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Mame Biram Diouf

Why Don't We Produce Youth Players Like This?

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Even through watching Under 21/18 football English players like this just don't exist, its not like they dont make the break-through, they dont even make it to the academies 



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Not true, you need to watch more youth football..




I'm sure United, Chelsea, Arsenal all have more examples to use.

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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Why English Football Will Never Develop a Messi

The importance of culture and opportunity key to Messi’s rise to greatness

Lionel Messi has broken nearly every goal scoring record imaginable, and he is still only 27 years old. It is an incredible achievement and we are fortunate to be living and witnessing his mercurial talent. At times I think many fail to comprehend what he is truly achieving, what Messi has done is make us all believe that greatness is now commonplace, that every game he is to provide moments of genius and magic. That is the level he has set.

Messi is everything about the 21st century game, he is fluid, quick, skilful and intelligent. He has shown, along with his teammates at Barcelona that small can succeed, in a game where Olympic style athletes appeared set to dominate. What Messi & Co. prove is that intelligence allied with technical excellence can overcome strength and power. Post-Guardiola has not been as fruitful or beautiful for Barcelona yet Messi has continued to shine and impress, his individual talent will do that. Barcelona do miss Guardiola, and while Messi may not rely on Guardiola now, he did before. In fact the tale of Messi on the road to football greatness is filled with those key ingredients, luck and opportunity. And it is this reason why English football may never develop a Lionel Messi type player.

Last week Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero both scored a hat trick in their respective Champions League games. After the game I tweeted that players like Messi and Aguero would struggle to make it through the Academy system in England and would most likely be cast aside at some point during their teenage years, for the reason of being ‘too small’.

Now there is a thought with some in the coaching world that if you’re going to be a professional then you will be, yet this fails to take into account the importance of the environment, culture and philosophies of those around a player.

Why culture dictates the pathway

Why do I think that English football struggle to produce ‘small’ players? Because the culture for the most part dismisses technical skill and intelligence and favours brawn, strength and height. The culture has not changed significantly since the days of Charles Hughes. It appears embedded in our cultural beliefs, especially the ‘decision makers’ who are often products from that culture. By this I mean there is a new generation of coaches who have a different appreciation of the game, and player development. Yet often the choices of who 'progresses' is left in the main part to old school thinkers.

So why do Messi and Aguero prosper in Argentina? Well their culture has as their “God” figure Diego Maradona. Therefore their approach to developing players comes from the want and need to ‘find’ the new Diego. Hence the progression of players like Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar, Ariel Ortega, Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. All these players follow the similar pattern of type. Argentinian football has sought to develop a player based on their cultural beliefs.

Compare this to England and we see the issue, the way we look at our players and how we regard them reflects in how we coach and nurture our players. Our role models for young players are in today's game Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. Now I am not saying this is wrong or bad, but there does seem to be a desire to produce this type of player offer other types we have produced. And the issue comes down to the idea of skill and trickery. Players like Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoine, Chris Waddle and John Barnes were all talented players for club and country. But the ‘iconic’ images are those of Terry Butcher, Stuart Pearce and Paul Ince bloodied or screaming continue to personify our game. Skill has been somewhat shelved over passion and physicality.

Which brings me to the saddest indictment of our national game and the reason I feel disappointed by the academy system. While there are certainly young players coming through the system now with talent, skill, expression and creativity, it appears that the player in which English football has failed to model itself on has meant England have improved, yet not by enough. Those coaches writing the future blueprint for their 9 year old players, anticipating a decade later when these youngsters would turn professional, perhaps should have been saying, “We wish to produce the next Paul Scholes”.

Had our culture and coaching philosophies sought to take this route I guarantee we would have been in a better position as a national team. Paul Scholes was the greatest player English football has produced. Yes I seriously mean this. He was a genius, a maestro, a player who understood the game, who could control it, dictate it and master it. We don’t produce many of these. Fortunately for him and his career he was under the guidance of one of the best managers in the game. Ferguson knew what Scholes offered and prospered with him in the side.

The unfortunate truth is that many first team managers and now Academy managers pass judgement on a players size over his ability with the ball and the intelligence in his head. Scholes should have revolutionised the way our culture regards the type of players as well as how he plays the game. He should have conducted the national team like Xavi and Messi conduct theirs and should have become the model for the future. Yet our culture seems incapable of appreciating this type of player.

