An Outsider Looking In: Youth football in Spain and England

– By Jack Maddock

From Cantera to Carrington, youth football is being scrutinised and constantly adapted across the world to keep up with the every development and change of style in the game. Every club wants to be one step ahead of the next cand is terrified to lose a player who could then go on to become a football legend at another club.

Likewise, they’re worried that another club has found ‘the formula’. Club staff would love football to be more absolute and less open to opinion on what is the right method. They would also prefer youth development to be fast and overnight, but again, it is not. Youth development requires a strategy, and many clubs have copied others or tried to place their own slant on a supposedly successful method.

However, this is something that often requires years to come to fruition, to see whether a boy at six is good enough when he becomes a professional. Then there’s the way in which it can take a large amount of investment, time and organisation to realise that your method doesn’t work and you have to start again. I am constantly told by Premier League clubs that there is nothing in their academies worth while or that ‘none of these will make it.’ Have the players failed, or have the clubs failed them in being unable to unlock their full potential?

All coaches and clubs would love to be handed the magic book that gives them step by step instructions to developing the world class player. Sadly there isn’t one. The way to develop a player can divide opinion and will continue to do so.

Some clubs have had players coming through their ranks in the past years, possibly three, four or even five top class professionals. They will no doubt be commended for their great ‘production line’. However, how many have been at their academy in the past ten years? How many have they looked at? How many have they let go?

When compare it with the thousands of players that have been at that club in that time, it doesn’t look as impressive. FC Barcelona’s academy is credited for being so successful because they continue to bring players through. The new breed of players at the club look exciting, with Cristian Tello, Isaac Cuenca and Marc Bartra all gracing the Camp Nou surface on a number of occasions.

Pep Guardiola has recently said that he doesn’t believe they have the perfect method, but that they have one that works for them. That is the key. If you can create a structure and philosophy that works and is successful in achieving your aims then that is your perfect method.

Spanish football clubs do not claim to have the perfect method, but they do have ideas that clubs can learn from. Spain is known for its tiki-taka style of football, but this is something that is not enforced from an early age. Many English coaches spend their weekends screaming from the touchlines to ‘PASS’ and ‘GET IT ON THE GROUND’ but this is something that is not heard in Spain.

Coaches at CE Europa are trying to create the complete player that is physically, technically and also mentally competent enough to compete within their team. This is great to see. Older age groups too were passing the ball at a fast speed within possession games as they were being taught how CE Europa wanted them to play within a team.

However, the focus on passing didn’t occure before U14 level at all the teams I watched. This was because before this age, coaches were required to develop the individual. They played small sided games which would challenge the players and try to make them more creative, with lots of 1 v 1′s with players trying to outwit each other.

Skills were not taught in isolation but in a natural and easily transferrable environment to promote creativity. They asked players to imitate their favourite players, and trusted them in finding their way out of possession. Working in lines was not seen in any of the sessions I watched. This is something that is dying, not only in Spain but in England. It is not realistic in the game because apart from dead ball situations; nothing is in isolation in the match.