Non-League Football: A Negative Environment for Young Players

Shouting, screaming, bullying at half time. The young debutant has given the ball away, only his second poor pass of the half, but it has led to a free kick and a subsequent goal. The player is clearly distraught.

The senior full back has actually been poor all half; he’s allowed his winger to cut inside every time and gave away four free kicks in the process. But a goal didn’t come from any of them. His mistakes haven’t been punished. The goal came from a poor pass from the debutant. And plus, the right back is a senior member of the group, one of the ‘gaffer’s boys’ who has journeyed with him to each of his seven club’s in a five-year spell as a non-league manager. He doesn’t need telling.

There is of course other ways to look at the mistake before the goal. The debutants ten-yard pass hasn’t reached its target. It’s therefore his fault, that’s a simplistic view. Maybe though his partnering central midfielder didn’t make the best possible angle he could for him. Maybe if that midfielder’s movement were better than a passing channel to the striker would have opened up. Maybe, just maybe, if the senior full back had communicated better then a risk-free pass out to him would have been an option. And away from all of this, if the free kick is defended well, if the goalkeeper comes to claim when he should, if the centre-back out jumps his opponent, if the men in the wall jump with maximal effort, then the goal never happens.

But of course it’s the debutants fault; he gave the ball away that led to the free-kick forty-yards out.

One of two things will now happen at half time. One, the player will be boosted, his positives will be highlighted, the mistake will be constructively discussed but a return to the positives will take place. He will leave the dressing room disappointed, but holding a desire to change the team’s position. OR… constructive criticism will be thrown out of the door along with the drinks-bottle and the pile of cones that were left from the warm up. Fifteen minutes won’t be spent analysing the 45 minutes before hand, nor will they be spent offering a solution to comeback from a 1-0 deficit. They will instead be spent hammering the young player, the scapegoat for a poor team performance.


The second half begins and the opposition start brightly. They get tight to the young midfielder because they’ve heard the half time hammering. His desire to receive the ball has dropped dramatically; he now fears mistakes above failure. If he hides then he is less likely to get the ball, and that reduces the chance of mistakes. He hates the experience. Hates football, hates everything about it. The pocket money isn’t worth it for this feeling. His love for the game, built up over 19-years, has been sapped from him in just fifteen minutes.

The teammates start to get on at him, start to show similar bully-ish signs that the manager displayed at half time. It’s not their fault; they don’t know how to deal with the situation. They haven’t taken the courses, or studied the mindset of players. Why would they? They are still players. But the manager should have, so should his assistant.

On 65 minutes the opposition get their second goal. Once again the winger has cut inside the senior full back, only this time he has scored. Game over. The reaction: Debutant off, dragged off. Substitute on. Not a word to the senior full back. He doesn’t need telling. The debutant feels a terrible concoction of relief and shame. He takes his place on the bench, dismissed by the manager with not even a glimmer of eye contact. No one speaks to him on the bench, for no one wants to be seen consoling him in front of the manager. They of course want their chance next week.

An extreme story or a regular occurrence in Non-League Football?

In my experience coaching at British University level over the last two years, what has become increasingly apparent is the number of top-level young players who have lost their love for football. Subsequently, the first job of a coach is simply to reinstall this love. It’s not technical or tactical, but it is probably the most important thing a coach will teach to a young player who has suffered in the system.

These individuals fall into the category of ‘close but no cigar’ in relation to professional football. Some may have experienced being a professional for a short period, but most would have been released on the expiry of their youth-team scholarships. There is no doubt they have the ability to earn money from the game at some level, and particularly in England. The problem is that there generally seems to be a disregard for development in non-league football. A bully-ish culture that displays inconsistency, instability and pre-historic attitudes towards managing players. It is school ground bullying but grass has replaced the tarmac.

Of course there are anomalies to the rule. And some managers in the semi-professional level of football are providing fantastic environments for their players. But these clubs are just that, anomalies. And of course, a manager isn’t solely to blame; instead there are clubmen above him who don’t consider ways of implementing a better environment.

So what is the result of all of this? Well, from a brief glimpse I would suggest the ‘no mistakes’ mentality in the game has led to, in many cases, a terrible unattractive culture in non-league football, whereby the bulldog has replaced the technician. Again with reference to my experience with university football, the biggest motivation for the players is the fact they are allowed to play football in a way they enjoy. Playing for passes and not yards. For possession and not knock-downs.

The end result for me is inevitable; too many good young players in England will fall out of football as quickly as they fall out of love with the game. More than 90% of academy players will not play first team at their club, and most won’t play professional football, so where are these players by the age of 20?


