Google+ Blueprint for Football: November 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Laws of Attraction (in Youth Football)

Whilst much of the focus of any development plan will be on the coaching that is delivered – and rightly so – results will always be limited unless the right players are attracted to that programme.  Often, the role of recruiters is left to coaches or former coaches who might not appreciate (or believe in) the need to sell their programme to the players and their parents.

Even if they do, given the competition that there is for talent whoever has the better strategy to gain their trust will win out.

Helping improve that strategy is what Dan Tudor specialises in.  The founder of Tudor Collegiate Strategies, his work is aimed at getting colleges to be more effective, more creative, and get better results from their drives to recruit talent for their sports programs.  Here he shares his views on these topics.

Why is it important to look at recruitment techniques and policies?  What edge does it give you?
For American college coaches, understanding how an athlete chooses a school for college soccer is going to give them a roadmap to developing a strategy for recruiting them to their program.

The same holds true, in my opinion, for a club soccer coach.

Not doing so is equivalent to a soccer coach saying, "I don't need to scout our next opponent and break down how they attack and defend...what edge would it give us?"  Of course, any good coach knows the answer to that.  You learn tendencies, identify areas of opportunity, and develop a game plan based on the best information and insights possible.

The same principles are at play in understanding how this generation of athletes, and their parents, decide who to trust with their soccer career.  If you don't understand how they make their decision, you have less of a chance to approaching them correctly when it comes to recruiting them to your program - which means it is more likely you will lose that battle, in the same way you would lose a soccer contest against an opponent who you haven't scouted before meeting on the field.

What are the fundamental characteristics of a good recruitment policy?
First and foremost, consistency.  Your message needs to be regular, and sequential.  You need to tell an effective story of why they should choose you, based on things that are important to them.

Secondly, any good coach should ask for a commitment as early as possible in the process; it's the best way to show this generation of athlete that you are serious about them and want them more than the competition.

On the flip side, what are the most common pitfalls and mistakes?
Not having the same kind of plan to recruit and market your program as you would when you develop a game plan or seasonal development plan for your players.  Most soccer coaches recruit haphazardly, and get results that match the effort.  Lack of planning is one of the fatal recruiting mistakes that coaches make.

Not asking for a commitment is the other big mistake.  Again, it's the top way athletes say they determine whether or not a coach is really interested in them.  They don't want to be "pressured" into making a commitment, but they do want to see a coach's passion for them.

How important is honesty and not trying to over-sell your system?
Honesty is key.  Especially for American athletes, they are constantly on the lookout for being "over-sold" or lied to by college coaches who would exaggerate the benefits of their program.  When you are selling your program to a prospective family, you want to be passionate about your program, but not go so far as to lie or make promises you can't keep.

Does the work end once the athlete is recruited? Once the athlete is recruited and convinced to join a club, does the work stop there?
After the process is complete, letting your new group of players answer an anonymous survey as to how they made their decision, who influenced them, what their #1 objection was, and why they ultimately chose that particular soccer program.  I think it’s critical that it's anonymous and done all at once, because it will free them to be honest and open in their feedback vs. telling a coach what he or she wants to hear for fear of loss of playing time or other retribution for negative comments.

More information on Dan Tudor and Tudor Collegiate Strategies can be found on their website.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Unexpected. But Nice.

When Blueprint for Football was set up, the over-riding desire was to get to talk about people, ideas and methodologies that I found interesting.  Of course, there was the hope that there would be an audience but that was more down to a desire to find others who shared this enthusiasm.

Praise and recognition certainly weren't expected.

Which is probably why I was so pleased when Blueprint for Football was named by as as one of the "50 Football Blogs/Sites You Must Look At!".  It is nice to see the work we've put in being recognised especially given that we're being placed in a list that contains some of our own favourites like In Bed With Maradona, The Swiss Ramble and Two Hundred Percent.

