World Cup shocks show need for radical change at home
2014-07-01 18:21:23 -
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No sooner did the whistle blow to end the England-Uruguay match than the red tops where sniping from the sidelines about the lack of English players competing in the English Premier League.

We have yet to see their arguments about players who qualify for other countries opting to play for England instead of the lands of their parentage, such as Raheem Sterling (born in Jamaica), Ross Barkley (with a Nigerian father), Adam Lallana (of Argentinean heritage), Daniel Wellbeck (with Ghanaian parents), Philip Jagielka (with Polish grandfather) or Wayne Rooney (who has Irish grandparents).

The trouble with the England set-up does not lie with overseas players but with the lack of youth development at grassroots level.

Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development and academy guru, who stands down after this World Cup, admits that England are many years behind the Germans.

Now that the state-of-the-art training facility at St George’s Park in Staffordshire is ready, Sir Trevor figures that he can retire having slain the youth development dragon.

The relationship between the English soccer leagues and the FA requires further troubleshooting. The clubs need to go further than merely encouraging their dual-heritage employees to sign up to play for the national team.

In the case of Wellbeck, the Manchester United striker, his decision to play for the Three Lions was particularly galling for the Ghana FA, who had short-listed him for their senior squad. As if to rub salt in the wounds, he made his debut for England in a friendly game against Ghana.

Eyes on the ball
In this regard, the FAI needs to make sure that it don’t take its eyes off the ball while English, Spanish and Belgian clubs make ‘investments’ in young talent by shipping the players and their families abroad before they’re issued with Irish passports.

High performance director Ruud Dokter is surely factoring this latest phenomenon into his Youth Development Plan, which is due to be published shortly. While he is at it, he could take a look at the systems in World Cup qualifiers Croatia and Uruguay, with population numbers close to that of the Republic of Ireland.

With former Ireland international John Devine – an advocate for the small-sided game  – on his committee, it’s hoped that the youth plan will be steered in the direction of a system that has young players emerging through a blended learning process that combines their education and skills development to produce holistic players.

It beggars belief that a resource like former FAI employee Brian Kerr has not been consulted on the future of youth soccer here. Kerr, now an outstanding media pundit, has the vision to grow a model system that will stand up in the international arena.

His experience as an architect in the game would help plug many gaps, notwithstanding the relationship with our IFA counterparts in Northern Ireland. He is also ideally placed to broker an island-wide U18 tournament, based on the likes of the Setanta Cup.

If we are to learn anything from the dynamics of the World Cup in Brazil, we must make radical changes at home. We could start with the implementation of the new Youth Development Plan straight away by retaining players at home up to the Uefa-recommended transfer age of 18 years.

The process must immediately tackle the ills in the game at schools level and the over-concentration on the senior team before we are in a position to re-enter the world stage.

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