Chelsea Gain Edge In Early Title Race Clash

Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City

Jose Mourinho’s celebration for Chelsea’s winner tonight was enough to highlight the importance of his side’s win against Premier-League rivals Manchester City this weekend. Manchester City dominated possession for large parts of the game but it was the efficiency of Mourinho’s team which carved the way to Fernando Torres’ 90th minute winner.

It was a Jekyll & Hyde performance for the Spanish striker who missed an easy opportunity to take

More to come: Mourinho didn't hold back on celebrating Chelsea's winner against City. (source:google)

More to come: Mourinho didn’t hold back on celebrating Chelsea’s winner against City. (source:google)

the lead mid-way through the first half, but then recovered well to coast past Gael Clichy and assist Andre Schurrle for Chelsea’s 33rd minute opener, in a man-of-the-match performance. City reacted well to going behind and Sergio Aguero’s clever movement and quick finish allowed the away team to equalise early into the second half. The Argentinean spun off Chelsea’s defensive line to latch onto Sami Nasri’s pass before firing a first time finish inside Petr Cech’s near post, admittedly the keeper getting his angles wrong in the process. After equalising Manchester City looked the stronger team as Yaya Toure and David Silva continued to dictate play in midfield. That was, until the 90th minute when poor decision making from Joe Hart caused a mix up and gifted Fernando Torres a winner. The Spaniard indirectly benefiting from the rewards of his persistent work rate throughout the match.

Arsenal may sit top of the table but will never be far from critics and will surely suffer from a weaker squad as the season reaches its business end. With Moyes’ United struggling this season it leaves Manchester City and Chelsea as favourites for a two-horse title race.

Mourinho’s celebration was, as he explained in his post match press conference, aimed at his son in the Chelsea crowd. In true Mourinho fashion he made sure the opportunity for a psychological edge wasn’t wasted – stating his team had ‘beaten the best team in the league’ – and immediately moving any pressure beginning to loom on his progressively impressive squad. One would expect more emphatic celebrations to come for Chelsea this season.

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The ‘Romance’ of the Transfer Market and its implications on ‘English’ Football

A view from another angle as to why the development of homegrown players is being halted in England.

People often talk about the romance of the English the FA Cup, but the modern English game seems to have been taken over by a far superior love-bug, and that is the Summer Transfer Market. Something completely different, and very often, not at all English!

Having spent the last six months studying, coaching and traveling in Australia and South East Asia, I have had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world. Amongst those were Europeans, many of them being German. What struck me about the Germanic views and ideas on football, of which much is to be admired, was the genuine love they hold for homegrown players. Players who come through the academy of their local club and who go on to achieve great things for that club and for their country.

In England, I find it is the complete opposite. Fans from all over the country love the romance of the transfer market, the period in the summer when huge foreign signings head to the Premier League. Ultimately great for the Premier League but year after year more restricting for young English talent.

High Price: Bayern Munich paid top price for the services of Mario Gotze this summer (source:google)

High Price: Bayern Munich paid top price for the services of Mario Gotze this summer (source:google)

If a German fan is told his club is spending £40 million on a foreign player, his response will often be, ‘Why? What is wrong with our own players?’ – If a German club is preparing to spend that much on foreign export, then it can only be justified if the player is not just top flight player in world football, but one of the very best players in world football. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the most expensive transfer in the Bundesliga this summer involved a German, Mario Gotze moving from Borussia Dortmund to rivals Bayern Munich.

Certain people may think this is a self-sufficient stereotypical Germanic approach, and maybe so, but it is clearly being applied day in day out in the Bundesliga, a league that is relishing from financial efficiency as well as providing a platform for the production line of young German players.

Take Bayern Munich, champions of Germany and Europe – in their first two domestic fixtures this season they have started with no fewer than seven German internationals in each game. The German fans want to watch homegrown talent, so much so that the decision to make a Spaniard the Bayern Munich head coach this summer sparked slight controversy. And would have no doubt sparked more had it not been for Pep Guardiola’s impeccable resume. Guardiola himself muted any cries of mishap by taking it upon himself to learn the German language before his first day in charge at the club.

With all of this in mind, tt is no surprise that average attendance for Bundesliag games last season was nearing 30% more than the average Premier League game. Why? Because of incredibly low ticket pricing, as a result of low expenditure by clubs, as a result of promoting and relying on HOMEGROWN talent.

It has become a regular tradition to moan about the English national teams downfalls, and this may be well justified. BUT the same people moaning are also the ones who get excited at the thought of expensive foreign superstars coming to the Premier League, without considering the implications for young English players.

