Streets Provide More Goals Than Academies in Soccer
Posted by Dean Holden at March 23rd, 2015
by Alex Stanley, 16 March 2015
Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta are just a few names on a long list of talented players who graduated from FC Barcelona’s youth academy. The program, nicknamed La Masia after the farmhouse that housed the academy’s players, now offers more recent graduates the amenities of a new €88 million housing project. Complete with an audiovisual room, a massage room and pool areas, the academy is a tribute to producing fresh talent with the tools of modernity.
But, what it does not seem to produce is goal scorers. Two of the three top goal scorers for Barcelona this season are Latin American imports—Brazil’s Neymar and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. These are players that plied their trade on the streets and with their local clubs, far away from European influence. Additionally, the other top goal scorer for the Catalan club, Messi, joined La Masia at 13 after playing on the streets of Rosario, Argentina and impressing with local club Newell’s Old Boys.
The question to be asked is why can’t Barcelona, and other top clubs throughout Europe, look to their academy system for players that can find the back of the net? Why must their talent come primarily from the South American streets?
Apart from La Masia, one of the other most influential academies in Europe is that of AFC Ajax in Amsterdam. The academy developed Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart and John Cruyff among others.
Here, academy players find accommodations not dissimilar from that of the first team. Their facility has seven fields, 14 dressing rooms and a multi-sports hall, according to UEFA.com. Recently, Ajax has teamed up with VU University Amsterdam in order to add science and technology into the development process. Using high-speed cameras, Ajax attempts to look at certain movements, such as shooting motion, of their academy players in an effort to improve them. Ajax also employs nutritionists and psychologists from the university for their young players.
While the academy enjoys similar perks to their professional counterparts, they participate in similar training too. Youth players follow in drills that are meant to improve athleticism and ability on the ball, in addition to the mental aspects of the game. The focus in the Ajax academy is not to win youth games, but to provide players with a skill set and program that will be of use at the professional level. They attempt to inculcate these players with the Ajax philosophy of aggressive play in a 4-3-3.
But what good does all of this money and technology do for a team when the best goal scorers are scarcely produced?
Clint Dempsey positions himself in the box as DeAndre Yedlin whips down the right wing and looks to cross. This group stage game against Portugal is tied at one point a piece in the 80th minute, and the U.S. are itching for three points and a win. Yedlin’s ball is deflected on its way to Dempsey. He does not chase after the ball—he waits patiently in the box. The ball falls to Michael Bradley then Graham Zusi, who sends a waist-high cross for Dempsey to put in the back of the net with his stomach.
By no means is this a pretty goal, but it is typical of America’s top-goal scorer in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Dempsey hails from a soccer background that is based off of playing with the many Latin American immigrants within his hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas. He spent no time in U.S. Soccer’s U-17 academy, a site that has produced some of America’s finest soccer players over the last 15 years.
What Dempsey lacks in formal soccer education, he makes up for with goals. Dempsey has a knack for knowing where to position himself to put the ball in the back of the net. He is not afraid to take a risk, as well, like when he caught Juventus keeper Antonio Chimenti off guard with a surprise chip in 2010. Dempsey helped knock the Italian giants out of the Europa league by merely taking a gamble.
What this issue all boils down to is that Dempsey has a goalscoring instinct that cannot be taught. Breaking the rules can pay off when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net. Further, these sorts of skills are apparently best crafted in an environment where no rules exist—apart from those that govern the game. They are skills that are gained, not learned.
To make this matter simpler, you must only look so far as to list the best strikers who were born in South America. There is the Barcelona trio of Suarez, Neymar, Messi, and then others like Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani, Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Carlos Tevez, who is the top scorer in Italy.
In Europe, the list of best strikers is far shorter—Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robin Van Persie, Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema and you could argue for Wayne Rooney.
While academies have proven themselves useful in producing some of the world’s best players, they tend to develop a particular breed of player. When it comes to the task of putting the ball past the keeper, a different skill set is required, one which cannot be taught—not even in the best academy.
<… because they haven’t figured out how to do it yet! An interesting article, but I agree only partially. While academies can provide top-notch facilities and ‘drills’ training, they also provide ‘x-box coaching’ – the coaches yell/tell the players what to do constantly! Is it any wonder that they have trouble developing creative players / goalscorers? They are creating dependent athletes… those who depend on the y(t)elling of their coach and this precludes spontaneous improvisation! Learning Game Sense (goalscoring) is much more organic. Playing on the streets mean the players learn through trial and error, at their own pace, without coaches directing them what to do! Sometimes, it’s best to sit back, shut up and let the game teach the game… that is the best way, the purest way, the natural way! That’s how Sport IQ teaches Game Sense! – DH>
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