The Heroes of Seville Now a Team With No Name

The rise and fall of Steaua Bucharest

Jerzey Dudek, Bruce Grobbelaar and Edwin van der Sar have all saved penalties in a European Final. However the efforts of another will surely top those of the aforementioned custodians; Helmut Duckadam. Not a household name west of Bucharest, but Duckadam, the Steaua Bucharest goalkeeper of the mid-1980s, was branded the Hero of Seville after his magnificent performance in the 1986 European Cup Final penalty shoot out where he saved all four of Barcelona’s penalties and by doing so he chiselled Steaua’s name in to European football history. European competition in late 1970s and early 1980s was largely dominated by English clubs, that was until the indefinite ban after the 1985 Heysel stadium disaster and the ban opened the door for the rest of Europe take their mantle. Since its beginning in 1955 only one other eastern European team has won the European Cup; Red Star Belgrade in 1991, and this makes Steaua’s 1986 victory all the more unique.

A side formed by the Romanian military in 1947, they recruited the country’s best young players with the promise of being able to avoid being called up for national service. Their rise to European success began under the guidance of coach, Emerich Jenei, in the second of six spells as manager, he helped Steaua secure their place atop of Romanian football’s elite with three successive title wins and two cup wins between 1984 and 1987, they narrowly missed three successive doubles by losing the 1986 Cup Final to city-rivals Dinamo. It mattered little, with their domestic dominance almost assured they started their assault on Europe.

Steaua’s victorious European Cup run in 1985/86 was at the start of an astonishing 104 match unbeaten domestic streak which stretched between 1984 and 1989. Captain, Stefan Iovan, a Steaua veteran of 11 years and Victor Piturca, who would go on to score 137 goals in just six years in Bucharest, lead their domestic rule and it no doubt gave them confidence to breeze past Vejle of Denmark and Honved of Hungary in the European Cup. They faced Finnish side, Kuusysi, in the Quarter Final and won 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a Piturca goal just three minutes from time. The Semi Final saw them fend off a talented Anderlecht side, 3-1, to secure their place against Terry Venables’ Barca in Seville. Steaua, despite being in the Final on merit, were given very little chance, especially as they were playing in their opponent’s home country. The game itself was a war of attrition and neither team can be particularly surprised it ended in a penalty shoot out. However Duckadam’s heroics are the stuff of legend and the whole club can be rightly proud of their victory.

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Their European adventures continued over the following three seasons. Under Jenei they won the European Super Cup in December 1986, defeating Dynamo Kyiv, 1-0, with Gheorghe Hagi scoring the only goal. By virtue of winning the European Cup they faced South American champions, River Plate, in the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo, however they lost 1-0 to a somewhat fortuitous goal where the ball rebounded off the post, goalkeeper, and straight into the path of Antonio Alzamendi who headed home.

Jenei was replaced by Anghel Iordenescu; a former Steaua player from 1968 to 1982 during which time he became their all time top goal scorer with 155. He joined the coaching team at Steaua in 1984 and was a 36 year old substitute in the 1986 European Cup Final. He became manager of Steaua on a full time basis in 1987 and he carried on where his predecessor left off with two league and cup doubles, including 21 consecutive league wins in 1988. His Steaua side also beat Rangers on the way to a Semi Final appearance in the 1987/88 European Cup. The following season they made their second Final in three years the season after knocking out Sparta Prague, Spartak Moscow, IFK Gothenburg and Galatasaray. In the Final they were comfortably beaten 4-0 by an AC Milan side lead by Arrigo Sacchi and inspired by Dutch trio, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit. Sacchi’s Milan side hammered Real Madrid, 6-1, in the Semi Final and would go on to achieve iconic status in Italy and Europe with back to back European triumphs. Their second Sacchi-led win was over Benfica in 1990.