Which is why I believe that players like Messi and Aguero, and Xavi and Iniesta, would have struggled to break through between 12-16 because they would have been judged on their size over their footballing ability. This short termism thinking hampers the progress of these players and often denies them the opportunity to excel further, as dropping out the Academy system means a steep drop back into grassroots football.

For a young player those aspects of luck and opportunity play a huge role in the development of a professional. Let’s go back to Messi and his time as a young player.

The pathway to greatness is dependent on opportunity

Firstly as young player Messi was fortunate to have his dad coach the team. As we know the coach’s son often gets the best position and the freedom to express more so than others. When we watch videos of Messi as a youth we see the dribbling which we see now, all those years of practice building up the myelin to make the skill greater. What would have happened had the dribbler been another player? Would they have been given so much freedom to express?

And compare that to England, is the dribbler respected? No. We regard him as a selfish player who won’t pass, who hogs the ball looking to get the praise. Parents complain, other kids moan and the talented player is told to pass, “2 touch” commands ring out from the coaches. Expression, dribbling and creativity are gone. The player who had the confidence to run at players, to take players on, is now a shell of himself. At 9 years old this may be the end of that pathway already.

Messi was fortunate because he had a culture which loved dribblers, as that’s what Diego did, and he had the environment in which to practice this skill again and again. Do not underestimate the importance of practice, repetition and the freedom to try things at a young age. If the research is correct then 95% of neurological development occurs between the ages of 7-11. Therefore what is learned at this age sticks for many years onwards. Messi developed the skills of dribbling and was given licence to repeat and attempt all through these years. He thrived under these cultural and coaching environments.

A time of toughness and mindset

His next step was the move abroad. At first unfortunate that he would struggle to grow to a reasonable height he was told that needed injections. I believe this experience was key in developing the mindset and toughness required to become a professional. Imagine all those dreams of becoming Maradona were being dashed by the realisation he would not grow properly. Imagine how distraught he would have been. And then imagine how he would have felt when that dream was given life again. Feelings of hurt turn into resolve, and that resolve also becomes gratitude to the people who would make his dream a reality.

Now many clubs were following Messi but they dismissed him because they did not want to pay for the treatment. However Messi was fortunate once again, of all the clubs who saw in him the potential it would be Barcelona, one of the most progressive clubs in the world and one who based their development model on the Ajax totalfootball philosophy. It was a perfect fit for Messi and his skills. He would learn to use his skills allied with the style of play Barcelona promoted. Imagine him trying to fit in with a team which lumped it forward playing direct football. Messi benefited from a style which suited him and he thrived.

Messi struggled at first when he moved to Barcelona as it was a big culture shock to him and he missed his family who were struggling to get the papers needed to come across. This was the first foreign player at this age to come to Barcelona and they made errors along the process. It was a tough time and Barcelona started having doubts. And then Messi would be on the side of fortune once more when Carles Rexach would vouch for Messi after seeing him playing. Luck and fortune would come in to play again as Rexach had chosen to work as a scout under Bobby Robson at the time, and the timing of this role would help him see Messi and persuade the club to stick with him.

This happens a lot in Academy football, it is the subjective aspect of talent identification, subjectivity in seeing a player who that person appreciates, and having the ‘right’ decision maker who values a certain type of player to commit to. All these factors make the road of a young player so variable and seemingly almost random. Many players are at the whim of someone’s decision, a decision which can determine a boys future path.

Perhaps Messi was ‘destined’ to become a footballer, as his fortunes appeared to be the luckiest of all those stories of young player to pro. If you also consider that the growth hormone treatment surely enhanced his performance levels, made his muscles stronger and seemingly made him stronger, then you see the development of the player in preparation for his rise to stardom. Add in the fact he was coming through at almost the perfect time for the club.

The need for timing is crucial

After a few barren years at the turn of the century the electric Ronaldinho under the coaching of Frank Rijkaard would galvanise the club and take them to the top of the European game. As a young player coming through this was the perfect time to be at Barcelona. Success, skill and enthusiasm permeated the club and would inspire the youngsters further.

