Young player development
Eddie Edgar´s comments that Canada lacked professional soccer environment in its development of young players led me to think a little more about that subject. And with my being here in Brazil for the past couple of months, there a few things I feel that should be emphasized in a discussion of potential player development models.
1. Motivation to become a professional player is essential. In most countries that comes from being able to see your domestic team play and witness the lifestyle and adoration that professional success can bring.
2. The steps to a future career in professional soccer need to be clear. That does not necessarily mean professional development contracts for youth players. It means that if the motivation to play professionally exists, that player (or his representatives) also know who to contact each step along the way.
3. Training in a professional soccer environment does not necessarily mean playing for money at the youth level nor does it mean playing in the academy of a large professional club. It does however mean playing in a development system that knows how to select players with potential and develop them. Normally, the instructors are full-time and professional. There are three of these professional development systems here in the State of São Paulo, Brazil and one highly developed municipally supported that recently went professional (Barueri). All four are very competitive with the academies of large professional clubs here in Brazil. In three professional development systems, the players are not paid (as is also the case in the academies of professional clubs in Brazil) but they do maintain an interest in each player´s career (ie. no outside agents allowed).
4. Training centres need to be close enough to players so that travel is not a serious impediment for parents. I doubt many players in Brazil would travel more than one hour from their home to train at under 18 except for the very exceptional player.
5. Most successful professional training centres in Brazil select players beginning at u-15 level. They also have three categories (U15, U17, U20 now U19). Poor professional clubs in Brazil tend to build their team through purchasing players (and cheaply) rather than developing them. This has led to three of these poor professional clubs to sign agreements with financially-strong professional training centres (and the professional training centre continues to retain rights to the player).
Lessons for Canada
1. We have a similar system to the professional training centres in Canada in the Junior hockey system. The greatest benefit that the CSA can provide is to ensure that professional training can be provided in a manner that allows compensation for the development to the developer when that player moves on to higher levels (like junior hockey).
2. Professional training does not necessarily need to be provided by the CSA. It can ensure standards are met through licencing and training certification. If the opportunity to benefit from quality training can flow back to the training centre, coaching salaries can be paid and facilities secured.
3. Professional training does not necessarily need to be provided by professional teams. Again, if you look at the Canadian junior hockey system, it capably provides advanced training to young hockey players. The same applies to soccer and has been proven here in Brazil. While the final chapters are still to be written, the first crop of young players from the most established of these systems (Pao de Açúcar EC)come off the assembly line in the next few years (and there will be a few in Europe very very soon).
4. The most important role for Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact is to show that playing professional soccer is possible for Canadian young players and helping providing them with the motivation to pursue a career in professional soccer. They can have academy teams as well but competition with them should be allowed to come from any system that is capable of providing the development. As in Brazil, the big money in soccer would still come from Europe and I don´t think it is necessary to compete with that.
I missed another important point.
Yesterday, I attended a Copa SP de Juniores game involving CA Juventus (Sao Paulo) and Fluminense along with a sports marketing professor (and part-time player agent). I made a comment that is seemed that the Juventus players seemed to be a bit taller across all positions on the field (except goalkeeper). As I mention in another thread Juventus is one of those teams that is essentially controlled by one of the rich professional training centres (Pao de Acucar EC). My friend told me that most player agents in Brazil put more weight on athletic ability and psychological makeup at U-15 than technical soccer ability (there is a required level however) because they have the confidence that they can develop the technique if gaps exist and it is more difficult to train speed and mental makeup.
In the end, Fluminense won this game on the intangibles and a superior goalkeeper(4-3 penalties) after game was tied 1-1. Juventus dominated the game and wasted many chances during the game. I should mention too that this Juventus team is essentially the Pao de Acucar team that won a Dutch U-17 tournament that included the U-17 teams from Valencia, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Fenerbache, Anderlecht and the Lithuanian nation U-17 team.
There have been many in Canada that believe that it is the quality of training our kids receive that differentiates us from soccer powers. This comment from someone who knows the player selection system well in Brazil seems to contradict the importance of that. The comments attributed to Eddie Edgar (and consistent with my experience) would suggest that player development at younger ages is not a big problem.
It would seem that what Canada really needs to do is focus intently on building the bridge from the 14/15 year old player to the tactically and technically mature 20 year old rather than being too concerned about younger age groups. And do this in a way that fits well with expectations and limitations imposed by parents.
Interesting comments. But the question that comes to mind is where would the money come from to pay for such a full-time professional training centre in Canada? especially if it's not being run by the CSA or the professional clubs.
First off, the CSA currently does not have the money and nor do we have a network of professional clubs in place to develop players. Even with the potential of Toronto FC developing a junior team, the MLS is still not a profitable venture so it is unlikely that full fledged development systems will develop without Toronto FC seeing an opportunity to sell players to Europe as well for profit.
If the financial opportunity is there to develop talent, investors will enter the business of developing talent. One of the key roles for the CSA to play is to ensure that the infrastructure allows for private interests to profit from player development. That is within a framework that is socially acceptable in Canada.
The professional training centres in Brazil exist in Brazil because these investors see an opportunity to develop talent to sell. A comment that was made to me about the Juventus team was that their players are being developed to sell and not for the big club of CA Juventus. Pao de Acucar EC only uses CA Juventus to develop and market its assets. CA Juventus allows itself to be used because it benefits from having these players in their team before they move on to Europe. These players are having their talent developed for sale to Europe.
Let me be clear about the Juventus U-20 (actually u-19) team. The only association it has with Juventus is that the players wear their shirt. The team trains at the Pao de Acucar training centre and is trained and managed by Pao de Acucar staff. If their was any doubt about who was running the show, all team officials were outfitted with Pao de Acucar golf shirts (no indication of CA Juventus). I was also told that the senior marketing man at Pao de Acucar was once the senior marketing manager at Palmeiras.
Again, Pao de Acucar has deep pockets and much deeper than probably all but one professional club(Sao Paulo FC) in Brazil.
Finally, if we are told over and over again that our 10 - 14 year olds are about as good as anyone´s 10 -14 year olds, the opportunity for professional development systems should also be about the same as elsewhere if the development rights flow in the same way in Canada.
I'm not trying to make a plug, but you should check out www.academysoccer.ca. Some private groups are trying to start professional development programs...
These professional groups in Brazil also perform agency roles.
To LT´s point, the key difference between those in Canada now and those involved in Brazil is money.