Both of Steaua’s legendary 1980s managers went on to manage the national team. Jenei was in charge of Romania between 1986 and 1990, the World Cup in Italy saw Steaua players Balint and Lacatus both play and score as the team made the Second Round before being eliminated on penalties by Ireland in Genoa. Iordenescu followed Jenei into national management between 1993 and 1998 as he took Romainia to consecutive World Cups. The 1994 team, starring Hagi, Ilie Dumitrescu and Florin Raducioiu, lost 4-1 to Switzerland but topped the group before being knocked out by Sweden on penalties in the Quarter Final. In 1998 they beat England on the way to leading the group, but despite avoiding England’s eventual conquerors, Argentina, they were knocked out by Davor Suker’s Croatia in the Second Round. Iordenescu received criticism for the team’s performances in France and he resigned after the defeat to Croatia.

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Gheorghe Hagi was undoubtedly the star of the era as he finished as the league’s top goal scorer on two occasions while playing for FC Sportul, he moved to Steaua in 1987 and went on to score 76 goals in 97 games. A player of immense flair and technical ability, he would go to be hugely successful across Europe over the course of his career. Steaua’s teams of the mid to late 1980s also saw Dan Petrescu, Marius Lacatus and Gabi Balint playing starring roles in their success. Those seminal Steaua teams were mostly compromised of home grown players, this was partly down to the restrictions put in place by the Communist government which contributed to the prevention of players moving abroad and thus influenced Romanian club’s successes in European competition, as a number of other teams were also commanding in Europe during this period. Dinamo Bucharest reached the European Cup Semi Final in 1984 before losing to eventual winners, Liverpool, they also reached the Semi Final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1990, while CSU Craiova made the UEFA Cup Semi Final in 1983. The fall of Communism in Romania in December 1989 somewhat liberated the transfer market and young players in search of a better standard of living, including higher wages, and a different more liberal culture were tempted away from Romania. Western Europe was suddenly accessible to Romania’s top players as Hagi moved to Real Madrid in 1990 and both Lacatus and Petrescu transferred to Fiorentina and Foggia, respectively.

After the 1988/89 domestic double, Steaua failed to win the league for three seasons and It can be argued they suffered something of a hangover after the drubbing by Milan in 1989 and losing their better players after the Romanian revolution the same year. Their domestic difficulties continued as there was a 1984/Doctor Strangelove-style undercurrent throughout the late 1980s. Military-owned, Steaua, were constantly in dispute with city rivals, Dinamo, who were owned by the Romanian Interior Ministry. It was reported the Ministry bugged the offices of Steaua and interfered with their transfer dealings. Worse was to follow for Steaua, as although they had been separated from the military since 1998, in 2011 they were sued by their military founders for using of the Steaua name, stating the team had been using it illegally since 2004. The government ruled in the military’s favour in December 2014 and Steaua were banned from using their colours, name and logo; more importantly their history and previous honours would also remain under the military’s ownership. Fortunately for the integrity of the team now called FCSB and football in general, UEFA still recognises the trophies won by FCSB under the Steaua name to be theirs, so the history hasn’t merely been wiped out by the court rulings.

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The 1990s saw more allegations of corruption against a number of top flight teams including FC Brasov and Ceahlual Piatra Neamt; known as the Coopertiva, they allegedly exchanged wins to ensure the other teams involved weren’t relegated. These allegations, in a belated attempt at honesty and to try and rid the game of corruption, were admitted by several of the involved clubs of their own volition and not in a court of law.

While the Romanian national teams of the 1990s may have had more media attention it can be argued the Steaua side of the mid-1980s marked a real golden generation for Romanian football. Nowadays the Romanian league is one of the lowest ranked in Europe (20th in 2018, below Cyprus and Israel) and while FCSB will never scale the heights of their golden era they hold a unique place in the rich history of Europe’s premier club competition. The courts and the military may want to take that away from them but the heroes of Seville will always remain in the hearts of their fans and players.

Sócrates – Football’s last intellectual

a thinking man’s footballer of grace and intelligence. His interest in left-wing politics also formed a large portion of his legacy.

