Google+ Blueprint for Football: March 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Success of a Different Nature

In football, success is almost always determined by whether you win or not.  Yet there are (many) instances where the result is immaterial and what really matters is the social impact that the game has as this unusual story of a group of kids in Thailand proves.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Toying with Youth

Michał Zachodny

When the league board decided to set up youth league for clubs competing in Ekstraklasa few years ago, it was regarded as a good idea, an example taken from better leagues. In the fourth season of Młoda Ekstraklasa, as it is called, many still are uncertain whether plan to make it easier for clubs to bring up young players, has any chance. In fact, some are suggesting that league board handed Ekstraklasa clubs toys but forgot to show how to play with them.

Although that comparison may not be the best one, it surely shows how part of the clubs feel about having their reserves in this league. In the very first season Widzew Lodz refused to take part in this competition feeling it is a waste of money but, since league made it obligatory to play in it, nobody stepped out and complained about it like they did. Surely there must be some unhappiness in the league – especially those poorer ones that would get on with spare few hundred thousand to spend on their first squads rather than team from which only three or four will be good enough to make it to senior Ekstraklasa. At best.

Grzegorz Sandomierski
But that, again, depends on clubs approach. Legia Warszawa, Lech Poznan, Wisła Krakow, Ruch Chorzow and Zagłębie Lubin all took their chances well and now can take some positives from the decision to invest and rather than simply wait, expect them after even such short period of time. As league board points out, some decent players came through the Młoda Ekstraklasa – Artur Sobiech, Maciej Sadlok (both bought from Ruch Chorzow by Polonia Warszawa for over 1,500,000 Euro), Ariel Borysiuk (now first choice midfielder in Legia) and Grzegorz Sandomierski (the only keeper from Polish league in our national team) - they may be just a lucky fluke but could the decision about the future of youth league depend on opinion rather than fact?

Unfortunately, it is a war of opinions, as always, but I agree that there are some arguments against Młoda Ekstraklasa and problems needed to be solved – the sooner the better. But if the debacle will ever be set up, nobody should let in the voices saying, for example, that contracts handed by clubs to their youngsters are spoiling them. Once again, I’m not saying there is no such problem but it’s rather headache caused by the whole lot of older professionals that set up bad example, not those who are at the start of their careers and look at them for inspiration.

As I said, there are bigger problems ahead of league board but there is no point of stopping the project that already is running and, not without troubles, taking the very first positives, not necessarily just in examples of players progressing to the main Ekstraklasa. Finally clubs, or at least part of them, knows that there is sense in investing money in the background, creating youth systems, create scouting webs in and out of Poland, send coaches for training courses abroad, learn from better organized and more experienced marks in football. Also there are fans – the growing interest in youth league among them is something I wouldn’t expect if not the creation of Młoda Ekstraklasa, really. That pushed one of sports channels to even sign a deal for broadcasting single games from it.

Oh yes, problems, haven’t forgot about them. The biggest issue for me is that this league is in constant balance between being reserves or youth teams, not turning into one direction which is confusing at least for bigger part of the league participants. Some decide to run simultaneously reserves that play in lower divisions and other youth team that plays in Młoda Ekstraklasa (like Górnik Zabrze), while there are examples where managers uses those teams only as the place where unused footballers from the senior squad get minutes on the pitch or are sent there as a punishment (like Polonia Warszawa). It is about time to decide which way to take and I’m almost sure there is only one right direction for Młoda Ekstraklasa.

As prime example of problems in English reserves football and the growing importance of youth teams there shows, it is wiser to make Młoda Ekstraklasa a real background for players that are up to nineteen and they have the privilege to compete against top sides in the country, not only the ones in their region. Centralization of youth system, at the top for a start, should be good move for the clubs as well – squads overcrowded with players in mid-twenties, in hang between first team and reserves, are stealing not only place but some part of wage budget in every club. The preferable choice would be to have only twenty senior players in the squad and the background – team in youth league where players are up to the age of nineteen. That should be the rule in my reckoning.

Even those clubs that would create reserves side, like Górnik Zabrze is doing now, would quickly see the advantage of this solution. If not, then maybe, when the money and club management will be much better in Polish football, think about separate league for reserves but not earlier. There is also possibility of creating Youth Cup, to let other teams compete against the elite of Młoda Ekstraklasa, but knowing the will inside Polish FA that refuses to do anything even for the sake of the domestic senior cup, there is more than a single doubt over this idea.

Those decisions should not wait as maybe not the youth/reserves league called Młoda Ekstraklasa is harming talents itself but the attitude of some clubs is the problem and biggest for the idea. With my constant believe that finally clubs that can afford to look at western examples of well run football marks do so, the youth system is one of most important issues that is crying out loud for a solution. I’m fully aware that the youth league I’m writing about is just a top of the whole pyramid and that the basics should be build before but at least something is being done in that area – we simply cannot afford to toy with another generations of talents that end up reaching only half of their maximum potential.

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