Over the past couple of weeks, Joseph Minala achieved widespread notoriety for a rather uncomfortable reason. The attacking midfielder, who looks a fair bit older than his declared age of seventeen years, has been impressing for Lazio at U20 level so much that he was recently called up to the first team.
Not everyone is impressed, however, and there are those arguing that one of the reasons for which he’s doing well is that he’s older than those he’s playing against. There’s no solid proof and all that everyone’s going by is his looks: hardly the most damning of reasons. Then again, when you see his pictures you can understand the scepticism.
All of this talk about Minala’s age, however, misses a main point of the whole story which is that clubs still overlook the long term prospects of a player if he has the physical strength that can make the difference at this level. Despite all the arguments made about the importance of developing individuals, rather than winning at all costs, you will still find many who will gladly opt for the individual who can help them win a competition even if in the long run that is all meaningless.
It is why those boys who mature physically at an earlier age still get picked ahead of the skilled yet weaker – for the time being – ones. It is also why some clubs will play precocious talents in as many age groups as possible rather than opting for the one that will provide him with the challenge that allows him to develop and push to the next level.
Even so, it is unfair to lay all of the blame on the coaches. The truth is that many feel that they’re working in the results business where the development of the individual is of little importance. With managers at first team level changing on an increasingly more frequent basis, and with each new manager coming in with his own ideas, the pressure is there for coaches down the scale to have something to show for their work. And the sad truth is that people are more easily impressed by wins then they are by the extent to which the players improved.
But one doesn’t even have to look at professional clubs to find evidence of that impatience. How many parents will gladly accept a coach’s decision to give playing time to all kids so as to ensure that they all get the exposure? How many will see the wisdom in having the kids experience playing in different positions rather than the one role in which they excel at that point? Or will they start complaining if these decisions result in defeats? Sadly, from personal experience I would think that in most cases it will be the latter.
Ultimately, it is all down to the culture fostered in the club where these children are receiving their footballing education. If the over-riding message is that the only result which is important is the one that deals with the progression of the children then everyone will work towards that. Yet, if that message is not forthcoming and regularly reinforced then the default setting will always be that of looking for the short term.
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