There are many iconic World Cup images; Bobby Moore and Pele embracing after the England and Brazil game in Mexico, 1970, Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in 1986 and Marco Tardelli’s passionate celebration after his goal for Italy against West Germany in 1982. For many the image of headband-wearing, bearded, Brazilian midfielder, Sócrates, in that clean, stylish, yellow shirt is one which brings back fond memories.

He was a member of the Brazil team at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and it’s hard to argue with popular opinion that, particularly the 1982 squad, was along with the Holland team of 1974, the best team never to win a World Cup. Their style of free flowing, attacking football, with a huge helping of flair and grace belied the functional, almost European style with which the Brazil teams of 1994 and 2002 won the competition. Socrates was more than a part of those great Brazil teams along with Zico, Careca and Falcão, he was also a large political presence in his homeland, particularly campaigning against the military dictatorship of the time.

Sócrates had a fortunate start to life, whereas many children in Brazil were, and still are, born into poverty and had little education; Sócrates was born into a middle class family and made use of the political and sociological literature at his fingertips in his father’s library.

He split most of his playing career between Botafogo and Corinthians and it was at the latter club where he made his name after he signed for them in 1978. He played a deep lying midfield role and had incredible technique and vision. His languid and pedestrian style was completely at odds with his technical and metal ability; he was able to pick out a pass with either foot and could also hit a ferocious shot. A 1980’s Andrea Pirlo, if you will.

As his reputation grew he came to represent the more romantic side of the game; a thinking man’s footballer of grace and intelligence. His interest in politics, particularly left-wing politics, part educated and part self-educated would also form a large portion of his legacy. After he won his first league title at Corinthians in 1979 he co-founded the Corinthians Democracy. The aim was to make the team a co-operative where everyone, from the coaching staff, the ground staff and the doctors were given a say on how the club was organised. He wasn’t afraid to be outspoken and he and his team mates supported the rights of workers and of the introduction of presidential elections in Brazil, defying the military regime, led by Joao Figueiredo. During Sócrates’ time with Corinthians the club didn’t have a shirt sponsor, instead they wore slogans on their shirts which supported their political views and one slogan simply read ‘democracia’.

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He was also a heavy smoker and drinker and ironically, given his lifestyle, he completed a bachelor’s degree in medicine while playing professionally. This gave birth to his nickname ‘The Doctor’. It can certainly be argued he didn’t practise what he preached in his medical studies.

During the build up to the 1982 World Cup he again won the Brazilian title with Corinthians, preparations for the tournament saw the national team play over 30 games, they lost just two while scoring an average of 2.5 goals per game. Sócrates later referred to their style as “organised chaos” but he was doing him and his team mates a huge disservice as they were anything but. Their quick and decisive play saw them head into the tournament full of confidence. On a personal level his training regime for the finals saw him become leaner and stronger as he cut down on cigarettes and alcohol for a time. It was clear to see he was determined to bring his Brazil team out of the shadow of the famous World Cup winning side of 1970.

His team took the field against the Soviet Union on 14 June; the Soviets had reason to be hopeful as they were one of the two teams who beat Brazil during their World Cup preparations. Although Brazil won, 2-1, they were fortunate to do so. Sócrates later described the Soviet team as a “red wall” and they were denied a clear second half penalty. For the man himself the game is best remembered for his goal. He skipped one sliding tackle, dropped a shoulder inside to evade another opponent and in the open space he thundered a 25 yard shot past Soviet goalkeeper, Rinat Dasayev. Sócrates later described the goal as feeling like an “endless orgasm”.

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They progressed through the tournament and looked like they would win it at a canter after beating Scotland, 4-1, and New Zealand, 4-0. In the second group stage they met old foes, Argentina, and a resurgent Italy team in a mouth-watering group of death. Italy had Paolo Rossi back in the squad after he returned from suspension for his role in a 1980 betting scandal and fired a hatrick in a 3-2 win as the two teams produced one of the all time classic World Cup games. Sócrates equalised Rossi’s opener after playing a neat one two and smashing past Dino Zoff at his near post, an almost majestic cloud of touchline chalk rises as his shot crosses the goal line. However Italy won out despite Falcão putting the South American’s ahead midway through the second half.

