to somewhere Wolves could try and fail to fight back  again) and Blackpool were short the defender who could have made it alot harder for Doyle to score that goal, Doyle celebrated by gesturing into the sky, as if he had finally noticed some smaller sister of lady luck turn up to the party and give him a dose, and was asking where she had been in all the weeks before, and why shehadn’t brought her sister.

Much like the anti Man United this season, Wolves have been that guy about to pull only to be kicked in the balls seemingly every week this season – they lie second bottom of the table on goal difference, where justice should probably see them somewhere atop the bottom half, still a bit gritty, still a team just happy to be in the premierleague but fairly safe for now nonetheless. They haven’t played bad football, they haven’t really defended badly – they haven’t sucked against any particular team, they haven’t been particularly bad at anything – they haven’t even been bad at making chances. Blackpool was a fine example of chances not falling for the likes of Ebanks Blake and the like.

As it is, Wolves need things to go right for them, not just once but alot. They cannot afford to hack off anymore gypsies in the next week before Sunderland anyway – not when a bad result could leave them 8 points from safety.

But perhaps their relegation is already chiseled into the final reel of this turbulent premier league season. Perhaps Wolves are doomed. Because apparently you can make your own luck, and if so the stuff Wolves make is shocking. And perhaps Doyle and Fletcher, known less for their goal scoring and oppourtunism in the six yard box then for other abilities, can’t make the goals to save Wolves, in spite of the teams good play elsewhere. Maybe this year, being as organised and powerful as Wolves are won’t save them.

Time will tell. It says alot about Wolves and their bad rolls of the dice that Mccarthy is less under pressure then a number of others (How Hughton was ever under pressure I’ll never know) But the table, and the increasing risk that clubs above them could begin to pull away dictates that a result against Sunderland is a must.

Of course seeing Wolves this season tells you that Sunderland will turn up and have an even better game then they did against Chelsea at the Bridge. Poor Wolves.

To start: No, no, no. Football is not ‘a simple game complicated by idiots.’

Mourinho: Football simple...? What?? WHAT????

Sorry, it’s not. I hear this, or an offshoot of this quote, alot. Managers like Mancini and Benitez are the one’s who seem to get it in the neck with this particular mantra – oddly enough, Mourinho doesn’t (That guy who wins with his complex preperation? Remember him?). He always seeks to be better prepared then the opposition – and I don’t ever hear people quoting that above fallacy at him.

Here is another quote, from Bill Shankley. ‘Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple.’

And that, of course is what the above quote is based on but it doesn’t make it anymore right. Sorry Shanks, but it’s not.

And the reason that it’s not is because pass and move is in fact very complicated. You need composure (just the right amount) to keep the ball under the pressure that teams apply nowadays. And you also have to take risks – you can’t be passing it sideways all game long, (although some teams do do that for long periods presumably to make the opposition too comfortable, but that’s for another day) and you need to be able to make your pass and move pay off with goals and wins and all what not. Barcelona make it pay off. Manchester United make it pay off. Arsenal mostly make it pay off. And they do that by doing alot more then even what’s listed here. They need co-ordination, they need skill (of course) they need timing, they need desciciveness. And so much more.

But if you want a great example of when just tippy tapping the football doesn’t pay off look at Tony Mowbray. His West Brom team having been relegated, he moved to Celtic, and I was thinking naively that he would make Celtic and fantastic pass and move team, able to get through the champions league, take on the best, so on so fourth.

He didn’t. Celtic were in turmoil by the time he left, in danger of being beaten to second by Hibernian, having just been destroyed 4-0 by St Mirren. It was a disastrous tenure, and to rub salt into the wound Neil Lennon came in and Celtic became a much better side. And this was a guy with no managerial experience at all.

No, playing pass and move is all well and good but it needs to have substance. And on my final note, a question has to be asked. Ferguson has had twenty years of success with brief interludes with Manchester United, winnign the treble, two champions leagues, premier league so on, so fourth.

Does anyone think he did that by just telling his team to play pass and move. Telling Ronaldo ‘Oh don’t worry. You may be a trick pony now, but soon you’ll be scoring 40 goals a season.’ ? Or perhaps, Ferguson and his coaches (never forget the coaching staff) taught him to use his power and pace better, to refine his technique to make him more efficient, gave him the frame of mind to succeed?

And if winning those trophies was so simple, why did Ferguson need 6 years to win the league after joining United? Lots of money spent, almost getting the sack – doesn’t sound like it was so simple for Ferguson afterall. And the same applies to Shankley. It took him four and a half years as well, although Liverpool unlike United, were in the second division at the time.

Football is just not that easy. Possibly, complicating things even more is a bad idea. But simple in the first place? Laughable. Football, in my opinion, is like Rocket Science. You spend ages preparing every little detail, setting your amazing plan in place – and it can still all fall apart in a matter of seconds. Football has so much to it, so many little variations and unforseen consequences.

And that is surely how we love it best.