Anyway, thanks to Scott over at The Footy Blog and check out the full list that he's compiled.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Q&A: Liverpool FC Academy Director Frank McParland

This article by Sachin Nakrani originally appeared on the popular Liverpool FC website, the Anfield Wrap.

ON Monday 10th September, I interviewed Liverpool academy director Frank McParland at his office in Kirkby. The 53-year-old, a lifelong Red who was born and raised in Huyton, was engaging company and over a period of 35 minutes spoke to me about how the academy has evolved since he joined to head it up in 2009, how he feels it will benefit the first-team in the future – and specifically how it will benefit the style of play Brendan Rodgers want to establish at first-team level – and about youth development in general.

We also spoke in some depth about the NextGen series, the Uefa-sanctioned under-19s competition that is now in its second year. Liverpool reached the semi-finals last season and opened this campaign with a 3-2 defeat to the holders, Internazionale, last Wednesday.

Raheem Sterling cropped up, too, partly due to the impact the 17-year-old academy graduate has had at first-team level this season but also because on the same day I travelled to Kirkby to see Frank, Raheem got called up to the England senior squad for the first time. It was a piece of fortuitous, pleasant timing.

Below, then, is the transcript of my interview with Frank. I would like to thank Shaun Gaddu and Paul Grech for contributing some of the questions. Very much appreciated.

You must be delighted to hear Raheem Sterling has been called up to the England squad?
“Immensely, it’s great news. We signed Raheem from QPR when he was 14 and he’s been here ever since. Everyone has worked hard with him and eventually he’s pushed through [to the first team]. We always thought he’d be a special talent, so we’re really pleased he’s been chosen for the England full team.

At 14 its difficult to say [if they’re going to make it at the highest level] because at 14 there is so many things can happen in their development; where do they live? Do their parents live with them? Are we managing them properly? It was a big thing for Raheem [moving to Liverpool] and he got home sick, so we brought his mum up and he’s been flourishing ever since. So it’s not always about things on the pitch, why kids improve.

“Raheem’s very quick, he’s an intelligent player, he’s an extremely hard worker and he’s a winner. He’s also a really quite lad, he’s got a very good personality, good sense of humour, and he’s a nice boy, really nice boy. And when he’s on the pitch he has a real determination of what he wants to do and how he wants to push himself.”

The NextGen series was well received last season by those who took part in the tournament and watched it. What was your take on it?
“It was a massive learning experience for the players, the staff, and me. For all of us involved, it was a fantastic experience. “We came third in the tournament [last year], which was crazy because Sporting Lisbon beat us twice, really comprehensively, and they were probably the best team we played.

“The experience for us is playing against different systems, different managers, different referees, going abroad, going on the flight, getting the kids used to travel, staying in hotels – it’s about playing best against best and is designed for the next level, so when kids push through to the first team they are used to doing what the first team do.”

Liverpool experienced some heavy defeats during last season’s tournament, such as against Sporting Lisbon, and also against Ajax in the semi-final. Have those experiences scarred the players involved?
“Not at all. When Ajax played us they had three players who had played in the Champions League, and they made sure they were fit for that game. We had players who were with the first team and couldn’t play for us, so it was a bit unfortunate that night as we weren’t at full strength and in the first half we were getting beat 1-0 and missed a penalty, and were playing really well up to then. But after we missed the penalty a lot of our heads went down. We’ve spoken about that and everyone’s learnt from that, coaches, players, everyone.”
How do you assess the group Liverpool have this season? They’re in Group Five with Borussia Dortmund, Internazionale and Rosenborg

“It’s a really interesting group, with teams from Scandinavia, Germany and Italy, one of whom, Inter, are the winners [of  last season’s tournament].

“What’s great for us is that in Scandinavia we have a massive fan-base – the last time we played at Molde there were more Liverpool supporters there then there were Molde supporters, and Molde is in the middle of nowhere! It was incredible. So we know in Scandinavia we’re going to have a big crowd fighting for us, which will be good. “Inter are a typical Italian team, they won the competition last season, and rightly so. The group is a really good group and we’re looking forward to it.”