Tottenham Hotspur, with or without selling Gareth Bale, will be one of the top spenders of the EPL this summer. The clubs spending will exceed 100m having

Likely to miss out: Carroll has impressed early on but will suffer from incoming established signings (source:google).

Likely to miss out: Carroll has impressed early on but will suffer from incoming established signings (source:google).

already signed already signed Pauliniho (Brazilian), Soldado (Spanish), Chadli (Belgium) and Capoue (French), with more to follow. The result will no doubt mean that highly rated young English players Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Harry Kane, all academy graduates at the North London club, will find themselves too far down the pecking order, and will more than likely have to settle with Championship loan moves to prevent minimal competitive football. This, at a time, when Spurs’ U21 set up is the finest in the country. Having topped the U21 table last year, Spurs have eased off early challenges from Chelsea and Manchester City this season, scoring 10 goals in the process and with all of the above three in fine form.

So, a look on English football would suggest you-cant-have-your-cake-and-enjoy-it-too, although I’m sure the Germans may have something to say about that in coming years. With the league profiting hugely financially last season: Revenues increasing by a whopping 7%, wages costing almost half compared to the EPL and attendances being higher then anywhere else in Europe, surely the self-sufficient Germanic attitude will stand them in far superior stead to the big English spenders in years to come. Not to mention they may well have a World Cup winners medal to go with it.

Some Highlights from Barcelona’s Academy Matches

Whilst the first team continue to provide us with some of the finest footballing displays ever seen, take a look at some footage from Barcelona’s youngsters in this video clip! Some as young as 8 or 9 but already showing the incredible talent that is rife through the La Masia academy: Simply a production line for world class footballers!

Take particular notice of the audacious over-head kick at 2.39.


Young Players To Break Through In The EPL This Year

2012 was an incredible year in sport.  From Europe’s Miracle at Medinah and the summer’s Olympic story, to ‘Aguerooooo’  and the unbelievable scenes in Manchester on the final day of the Premier League season, 2012 was a year of records. 2013 may be a slightly quieter year in sport but there will certainly be no time for a come down in the world of football. And for many players, this will be there year to break records.

With competition as high as it’s ever been, it’s an incredibly tough bridge to cross between youth team and first team football at the elite end of English football. The reality is that players will need to prove themselves on a loan basis in order to kick start their professional career.

With this in mind PitchSideTalk takes a look at potential young players who could break through into first team football this calendar year…

Back for good: Townsend needs to finally settle at White Hart Lane. (source:google)

Back for good: Townsend needs to finally settle at White Hart Lane. (source:google)

Andros Townsend – Tottenham Hotspur: No one can claim Townsend has sat and waited for his career to kick off in England. The 21-year-old has already endured loan spells at no less than eight clubs in his quest to seek regular first team football. With this movement, settling into a set up is near on impossible and although Townsend has enjoyed good moments on his travels, he has found it hard to learn his trade. However, he returned to join Spurs for pre season before the 2012/13 campaign and impressed enough for the club’s new manager to retain his services. Whilst his game time has been limited to a few sub appearances this season, the quick wide man has shown he can more than cope with the demands of the Premier League. If he can progress from merely coping to strongly affecting games, he should be one who gets more chances as the year goes on. It is not the time for another loan move for Townsend, who sits behind Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale in the winger’s pecking order, now is the time to deliver on a consistent basis at Spurs.

Lucas Piazon – Chelsea: Having initially began his football career playing Futsal, he switched to the grass form of the game at the age of 11 where his talent began to blossom. At 14 years old he moved away from his family in Cortiba to join Sao Paulo where he quickly progressed and caught the eye of a number of International scouts. Chelsea agreed to sign the Brazilian teenager in 2011 after fighting off competition from a number of clubs. At just 18 he has already been heavily involved with the clubs first team set up, making his Premier League debut against Aston Villa just before Christmas. He came on in the second half and looked more than comfortable in Chelsea’s midfield, assisting Rameires’ goal with his first few touches before winning a penalty which he subsequently took but unfortunately missed. With game time likely to be limited in the mega-star Chelsea side, a loan spell could be the thing to trigger the career of this hugely talented youngster.

Nick Powell – Manchester United: A product of the highly productive Crewe Alexander academy, Powell shone last season

New man: Powell finding his feet at Manchester United (scurce:google)

New man: Powell finding his feet at Manchester United (scurce:google)

with his first team performance at the club at just 18, prompting swift interest and a move to Manchester United. Since the move he has, as expected, had limited opportunity’s but is surely a future star at Old Trafford. The teenager, who can operate as a forward or anywhere across the midfield, will see an opportunity in and ageing United midfield, with players like Scholes and Giggs no longer playing as regularly. However, as always with United, he faces tough competition and will have to be patient with his progress.

