Watching Australia bow out of the Asian Cup against Japan, and Argentina win it’s 6th Under 20 World Cup, some interesting questions are raised about both country’s approaches to player development.
If you follow football in Australia you know that the topic of youth development has become one of the ugliest and probably most divisive issues in Australia’s recent football history. As fellow blogger, Mikey Salter describes it, our very own “culture war”, complete with racial stereotypes, slander and self preservation has muddied this topic for a few years now. So it is important to approach any discussion on the subject with sensitivity and honesty.
It would be easy to point to the unprecedented success that Argentina has had at under 20 level as endorsement for a more technical approach to youth development. Dig a little deeper however and it can be easily argued that none of this success, save for the 1979 under 20 triumph, has translated to tournament trophies at full senior level. Argentine’s Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have been the recipients of three, of the last four Golden Boot awards at the Under 20’s and it is here some conclusions can be drawn.
Neither of the three players mentioned are very big. All three rely on solid technique and quick feet to compete. In fact Argentina’s line-ups at the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Copa America could hardly be described as tall, aggressive or workman-like. Both tournaments saw them rated as the most attractive team in the competition and both tournaments saw them go out against Germany and the newly solidified and increasingly athletic Brasil respectively. It’s fair to say, that for all of Argentina’s aesthetic and technical ability, its lack of physical presence gets found out at senior level.
On the other hand, I watched with dismay as Australia crashed out of the Asian Cup against Japan on Saturday night. Much will be made of a generally poor tournament, a not so dubious red card for Vince Grella and two of Australia’s so called “super-stars” taking abysmal penalty kicks, but in the end, Australia drew once, and lost twice to teams that were probably more technical astute on an individual level. Whilst all three teams suffered from a size disadvantage, and in some cases looked far more fragile physically they managed to get a result against the tournament favourites.
In stifling heat and humidity Australia’s inability to slow down the pace of the game, a technically difficult thing to do, ultimately resulted in the Socceroos downfall. For all our power and size, we proved that we will not always be able to dominate our opponents physically in Asia.
From personal experience I believe it is true that a well coached, imaginative and technically proficient team junior team will be able to dominate games against physically stronger, bigger and even quicker opposition. But as the examples of both Argentina and Australia show, neither approach is the definitive answer to our junior development questions. Whilst the accusations of a “British Mafia” dominating the youth system and teaching an outmoded kick and rush game is completely exaggerated, we see precious few examples of junior coaches teaching a balanced game that values both competitive, aggressive play and creativity, technique and style. If the dogmatic and often reactionary mentality of polar and warring philosophies continues at youth level, even while the international examples clearly point to the need for a balanced approach, we can expect a few more disappointments at international level.
If you have your own views on this topic or any others in this blog, feel free to comment!