Messi was seen as the jewel of the youth and was pushed forward at a young age. We struggle in England to appreciate the youth coming through and fail miserably to integrate the youth with the seniors early enough. Had Messi experienced what many of our talented youth fail to experience, to get the opportunity to push on and play, train and experience senior football, would he have excelled as he did? How can a young player bridge the gap and enhance their talents without getting the opportunity to do so?

Yes Messi was regarded highly as a youth but also had a coach in Rijkaard who was happy to push him on. We have too many managers afraid of pushing youth forward, as they fear a young player may cost them their job. It is a sad to see, the priorities of many managers is fear of losing their job and they make safe and short term decisions. The long term for the club is often ignored over their own selfish needs. Perhaps managers shouldn’t be the ones making these decisions? Pushing youth forwards and testing them is key for their development, denying them this chance will simply stagnate their talent.

Finding a coach who wants to revolve the team around you

Messi would thrive and excel and showcase his talent. Yet it would be Guardiola who would push him to greatness. Timing was perfect once more. The team had lost focus and the new coach felt changes were needed. Ronaldinho would depart along with Deco and a new era would begin. The Xavi, Iniesta and Messi triumvirate would be given their chance to shine and thrive.

Now there are many who think Guardiola was ‘lucky’ to inherit these players and he simply stood back and watched them dominate the game. How naïve! Imagine if Mourinho had been given the job instead, it was between him and Guardiola remember. Would he had embraced these players, revolved the team around them, made Messi the focal point? No. He would have done it differently. And with that Messi would have done well, yet would not have become the player we see today.

Guardiola’s tactical brain and his decision to make Messi the key figure in the side, playing centrally, enhanced Messi’s talents further. Barcelona became about Messi and the tactical set up revolved around him. Now it's important to note that not every player gets this kind of opportunity. And I don’t think Mourinho would have chosen to go that way with the side. Therefore Messi was fortunate once again. And he embraced the opportunity like he had done all his life. He was given special treatment and diet to help his injuries and keep him fit. He was nurtured and looked after and thrived. Not many players, young or senior are given this kind of support.

In many ways Messi has earned his greatness with his talent, yet in another way it all comes down to the fortune of his culture and importantly the opportunities and luck he encountered along the way. There will be very few who will experience this kind of pathway, with the necessary ups and downs to develop the toughness of mindset to deal with setbacks and increase the drive and determination to achieve. Many say Messi is blessed, I do not believe it is natural, I believe nurture made him the player he is. The lesson of it is not easy to replicate, too many variables are at play. Messi certainly appears to have the right mentaliy to embrace these opportunities and that is something to consider with young players. Yet perhaps that idea of culture, of appreciating a type of player and having a coaching culture which nurtures skill and creativity can help produce future talents. It would be a start.

The Whitehouse Address @The_W_Address


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Whitehouse makes an interesting point about cultures having their 'God figures'

A few months ago I was actually thinking about the influence a national or club GOAT has on up and coming players when I said to my friend that most of the Black Arsenal fans I've played with over the years have either modelled their game around Wright, Vieira or Henry.

As previously mentioned in the article Argentina has been trying to produce the new Maradona for years.

France has had loads of players of the years that have at some point been labelled the new Zidane, Vieira or Makelele.

Brazil has had loads of attacking fullbacks trying to be the new Cafu/Roberto Carlos and attacking players trying to be the new Pele, Ronaldo, Romario or Ronaldinho.

Wouldn't be surprised if most of the CBs that have come out of East London or West Ham's academy(e.g. Rio, King, Terry, Adams, Campbell etc.) worshipped Bobby Moore.


Just a shame Portugal are fucking up the base with no Eusebio clones.

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Use the greatest player of all time as an example guise.


And Gerrard and Rooney are both different players, Rooney for example at 16, was closer to Tevez/Aguero than he was Gerrard. England have been even more obsessed with producing the new Gazza than they have a new Gerrard or Scholes.


Gascoigne was everybodys idol in the 90's as well, didn't mean we produce more Gascoignes, just more joe coles.

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Apart from that this is one of the best eras for young English players, so cliches as the one above(bane) doesn't quite fit...anymore.

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