It must be remembered that Brazil only needed a draw to qualify for the Semi Final; moreover they knew they would be eliminated with a defeat. Arguably a wiser move may have been to defend their advantage against Italy, however this was Brazil and in particular the early 1980s Brazil where they played simply to outscore the opposition, no matter how many they conceded and no matter what was at stake.

Sócrates’ status grew over the next four years and although his career was winding down when he represented Brazil in Mexico in 1986 he was still arguably their most influential player. He was very aware of the media attention he would receive, not only for his on-field ability but also for his political views. Guaranteed maximum exposure he lined up for the national anthem before each game wearing a headband with a political message written on it. Before their first game against Spain on 1 June, his headband read “Mexico, stand tall” in reference to the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City which resulted in the deaths of over 5000 people. Prior to their second game versus Algeria it read “yes to love, no to terror” This is a message which transcends any race, culture or time in history and was believed to be in response to the US military bombing of Libya. It’s fair to say this kind of political statement would never be allowed now; one only has to think back to the furore around British teams wearing the poppy to see how much the game has changed since 1986.

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On the field, Sócrates scored the only goal of the game against Spain and they moved into the knockout stages with three wins out of three. Poland were dispatched, 4-0, in the last 16; Sócrates scored a penalty in that game. The Quarter Final against France went to a penalty shoot out after finishing 1-1. Sócrates missed his penalty and Brazil lost 4-3, however it is widely regarded to be one of the games of the tournament as then European champions, France, with Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse, made the Semi Final in Mexico. Brazil would have to wait another 16 years before lifting the World Cup again in Japan and South Korea in 2002. That 1986 penalty shoot out was Sócrates last action for Brazil and he never won any major honours with the national team, something his younger brother, Rai, did in 1994.

Sócrates has never hid his political affiliations, he once named John Lennon, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as his heroes (he even named one of his sons Fidel). During the Corinthians Democracy times of the early 1980s he stood in Sao Paulo’s Cathedral Square in front of an estimated 2 million people and declared if presidential elections were not introduced he would end his career with Corinthians and move to Italy. This may seem unbelievably pretentious but such was Sócrates’ standing with the Brazilian people it wasn’t too outlandish to think political reform could be achieved in this way. Inevitably things didn’t change and he kept his word by moving to Fiorentina for the 1985/86 season. He made 25 appearances for la Viola, however he later criticised the rigidity of life in Italy, stating “life is more spontaneous in Brazil…sometimes I just wanted to hang out with friends, party or have a smoke. There is more to life than football”. He moved back to Brazil and joined Flamengo then Santos where had made a further 49 appearances over two seasons. He eventually retired in 1989 after making over 660 appearances and scoring 262 goals; an impressive record for a defensive midfielder. He also won 60 caps for Brazil. During his retirement he perused a media career and wrote political and economic articles. His playing career wasn’t quite finished though as, at 50 years of age, he made a bizarre comeback for English amateur side, Garforth Town. He joined them in a month long player-coach role and made one substitute appearance for them.

It’s fair to say his lifestyle was partly responsible for his death although, much like George Best, he never admitted these problems until it was too late. He died on 4 December 2011; officially it was from an intestinal infection caused by food poisoning. He said before his death he wanted to die on a Sunday when Corinthians won the title and his wish came true as they won title that very day.

In 2009 he said modern footballers lack the education and desire to use their voice to promote change, he acknowledged the growth of the game globally and stated footballers have an immense power to drive change for the better. Most people will agree that in a world of colourless, corporate football, driven by profits and filled with media-trained players toeing the party line, the game now lacks true rebels and mavericks. Sócrates was arguably the last true intellectual of the game, both on and off the pitch and football is definitely worse off without him.

Fame Over Familiarity – The Welsh FA Gamble With Giggs…

How would a player who was seemingly demotivated for the majority of his international career be able to manage those who are mysteriously injured around the international break?

