Sunday, June 16, 2013
Lion City Cup & England's Disaster In Israel
England’s abject failure in Israel at the European Under 21 Chamoionships has yet again thrown the country’s youth policies, or lack thereof, into focus.
As if three straight defeats wasn’t enough, against Italy, Norway and Israel, it was the manner of them. Manager Stuart Pearce was quick to say he was deprived of key players like Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but whether they would have had the power to change things is a moot point.
For a nation that still considers itself a football power it must be galling to know they cannot put together a squad of 23 players who can beat minnows like Israel and Norway. England, as the English love to tell us monotonously, is home to the greatest football league in the world.
Developing young players is without doubt the toughest job in football despite what the likes of Jose Mourinho might say as he contemplates Chelsea’s bulging bank account. No waving obscene sums of money to attract the best kids.
Coaching the kids come with its own pressures. They would rather practice celebrate scoring a 40 yard scorcher rather than work on shape and defensive discipline. The natural precociousness of teenagers is multiplied they ull on a football shirt and think they are just months away from contracts that could make them millionaires before they can vote in an election.
Singapore have their own approach to youth development. Like Malaysia they have their own dedicated team, Young Lions in the SLeague while younger players compete in the National FootballLeague, an amateur second tier.
Indeed as England were waving the white flag in Israel Singapore was hosting a youth tournament of its own.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Lion City Cup, a celebration of youth football that attracts some of the biggest names in world football.
Recent editions have seen the likes of Ajax, Manchester United and Juventus and the current edition is no less illustrious with Arsenal, Eintracht Frankfurt, Corinthians and PSV Eindhoven joining two host teams, NFA Under 16 and NFA Under 15 in a mouth watering week of football.
To give some idea of how popular this competition is over 5,000 fans turned up on match day one to see Corinthians thrash NFA Under 15 7-0 while Arsenal just edged NFA Under 16 2-1.
Apart from patriotic fervor many in the crowd had come to see a young lad named Irfan Fandi who carries all the pedigree of a thoroughbred. Son of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, Irfan has been tipped for stardom from an early age.
He has already enjoyed stints overseas with a number of European clubs and indeed ahead of the Lion City Cup he had spent two months training with Spanish side Hercules CF and for many Singaporeans this was their first opportunity to catch their future star.
And he didn’t disappoint, netting against Arsenal, a real poacher’s effort from one yard, and putting in a fine performance against the London team that impressed many onlookers.
The beauty of football at this level is it is not yet about results. Arsenal manager Liam Brady, himself a product of their youth system, said as much after his team had lost 4-3 to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Arsenal had lost 4-3 but Brady has happy to see how the players had reacted to going a goal down within 15 seconds and conceding a second halfway through the first half, pointing out the defence had recovered well after starting poorly.
‘It’s all about experience’ said the Irishman charged with developing Arsenal’s famed policy that has produced players like Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshire.
There is a large gap between playing at Under 15 level when the players are still in effect schoolchildren, and Under 21 when they have become men. Yet those are the crucial years. Talent can be spotted early, these days it is common to see players join club’s academies as nine year olds, but the post puberty years are crucial.
That is when the lessons learned are either absorbed or discarded. That is when an individual’s hunger and mental strength become important. Boys become men, discover girls, cars and money. It can be a heady mix and not all can handle it.
The raw potential shown by the likes of Fandi, Kaylen Hinds (Arsenal) and Nils Herdt (Eintracht Frankfurt) still has a long way to go before they can be considered to have made the grade.
And even when a player does feel he has ‘made it’ performances like England’s in the Middle East suggest they continue to be plagued by outside distractions.
SOURCE - My Jakarta Globe column last week...not on line