Will the newly established under-21 team [which has replaced the old reserve team] take part in NextGen?
“It’s actually players born in 1994 and below, so most of them are 18-year-olds. There will be very young under-21s involved in it, but most of the team will be the best 18-year-olds.”

Can you name some of the more high-profile players that will be involved?
Suso - now part of first team plans - in NextGen action against Ajax last season (Pic: David Rawcliffe)
“Suso’s got a chance of being involved in it. You’re allowed three [players born in] 1993, so it’s possible we’ll have Conor Coady, Suso, Andre Wisdom and Stephen Sama.

“We’re going to be OK at the older end, it’s at the young end where we may struggle. We haven’t got a lot of 1994’s to be honest, mainly ’95’s. But they’re good ‘95s.”

Will any of the NextGen games take place at Anfield?
“All of them will take place at St Helens, where we played the Ajax game. Around 6,000 [spectators] watched the game, we had to put the kick-off back half an hour as there was that many people queuing to get in. When Inter Milan play Liverpool you can bet there’ll also be a big crowd there.”

Did you made a conscious decision not to play any NextGen matches at Anfield?
“With the Europa League it was always going to be difficult. If we progress we would hope to have one or two games there, but for the moment it’s going to be St Helens, which is a fantastic stadium, has a really good pitch and really good facilities.”

What do you make of the introduction of the new under-21 league, is it something you support?
“It’s part of the Premier League’s EPPP [Elite Player Performance Plan] and, again, is supposed to ensure best against best. We’re really young in it because most of our players are 19 – you can have under-21 and some over-age players but we’ve tended to stick with the group we’ve got, win, lose or whatever, no matter what. As long as the boys get used to the system we play and progress in the system, we’re happy with that.”

The aim of the EPPP is to increase the number of England-qualified players in the Premier League from the current 39% to 50% How realistic do you think that is?
“It depends on the club – if you’re scouting abroad you can have a lot of homegrown players who aren’t actually English because if you get them at 16 they become homegrown at 19 no matter where they were born. You would hope it will increase because of the way younger age-groups are going to work; the under-16s are now playing the same games as the under-18s and the under-21s.”

Liverpool’s youth setup has become increasingly continental, but is there a desire to have a strong core of English and, specifically, Liverpool-born players at the academy?
“When Rafa Benitez brought me back for this project [in 2009] he wanted English and British players to come through and he was really keen on getting the best players from the Liverpool area – and I was tasked with doing that. We scout very hard here now and it is important with Financial Fair Play coming in that we start producing more British players.

“If there are two players worth looking at, one is English and one is foreign, and they’re at exactly the same level, we’d always take the English player. If one is English and one is Scouse, and they’re at exactly the same level, we would 100% always take the Scouse one, because our club’s identity has always been about having local kids coming through and we’re desperate to carry that on.

“But the quality is the quality and if we can’t get the quality in Liverpool or surrounding areas then we’ll go somewhere else. But we love having Liverpool lads coming through and it’s great to have [Jon] Flanagan and [Jack] Robinson make their debuts [for the first-team] in the last couple of years, then Raheem, who is from London, and now [Adam] Morgan, who is probably the most fanatical Liverpool supporter you could meet.”

How far and wide is the academy’s scouting network? Do you, for instance, have scouts in Africa?
“At the moment the first-team [scouting] setup is going through a big change and it’s likely to go even more global. At the moment we don’t have anyone in Africa, but I can see with the new setup that there is a keenness for greater globalisation. We have people in Argentina and Brazil and we have all of Europe covered, but we do need to branch out to Africa and places like that.”

As part of EPPP, clubs can recruit 30 players in each age group from under-9 to under-14, 20 at each of under-15 and Under-16, 15 in each from under-17 to under-21. How does that compare to what’s currently happening at the academy?
“It’s pretty much what we’re doing at the lower age. When I came back they used to bring in between 14 and 16 under-9 players per year and we’ve got that up to 24 now because you need that pyramid at the bottom where there are a lot of players to choose from. To get the 24, we first look at around 5,000 kids, who are brought to us through our scouting system.”

