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Is it time to re-evaluate FIFA’s youth system?
The recent move of Stuart Armstrong from Southampton to Celtic hit the headlines for unusual reasons. As part of the £7 million deal, Dyce Boys Club received an unexpected six-figure windfall as compensation for the role they played in developing him during his teenage years at the club.
It is money that has left Dyce treasurer Len Nicol “in a sense of shock,” and that, in itself, is a signal that all is not entirely as it should be in the Scottish youth system. This is a view shared by outspoken journalist and broadcaster Jim Spence, who feels that stories like this should not be so exceptional and that it is time to re-evaluate the youth system and return the boys’ clubs to the central position they used to enjoy in developing future players for both the national team Scotland’s professional teams.
What has changed?
Today, boys clubs like Dyce do not have anything like the strength and influence that they had 30 years ago. The path to professional football used to be via school teams, boys clubs, the Boys Brigade and often, a combination of all three. Today, however, the professional system has reduced their relevance.
Boys are tempted away in their early teens, or even younger, by the lure of a professional career with a big team. Like spinning the reels in an online casino, it looks like a tempting path to fame and fortune. But while casino goers can evaluate the options through a comparison site like Casinopedia and make an informed choice on the best path to success, most youth footballers have the odds stacked against them from the start.
As Jim Spence put it, the professional clubs: “Hoover up their talent like an industrial fish factory operation.” He argues that due to the surplus of players, they will sign practically anyone, and the vast majority will be cast aside, left with: “broken hearts and shattered dreams.”
Despite the hyperbole, Spence has a point. The number of players who drop out from professional football compared to those who go on to careers like that of Stuart Armstrong is eye-watering, and the comparison with hitting the jackpot on a slot machine is not as fanciful as you might think.
Who really benefits?
A professional youth system is all about developing future talent. The question is, for whom? The old “S” system that preceded the current professional youth development system produced players like Paul Sturrock and David Narey, men who went on to represent a Scotland team that competed with the best on the international stage.
Scotland’s record in more recent years speaks for itself – it’s been more than 20 years since the last appearance in the final stages of either a World Cup or European Championship.
So where is the up and coming talent? The fact is that there are currently more than 30 Scottish clubs with 20 players in each of the five age groups. That makes more than 3,000 so-called “elite” players. However, only a handful will go on to be professional footballers.
Spence argues that returning to a system whereby youngsters can play with their friends in a less pressurised setting gives talent a chance to shine through, particularly among the later bloomers, and it is logic that is difficult to fault.
On making the appointment SYFA chairman, John McCrimmond, said: “First and foremost we are extremely pleased to be welcoming Florence to the organisation. As a board of directors, we are confident that she is the right person to take the organisation forward as we continue to grow and provide greater access to safe, organised football for Scotland’s young people. With a wealth of experience in administration, project management and communication we are excited to start working with Florence to move the SYFA forward during this challenging yet exciting time for youth football in Scotland.”
YFS welcomes Florence to the community, wishes her best of luck in the role and looks forward to working closely with her to promote the grassroots game across Scotland.
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After the football had concluded, there was a special treat for the young players, with two Hearts legends in attendance for the presentation. John Colquhoun, now owner of Box Soccer, told a stand packed with players and parents: "Thanks to everyone for turning out at today's event. It's the first time we've ran this initiative and it's great to see so many young players from across Scotland taking part. When I was a kid I'd often play against players older than me and it was key to my development. It was fantastic watching some of the younger players working so hard to push older opposition all the way. But most importantly you're all here playing and I can see smiles all around."
Colquhoun then introduced current Heart of Midlothian FC manager Craig Levein, who echoed his comments before providing the winning teams with their prizes. He said: "It's brilliant to see the facility cime live with so many young players. Oriam was built for days like today. The standard and attitudes were fantastic and the future looks bright."
As the domestic season draws to a close, the focus of the back pages is slowly but surely starting to settle on Russia. The opening match of the FIFA World Cup takes place on 14 June, when Russia take on Saudi Arabia. Ordinarily, it would not be a match-up to capture the imagination, but there is always something special about seeing the host nation in action.
Russia are favourites to win that first match, with some bookmakers having them as strong as 1/4 on, and if all goes to form, they will take an early lead in the Group A table. But how far can the host nation really go?
Everyone likes a dark horse
Even the most die-hard follower of the top teams loves to look down the list of qualifiers and select their personal dark horse, which they will cheer on to pull off a few surprises. You can also read about 5 underdog teams to watch at 2018 World Cup over here. Clearly, the hosts will be one on the most talked-about underdogs in the World Cup. But just how far can they go?
Russia’s World Cup record
In the Soviet days, the team had some strong World Cup performances, making the quarter finals in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and having their best ever performance in 1966, when they lost to West Germany in the semi final.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, Russia has had a torrid time. The team has only qualified three times, and has never proceeded beyond the group stages, winning just two of the nine matches they have played. Potentially, however, things could be different this year.
The luck of the draw
The other teams in Group A with Russia are Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay. While Uruguay are clearly the stand-out favourites in the group, Russia certainly have a realistic chance of getting through to the last 16. Some see Egypt as another dark horse, and the match between them, which takes place on 19 June, could be the pivotal one.
Pressure to perform
With everything else that’s going on in the world at the moment, a successful World Cup is of huge importance to Russia, both socially and politically. If their own team can perform well, that will be the icing in the cake – in fact, according to a survey by the Public Opinion Fund (FOM), three quarters of the 1,500 people asked said it is “personally important” that Russia performs well, although only four percent backed their team to win the entire event.
The additional pressure of being the host nation has traditionally been more of a curse than a blessing. Of course, South Korea astonished the watching world to make the semi finals in 2002, but they are the exception that proves the rule. More commonly, the hosts struggle to live up to the hype. South Africa had a wretched World Cup 2010, their consolation win over France proving the only bright point.
One man is quietly confident that Russia can go at least one step further than they have gone before, and that’s their former manager, Fabio Capello. The 71 year-old, who was recently sacked from his latest role at Chinese club Jiangsu Suning, is confident that Russia have what it takes to make an impact this year. When asked by FIFA.com what the world could expect from his former team, he said: “I saw the draw – they will get past the first round.”
He added that there is one man Russia will desperately need to have firing on all cylinders, and that is the captain, striker Fyodor Smolov. The 28 year old is undoubtedly world class, and has already attracted Premier League attention, with West Ham expected to make a move for him in the transfer window.
- Not solely about football.It’s a rarity finding sports betting sites that are dedicated only to football. The leading football betting sites are mostly general sports betting sites. They also feature other sports and events such as basketball, baseball, volleyball, and even notable non-sports events like the Oscars.
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