English football is dramatically failing its young players.
A vital reason, but possibly not the most obvious one, why English football and more importantly English players are lagging behind the likes of Germany and Spain is the quality of football pitches across England.
The English football season is generally played between September and May, during this time period the country experiences the majority of it's poor weather; with temperatures dropping and precipitation increasing.
This therefore impacts on both young players and the quality of the playing surfaces alike. Children, exposed to the cold and rain are expected to play a football in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, enjoy it and somehow improve.
Furthermore, due to the fact that we choose to play our football season during the cold and wet months, the pitches, which are attacked by a mixture of metal football studs and rain water, look more like trenches that somewhere meant to host the beautiful game.
These poor pitches force young players to play the ball in the air to avoid the ball bobbling around everywhere or literally getting stuck in the mud. More importantly this stops children from passing the ball along the floor and being able to play the tika-taka style of play which we associate with the leading teams in Europe, such as, Barcelona, Ajax, Arsenal and more recently Bayern Munich.
In order to solve this problem and provide better playing surfaces for our young footballers, there are a number of solutions which the F.A could possibly turn to.
Firstly, the introduction of more artificial football pitches. As footballing technology develops, the quality of astro-turf pitches has improved vastly. From the rock-solid sand sprayed pitches of old, to the knew springing green third generation, fourth generation and now fifth generation pitches which have replaced the sand with tiny pieces of rubber to cushion any impact with the surface as well as providing a perfect playing surface to play the passing game.
Secondly, a little more radical solution, but one which would at least give the football pitches of England a fighting chance, is changing the start and finish of the youth football season to the potentially drier months of the year.
If the season was played between January and August for example, players would be less likely to be playing in poor weather conditions for so long, with the majority of the season being played in the spring and summer rather than autumn and winter. In turn, leading to drier, flatter pitches with grass on them rather than just plain mud.
Once playing surfaces improve young English players will then be able to improve technically and become more comfortable in position of the ball.
However, the quality of the playing surface is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. In England young players play on huge pitches from an extremely early age. Recently the F.A have made a step in the right direction introducing 9-a-side football up to the age of fourteen, whereas before players would be playing on full-size pitches from the age of eleven.
Yet there is still room for improvement, players across Europe and other parts of the world will initially start of their playing carers in 4v4 and 5v5 football matches with many, especially in Brazil playing the version of the game: futsal.
Futsal is a version of the game which is usually played on a small indoor wooden pitch. Popular in most of South America and Southern Europe, futsal is a small sided football game based on close control and quick passing. The ball is smaller and heavier than a regular football and also hardly bounces, this encourages the majority of play to be played along the ground at a faster pace than regular football.
International football stars such as Ronaldhino, Messi, Ronaldo and Xavi were all brought up playing this style of the game.
In Britain there are too many coaches that adopt a 'win at all costs' attitude to youth football and forget about the real agenda of improving the development of young players. Team's such as Ajax and Barcelona's youth team's, like their first team's concentrate on playing 'the right way': playing the ball out from the back, stretching team's and creating space until the right moment appears to penetrate.
At the early stages, team's may struggle attempting to play this style of football. The high intensity and tempo needed in order for this style of play to become affective may be hard to adjust to and lead to team's loosing matches.
However, we should have coaches which still encourage players to persist with this style and improve player development. Rather than telling just players to 'go long' or 'hoof it', (both terms used you'll find widely used in youth football matches around the country) we should be encouraging players to keep the ball and take care of the ball.
English football has certainly got a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the world, and until the F.A starts to implicate some serious changes into the nations youth football England will be lucky to come near winning any major international tournaments.
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