Who do you think could be the break-through player in the Premier League this calender year? Comment below or tweet @PitchSideTalk to have your say!

More Problems For Brazil Ahead Of 2014

Violence in Copa Supamericana just 18 months ahead of Brazil 2014.

Brazil: Known for its carnivals, beaches and Samba-style Football, also for its corruption, violence and lack of order. A country with a crazy love for football, craziness though, often stretching to madness. When Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup, the initial feeling was positive, surely there is no better place to stage one of the greatest sporting shows on earth. Brazil’s national team plays and the country comes alive. Businesses close early, roads block up and bars fill as quickly as a Caipirinha cocktail can be poured.

However, behind the visage of passion and fancy football, there are underlining problems within Brazilian football, further highlighted by the Copa Sudamericana on Wednesday. The match between Brazil’s Sao Paulo and Argentinean side Tigre was played to decide the winner of South America’s second most prestigious competition. The atmosphere was heated in Sao Paulo’s Murumbi stadium before kick off, heightened by a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Tigres stadium.

On the pitch, the home team quickly took control of proceedings. They went ahead through a goal from Lucas, in his last game for the club before he moves to Paris St. German. Five minutes later Osvaldo scored with an audacious chip-shot past Tigres’ goal keeper, giving the home team a 2-0 lead going into half time. But at half time the trouble started. A fight broke out between the players, leaving police and match officials having to prevent violent outbreaks. After a few minutes of individual confrontations – in most parts just unfavorable comments to opposition – the players left the pitch for the interval.

At that point the situation looked to have settled down but the events to follow have quite rightly taken the sporting world by shock. Reports suggest that Brazilian police officers made their way into the Tigres dressing room armed with guns and baton sticks. Not to have a quiet talk with the staff but instead to intimidate, frighten and even abuse the players. A gun was pointed at Tigres’ goalkeeper Damian Albil’s whilst the Argentine media claim to have photos of a blood stained dressing room with comments that players were hit with police sticks.

Remarkably, despite the fact Tigres refused to play the second half, Sao Paulo received the trophy and appeared to celebrate like all was normal. The club’s president even stated, ‘They were going to lose by a big score. Our biggest victory is the fact that the Argentines ran away.’ Forgetting completely the Tigres players sat in their dressing room, waiting for three hours before being able to exit the stadium safely. An incredible, ridiculous but above all worrying day for South American football, just eighteen months before Brazil are set to host the 2014 World Cup. A place of passion, partying and positive atmosphere – but not for the Tigres players and this is by far an isolated incident.

Player violence on the pitch is something that can be easily dealt with, with the use of ‘legal’ disciplinary action. Not taking police batons to players at half time but instead by using the two yellow and red weapons available to every referee. However, the fear in this is the behavior of the legal system. A legal system that in eighteen months will be in charge of controlling an event of the highest scale, an event which will include people from all over the world.

There will no doubt be investigations into the incidents in the Murumbi Stadium on Wednesday, but likewise there will no doubt be hidden information from what appears to be a corrupt police force. A team unwilling to play the second half of a final is incredibly worrying, but the words of Sao Paulo’s president suggests the naivety of a great football nation to address the situation they face – ‘Our biggest victory is the fact that the Argentines ran away.’

…What are your thoughts on the situation in Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup?

Thoughts/Comments welcome. Comment below or tweet @pitchsidetalk. All support appreciated!

NextGenWatch: Seyi Ojo, Liverpool FC

The highly talked about and highly rated Oluwaseyi (Seyi) Ojo began his career with MK Dons academy, playing for the Buckinghamshire based club from the age of 10.

During his time with the Dons, Ojo played a number of age groups above himself, even playing with the U18’s and training with the first team at the tender age of 13. In his U14’s season, he gained further attention after impressive performances with England’s U16’s, so much so that a number of English clubs showed an interest in him. At the age of 14, Ojo made the move north to sign for Premier League club Liverpool.

He is now in his second season with the Merseyside club and continues to develop, again playing in groups above his age. Noticeably his performance against Wolves FC U18’s recently when the attacking midfielder scored, assisted and won a penalty (see video below).

A versatile player who is technically and mentally strong enough to play all over the pitch, with the ability to keep the ball in tight areas, beat players with ease, pick out a finely placed pass – and best of all he is already involved within the England’s youth teams.

What we know about him…
D.O.B – 19/06/1997 (age:15)
Nationality – English. He has represented the country at U16’s and U17’s level.
Height – 5ft 11in
Position – Attacking Midfielder
Preferred Foot – Left
Attributes: Power, passing, technique