Great players do not always make great managers, I’m sure you’ll remember Alan Shearer at Newcastle United in 2009 and how he oversaw the club’s relegation after he managed one win in eight games. While managing Wales is a modest job in world football terms the task ahead is to lead them to the logistical nightmare that is the 2020 European Championships; a big task for any manager and there will be plenty of media attention on new boss, Ryan Giggs, who will be asked to build upon the unexpected success of Euro 2016 after Chris Coleman and his team failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup.

The initial feeling I have is the Welsh FA have employed Giggs because of who he is, this sentiment is also shared by a number of fans and the media. On one hand we have Giggs with 896 appearances and the most decorated player of his generation, on the other hand we have a player who lacked enthusiasm for the national team and failed to appear for friendlies. Also going against him is he has only managed for a pressure-free interim period of a couple of months at Manchester United after David Moyes was sacked in April 2014, although he was assistant to Louis van Gaal the following season. We can safely assume his former boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, will be receiving a few phone calls asking for advice over the coming months, especially as Giggs discussed the Wales job with him before taking it. Again, a few contacts in your phone and a truck load of winners medals do not equal managerial greatness. It’s a completely different role to that of a player, even different to that a captain or senior player as he will have to learn quickly that the buck stops with him. He’ll literally have to manage egos, expectations and ultimately the frustration of a now expectant fan base.

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The Welsh FA hardly had a huge pool to choose from in the first place, especially after Chief Executive, Jonathan Ford, said the next manager would “definitely not be English”. (Some could argue they have done the opposite of what they promised and actually employed an English manager, but those same people could be accused of being facetious!). Whatever your opinion on his comments we can agree this was a massive mistake and they are guilty of cutting their nose off to spite their face, Wales simply cannot afford to be choosy given their standing in world football. His comments meant Garry Monk, Paul Clement and Giggs’ former team mate, Mike Phelan, were immediately ruled out. There may have also been a possibility, even if remote, of Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche or Ian Holloway taking the job. Newport-born, Tony Pulis, ruled himself out almost as soon as his name was mentioned, I can guarantee the exhale of relief from Madrid could be heard all the way to Cardiff when that story broke. It wasn’t exactly a wide range of talented English managers who would’ve been a possibility but such borderline racist opinions would certainly dissuade some potential managers, English or otherwise, from applying.

Giggs wasn’t a nailed-on choice by any means, the current assistant, Osian Roberts, was interviewed, as were Mark Bowen and Craig Bellamy. Roberts would’ve been a natural choice; stepping up into the role having served his time under successive managers. It can be argued he more than most has helped to develop this current Wales team into the one we see today by bringing through players like Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Aaron Ramsey and more recently, Ben Woodburn. Roberts would have been the best fit in my opinion, certainly not a big name, but he has the respect of the players, he knows the Welsh system and has worked with many ex-professionals such as David Ginola and Roberto Martinez while they have been completing their coaching qualifications.

While Bellamy might not have been the obvious choice for reasons I’ll make clear soon he has been coaching at Cardiff City since his retirement 2014. He’s a bigger name with a coaching background and for many would’ve been ahead of Giggs, apparently he also delivered a very good interview for the national job too. I do concede his talented-man-child temperament as a player may stick long in the memory for any potential future employers, but we can argue since retirement he has started at the bottom (no offence to Cardiff City) and is now attempting to work his way up. He hasn’t merely played around with a local non-league team with his mates for the benefit of the TV cameras. I am being overly harsh, I know, Giggs does have a UEFA Pro Licence and has served under a former international manager, but many will believe him to be vastly inexperienced and an appointment on name and player reputation only.

Many fans who are against the appointment feel as though Giggs betrayed them by not playing in friendlies and dead-rubber qualifiers, the fact he didn’t play a friendly between his 1991 debut and 2000 tells you all you need to know. We’re in an age where a decent player can earn 50 caps before he’s 23 or 24, but Giggs only managed 64 in 16 years. While the phrase betrayal is probably a little strong we can appreciate the fan’s apprehension, especially as he doesn’t have experience of having to deal with these troublesome elements of a players’ behaviour.