Are there a certain number of kids who are let go each year?
“Normally one or two are released at the end of each year and we then take one or two in throughout the year, so the numbers are constantly in a state of flux, going up and down.”

What are the current staff numbers at the academy?
“The EPPP states you must have one coach to every 10 players, so our coaching staff has increased, as has the medical staff, also the fitness, strength and conditioning staff. It’s a really busy setup.”

How many kids are there at the academy at any one time?
“Signed kids; there are probably between 180-200. But we also hold regular trials.”
On your profile page on Liverpool’s official website, it says the academy offers kids here with “best possible guidance.” What does that mean exactly?

“We have Phil Roscoe, who is in charge of education and welfare, and he does an unbelievable job looking after the kids. We speak to them about social networking, about sexually transmitted diseases … we have a full educational programme, we don’t just leave them to go back to their house parents and don’t teach them about the life. At the end of the day we want them to be fantastic footballers but we also want them to be fantastic lads as well and we work hard at achieving that.”

Fair to say the hardest part of your job is telling a kid he isn’t going to make it at Liverpool?
“It’s the worst part of the job and it’s heartbreaking to do it, but I’m pretty sure all of the players that didn’t become scholars [graduates who are signed on two-year contracts] last year got a club somewhere else through our help. Wolves took two players off us, Stoke took some … we’ll always ring around clubs and say ‘We’ve got a decent player, what are you looking for? Come and have a look at him.’ Whatever we can do to push them on, we will.”

Pep Segura recently resigned as the academy’s technical director, which must have come as a blow. Is he going to be replaced?
“It was a blow, yes … Pep is actually still here at the moment so I don’t know where we are with that, but as soon as that is resolved the boss [Brendan Rodgers] and I are going to speak about the situation and how he wants to move the academy forward. The boss has great experience of working with youngsters from his time at Chelsea and I know he has his own ideas of what he wants done here. I also have my own ideas and we’re not too far apart in terms of the way we think about the game. So I’ll be having discussions with him and, for sure, he’s going to have a major influence on how we push forward here.”

Has Brendan Rodgers embraced the academy and the work you’re doing here?
“We have an established style [of play] and it’s not too far away from what Brendan wants. I’ve had five or six meetings with him and he’s always been positive about the players here, especially those who have gone up and trained at Melwood. We had a game there last week in which Brendan put 15-year-olds in alongside the likes of Jamie Carragher and Stewart Downing, so he’s really looking at the whole setup and I think he’s happy with it.

“As I say the whole time, there is only one team that matters at Liverpool and that’s the first team, no matter who has been the manager here that has been our philosophy. Our job is to help the first-team.”

Brendan has a clearly-identified playing philosophy, will that philosophy be adopted throughout the academy?
“It’s pretty much the way we play here already; the kids are told to press high, the full-backs are told to push on … one thing he wants is for the players to be comfortable on the ball in all positions and that is what we’ve been striving to do with the programme Pep Segura setup. He [Rodgers] is happy with the results and I am sure he will want to influence that further.”

Brendan stating publicly that more youngsters are going to get opportunities in the first-team must only encourage everyone associated with the academy?
“All we can do here is work hard. We believe we’re doing it right way – the kids understand tactically better now, they still have work to do when they go with the first-team, but the work is getting done properly and there is no one better than Brendan to make the necessary tweaks once they are with him.”

The last Liverpool youth-team player to establish himself in the first-team was that man there [I point to a large photograph of Steven Gerrard hanging in Frank’s office]. He made his debut in 1998, why has not been another Steven Gerrard in the past 14 years?
“To produce another Steven Gerrard is difficult because his mum and dad produced Steven Gerrard, as Shankly would have said, not the coaches here. Steven Gerrard was born to be a top player, but what we’re better at now is producing players that can player in the Premier League and you’ll find that in the next three or four years we’ll have a lot more players come through and play for Liverpool.

