BY John Cartwright
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for our lack of success at development level was demostrated to me by a very young player (6years old) who had just finished practising with the junior section of a professional club and was lining up with his mother waiting to be served with a drink from a Snack-van. Interested in asking him how he had enjoyed the session he had just attended. I said to him, “what have you been doing this morning?” His reply didn’t shock me but saddened me.
“I’m a Striker” he quickly replied.
Here, at the very heart of the foundation period of the game, the ‘illness’ that is destroying playing quality here was brutally exposed — from 6 he was positioned for a ‘singular role’ and unaware of the importance of developing as a ‘total player’ at this time.
The period of development from 6-9 years of age is an immensely important period for young players and yet we do not provide sufficient care over the teaching of the game during this period. Vital playing qualities can be introduced to young players during these introductory years that provide solid foundations for the future.
I have seen the lack of all-round football appreciation from players who have reached more senior levels; their game is little more than physical effort allied to simplicity with the ball. Lack of playing quality and game understanding is too frequently ‘camouflaged’ by excessive physical commitment that players find difficult to contain even when under no immediate pressure in games. Players must be taught the whole game from a young age in gradual stages not simply unconnected aspects of it. Unless they are brought up to be intelligent footballers not just bit-part players their opportunities to thrive and succeed at higher levels will be limited.
It is quite noticeable that ‘lost learning’ at the junior end of the game is extremely difficult to re-introduce later. Habits—good and bad, tend to stick and continue into adult football. Unfortunately, too many of our senior players are performing with a history of poor development behind them and consequently they play the game with neither skill nor understanding. This lack of individual ability creates the need for teams to play simple football with lots of emphasis on effort and constrained tactical methods.
We are bringing more and more players to this country from abroad. This is becoming an ever-increasing problem as it reduces the playing opportunities of ‘home-grown’ talent — where are our future international players coming from?
If this situation is allowed to continue we will find ourselves without an international team able to compete amongst the best in world football. We have become transfixed by the import of overseas players that is fuelled by a ‘club before country’ fanaticism that exists here. This selfish approach is destroying the future of our national game — by neglecting the importance of producing domestic talent and displaying a disinterest in the future of our international teams.
Unless we wake up and admit the extent of the problems existing in our game at all levels – on and off the field, we will very soon find ourselves without the playing talent to reach the qualifying stages of international competitions. ……but who cares? Our interest is fixed on our ‘multi-national clubs’ gaining three points in the next ‘fightball’ match.