Sunday, 24 October 2010

Nurturing Young Players: There is no substitute for competitive football

My blogging, for various reasons, has slowed dramatically of late and when this week I was ready to revive Polly's Pause for Sport I was spoilt for choice of things to write about. The Rooney contract saga was one of the most interesting stories British football has seen in a long time. Portsmouth escaped administration, just. Liverpool's troubles continued on and off the pitch and Gareth Bale announced himself to the world with a stunning hat-trick at the San Siro.

Such is the volume of articles and blogs written on these stories, however, I have refrained from commenting on them. Instead I thought I would continue what has become, not through any particular agenda, a theme of looking at young footballing talent. I suppose I have been influenced by the current trend in England of desperately looking at where the next generation of footballers in this country is going to come from and how we can begin to get the most out of young players.

My argument this time is simply that young footballers need to play. Often managers are overly cautious when attempting to nurture their young players but the examples of some of the Premiership's current crop of stars show that time on the pitch is the most important part of a growing footballer's development.

One problem is certainly that big clubs buy young players and leave them to fester in the reserve or youth teams. Highly rated teenagers are snapped up by the big clubs when their career would often benefit from playing regularly, even if it is at a lower standard, rather than merely featuring in the League Cup.

The likes of Michael Owen, Cesc Fabregas and Rio Ferdinand, to name just three players that spring to mind, all illustrate the rewards of playing regularly at a young age. Now it is, of course, easier for extraordinary talent to break into a team at a younger age but each of these players reaped the rewards of gaining valuable match-day experience. Their talent was noted within their respective youth teams and they were thrust into their club's first team before they were even adults.

Each of these example began playing week-in-week-out at the age of 16 or 17 and although they each showed immense potential they were all still raw talents. Yet all three quickly developed into world class players by their early twenties as they able to progress their individual talents by learning in an uncompromising arena.

There is no substitute for this kind of experience. Reserve or youth team matches can never replicate what will be learnt in competitive matches. Jack Wilshere, after a loan spell at Bolton last season, is now showing the value of playing top level football every Saturday afternoon. It allows players to discover their own strengths and weaknesses. It enables a young player to adapt to the strains - mental, technical and physical - of top flight football.

At the age of 16, Cesc Fabregas was playing regularly alongside Patrick Vieira in Premiership and Champions League matches and at that level you learn very quickly. Playing with and against great players will only aid the top talent to advance their games by leaps and bounds. Wrapping young players in cotton wool or using them sparingly can often waste their talent.

Ferguson's golden generation at Manchester United highlights the point perfectly. He integrated a host of young talent including, Giggs, Beckham, Scholes and the Neville's, amongst senior players. His faith was rewarded as their progression was accelerated and their potential was optimised. Had they been used as bit-part players until the age of 21 they may have never grown into the stars they became. Wenger takes a similar approach for bringing through his youngsters with similar success as too did Harry Redknapp with the likes of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Jermaine Defoe and Michael Carrick at West Ham in the late nineties.

Players obviously develop at different rates and thus it would be foolish to claim that all players should be thrown in the deep end at a young age. However, as Wilshere and Bale continue to steal the plaudits this season, the evidence is there for all to see – young players will benefit from playing regular competitive football.

Thoughts, comments and opinions...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Previous posts