“This is the fourth year of the project and already we’ve had the youngest player to have ever played for Liverpool in Jack Robinson, the third youngest player in Raheem Sterling and then there is Flanno and Morgan, who are both in the top-20. So in the history of a club that is 120 years old, four of its youngest ever players have come through the current youth setup, that shows we’re starting to make a real impact and pushing the kids on quicker. NextGen will only help that process.”

Can you give specific examples of things that are being done with the kids now that weren’t before Rafa overhauled the academy in 2009?
“The programme introduced in 2009 is the Spanish way, which is about pressing hard, working hard, keeping the ball and being comfortable in possession. All the coaches here work to the same plan. Each coach has specific duties they have to undertake on specific days, it’s all timetabled and has been proven to work in Spain through the work Pep Seguara did at Barcelona, it’s mainly his ideas.

“We have an established style in regards to how we play and it’s not far away from what Brendan wants to do with the first-team. To go back to that game we had at Melwood last week which included first-team players and 15/16-year-olds; the level was really high, and for me that highlighted just how on track the work we’re doing here is.”

In his open letter to supporters, John Henry said the club wanted to put an emphasis on “developing our own players.” But has that not been the case here before FSG took over?
“It is Rafa Benitez who put us on the successful track we are on now. He asked me to come here and change the way we did things, to get the kids through quicker, to make sure the fitness was right, to make sure the physiotherapy was right … I feel it’s not just one thing we do right, it’s a lot of things we do right, collectively. I have fantastic staff here, I’m really proud of them all, they work tirelessly and are so dedicated to what they do. We’re one club, we were one club under Rafa, we were one club under Kenny and we’re still one club under the new boss.”

You speak with real warmth about Rafa, I get the sense you feel his imprint is on everything that is achieved at the academy?
“Absolutely, and Kenny always mentions him when he speaks about the academy. He started it all off, he was passionate about youth football and I see similarities in the new manager. I’m hoping it’s going to be continued success with Brendan and we continue to push on.”

Is there a direct link between the academy and FSG? Do you answer to the owners directly?
“No … Tom [Werner] and John [Henry] have been down here on a couple of occasions and I know they’re very keen on what we’re doing. But they’re obviously busy with the first-team.”

Has FSG’s emphasis on developing players put pressure on you? Do you feel under more pressure now than at any other time since becoming academy director?
“All the staff here put themselves under pressure to produce and work hard. We’re self-motivated and will work through thick and thin to do what’s best for the kids. At the end of the day it’s about the kids and how we can push them on.”

When you look back at your time at the academy what would like to have been your greatest achievement?
“I had really good success with Rafa and the first-team; I was chief scout and did team-analysis on our Champions League opponents. Being involved in that and the success which followed was probably one of the proudest moments of my life. When I finish at the academy, I would like to be remembered for helping the entire setup here improve and, most importantly, for getting players through into the first-team. The target is to have 50% of the first-team squad having coming through the academy.”

Do you think that’s realistic?
“I honestly do. If we keep investing in players like Raheem Sterling when they’re a little bit younger and work with them in the way we worked with him, I know we’ll produce players for the first team.”

Are you open to adopting ideas from other successful academies?
“When we go abroad as part of NextGen I like to speak with my counterparts about what they’re doing with their clubs – you’re always likely to learn one or two new, useful things. It was amazing when I asked Barcelona about how they get kids into La Masia every day; a lot of their kids live in La Masia but they also transport a lot of kids in from around Spain. They told me they spend 800,000 Euros a year on taxis, which is incredible.”

Is there any way Liverpool could spend £800,000 on taxiing kids to Kirkby?
“No chance!”

Being a Liverpool fan yourself must make being the director of the academy particularly special?
“You ask anyone who has stood on the Kop, or watched Liverpool for years, they’re all mad supporters who at some stage in their life have wanted to play for the first-team. I’m in a unique position where I can watch some of the kids we have worked with here play in the first-team and that honestly gives me a massive buzz.”

You once said that you came into work at 8.30am and left at 8.30pm. Is that still the case?
“I wouldn’t say its 8.30 in and 8.30 out anymore but it’s still a seven-day-a-week job with two weeks off in the summer and one week off at Christmas. It’s a job that requires full dedication, but when you love doing your job it’s not really a job. All of us here are getting paid to do a job thousands of Liverpool supporters would do for free. I realise how lucky I am.”

Enjoyed this interview? Discover more by joining the Blueprint for Football newsletter.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hamilton Aiming To Be The Best

Craig Levein. Judging by how the post-game talk was dominated by whether the Scottish FA should replace him or not when Scotland lost to Belgium in the World Cup qualifying stage, a defeat that left them bottom of their group with just two points, you would think that pointing at the manager was all that was needed to identify the reasons behind this dire situation.

Yet, for all Levein's defects and mistakes, the fault lines of Scottish football lie much deeper than the manager's role. For a nation that once produced world class players like Kenny Dalglish and Dennis Law, Scotland now struggles to produce players who are even remotely close to that level.

There are many reasons for that, yet one of them has to be the lack of vision shown by clubs. Few have dared to be innovative; fewer still have been brave enough to build their teams around the players coming out of their system.

Hamilton Academical, however, are among those few. Their youth system attracted attention for producing James McCarthy (pictured, left), who made his debut for them before he had turned sixteen, and James McArthur whose debut came as a seventeen year old. Both players helped Hamilton reach the Premier League before being sold for significant amounts to Wigan.

The emergence of those players didn't come by accident but rather was the result of years of work on their youth system; a system that their Youth Academy Director Frankie McAvoy has helped build. "Our philosophy is very simple: in every sport the goal is to be the best that you can possibly be. That is what we try to teach our kids here. Other than that, our aim is to get people saying that they love to watch us play," he says, explaining the beliefs that guide their work.

As per McAvoy's own admittance, it is a simple philosophy yet it is also one that is full of wisdom. Indeed, an attitude of pushing everyone to improve as much as possible is one that anyone involved in youth development would be advised to adopt.

If the philosophy is simple enough, the technical strategy to achieve it is a bit more complex. "There are five pillars in our coaching," McAvoy continues. "First of all there is the match where we prepare players for competition and in an environment where they're familiar with what they'll have to do in a game."

"Secondly there is tactical skill where we work to have clever creative players capable of adapting to the game and the changes that might be needed. Then there is the technical pillar that relates to each position requiring its own abilities. For instance a central midfielder will need different technique than a central defender."

"Fourth is the physical aspect where we're looking for strong and resilient players. If they struggle to handle the physical side they will commit errors so they must be ready for that."

"Finally there is psycho-social as every player is a human being and has his own worries. We have to help them and guide them so that they can handle themselves when they move up."

Such talk of pillars might sound like fancy corporate management talk, yet the analogy is a perfect one. If getting one to be the best they possibly can be is the ultimate goal then you have to look at each area of their development in order to ensure that they get there. And, like any pillar, each area needs its attention because if one is too weak then everything would crumble.

From talking about the overall structure, McAvoy then moves to the detailed tactical plan that Hamilton Accies adopt.

"What we do is that we bring them [the kids] in to make them as technically good as we can. They start at Soccer 7s playing in a 1-4-1 formation so that they can express themselves and get a feel of the ball. When they get older we introduce the 4-3-3 which we feel is the best system to play. The full back can move forward, it is adaptable for wide players high up the pitch, the central defenders have to be comfortable with the ball and you need a striker who can be the focal point of all of this. That's exactly what we do and what we try to get."

"We try to be as offensive as we can based on a system of keeping possession. We work on having good speed of play and players who are organised. Finishing is encouraged even from a distance. We will rarely change from those systems. Our goal is to produce football players rather than good youth teams."

Such praise of the 4-3-3 system indicates that McAvoy is another who worships at Barcelona's altar seeing that it is the system that they have helped popularise. Yet it is clear that his is not simply blind faith: he has adopted the system because he believes in the benefits that it brings to his sides.

More importantly, he's also analysed and adapted it so that it fits his particular situation.

Barcelona, for instance, give little value to the physical strength of their players which befits their situation as a club playing in what is largely a technical league. Hamilton, however, play in an entirely different culture so they have to ensure that their players can handle themselves physically.

Indeed, that is a key element that McAvoy looks at when it comes to promoting a player from one category to the next.

"What we do for a young kid showing potential we would move them up an age group to see how they go. For instance, if they're doing well at Under 14 we'll move them to the U15s to see how they go. First and foremost, however, if we're moving them up we see if they're capable of handling the physical side of the game."
If they're good enough they're old enough, then. As long as they're also strong enough as well.

Of course, sometimes the players who are promoted can't handle the step up. It is a delicate situation that needs to be handled carefully. "Sometimes some find it difficult. Then it is just a case of having them back in, to talk to them and helping them understand what needs to be done."

"It is all about developing the individual," he repeats, as if to stress just how important this is.

Most of the time, however, that development goes according to plan at which point the player progresses all the way to the first team. When it comes to recruiting players, this has obvious benefits. "A kid coming in, even if he's very young, knows that if he works hard and shows potential then by the time that he is sixteen he'll have a good chance of playing."

That much is evidenced by a cursory glance at the current Hamilton first team that is filled with players just out of their teens.

These results aren't coincidental but the work of a club who have decided to base the team around their academy graduates. It is why they've appointed a manager who is comfortable with that strategy. "I work on a daily basis with the first team manager," says McAvoy "Our philosophy is similar. He's very hand's on, he watches them play and occasionally he comes to watch the coaching session. It is a very simple transition. Having that understanding is the most important thing."

Inevitably when you have a young team, results aren't immediate. So it is proving to be at the moment for Hamilton but McAvoy is confident that will change. "On a first team level it is about finding a balance. If you have a lot of young players it might be difficult initially until they find their feet. That's what's been happening this season. Although we've been playing fantastic football, the results haven't been." "It is about to getting the fans to understand that it'll take a bit of time but ultimately they'll be able to enjoy a side that plays great football."

"That doesn't simply apply to us. Scotland have produced many good players but we haven’t been producing players capable of playing at the highest level for some time, we stopped producing world class players some time ago and we need to set that as a long term goal. Playing 4-3-3 offers them the chance to do that and to have the tactical flexibility to progress."

If you enjoyed this article you should probably check out Blueprint for Football Extra, our free newsletter, for more original articles.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Efficiency of Youth Systems

Every year, clubs release tens of youth players in whom they've invested years of coaching.  Some go years without seeing one of the players developed by their system make it to the first team despite the money the pour into their academy.

All this might seem a pretty inefficient use of resources, but it isn't.  That is what Simon Kuper, co-author of the brilliant book Soccernomics, thinks.

"It is not lot of money [that clubs invest].  I've seen the data and it is at most around £5 million per season.  It all depends on your level.  If you're Chelsea or Manchester City it is very hard for a guy aged 18 to perform better than established international players.  It is very, very hard.  If you're Stoke or Sunderland then it is easier. It depends on the club."

Kuper also has pretty clear ideas regarding the best age for clubs to sign players with the twenty to twenty-two age group being the one identified.

"That's what we say in the book.  You get people like Freddy Adu who were built up as having the potential to be a huge star but never really delivered.  It is very hard with a 17 year old to know whether they will be good.  With 20 to 22 year olds that isn't the case.  You can get them when they're still not yet a very expensive but you're buying him when it is clear that he can be a very good player.  That is, for instance, what Ajax did with Luis Suarez."