How would a player who was seemingly demotivated for the majority of his international career be able to manage those who are mysteriously injured around the international break? Giggs knows all too well the spotlight, glamour and riches in the Premier League and Champions League are infinitely more appealing than dull friendly games with a group of players who meet about five times a year.

Paris on a spring evening or playing Moldova on a drizzly night in Cardiff? The temptation to get a note from your Mum asking to be excused from Mr Giggs’ class will be too tempting for some and it’ll be an interesting chat between Bale and his new boss when that question arises soon.

Giggs certainly brings raw skills, a mature personality, an enormously successful playing career and more contacts than your average agent to the Wales team, but the fact remains the Welsh FA have taken a huge gamble employing a manager with virtually no experience and almost solely for the fact he is Welsh. Osian Roberts, a well known and trusted assistant was there for the taking but Wales have favoured media attention over masses of coaching knowledge. While winning matches and qualifying for the Euros will obviously help turn fan opinion, should Giggs fail to learn quickly qualification could be over before it begins and he could find himself added to the Shearer-list of great players who failed to become even halfway decent managers.

A Misspent Youth….

There are plenty of examples of other nations ripping up their rule book and starting again in regards to their youth policy. In 2000 Belgium spent a large share of their profits from co-hosting the 2000 European Championships on revamping their youth system.

This isn’t Juve related but it’s a topic I love to debate. There were two significant moments for the England national team over the summer, 15th July and 11th June, England’s under-19 and under-20 teams lifted the UEFA Championship and World Cup respectively. A magnificent achievement and reward for the hard work of Keith Downing and Paul Simpson. Unfortunately these events are rarely given any credit by the English media as the attitudes towards these competitions are less than complimentary, they fail to notice, however, these players are our future senior team players.

The test now for the Football Association (FA) is to ensure this chance to bring these players into the the senior side is not wasted. These kids should be the foundation of future World Cup squads. The trouble is there is an evident gap in the success of the national youth teams and the under 21’s and senior team. It really isn’t difficult to see the link between this and the foreign player obsessed Premier League. The under 21’s have failed to win a tournament for over 30 years, their one final appearance since then coming in 2009. The senior team’s failings are well documented, the glass ceiling of three quarter final appearances in the mid-00’s represents their furthest progress since 1990. During this time Turkey and South Korea made a World Cup semi final, the Czech Republic made a European final and Greece won a European tournament.

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Why is this so? I briefly mentioned above about how the Premier League has massively influenced the lack of success by the senior side. Only five of the current Premier League managers are English (four until Roy Hodgson’s appointment at Crystal Palace last week). Of the big six (Manchester United/City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool) only Tottenham are owned by a British company. The owners of the rest have less of an interest in the fortunes of the England national team and therefore are more unlikely to want to invest in youth where more glamorous signings can be found across Europe. This money obsession creates an acceptance of this practice as the norm; clubs spend vile amounts of money at the expense of youth players patiently waiting for their chance in the reserves or on loan at lower league clubs. The question should be asked, why wouldn’t you? When faced with the chance to sign exotic player A, a teenage goal scoring sensation from Spain or playing player B, a home grown kid from a town close to the ground, which one would you choose? Therein lies the problem; big names sell shirts in China, adds followers to the club’s Twitter account and puts bums on seats in the ground every week. Local kids just don’t. The trouble with promoting youth team players is time. It takes years to mould a first team ready player, time is one thing the 21st century Premier League club doesn’t have. When there are more talented foreign players available who can step in to the first team this is route clubs take. The ‘fast food’ and instant gratification attitude to football has been around for years, it is now expected that Premier League clubs will chase the stars of continental clubs because it’s the way a top club flexes its financial muscles. The result of this greed for the English players at these clubs is to find a living lower down the leagues in a lower standard of football and away from the gaze of the national team. The national team suffers from a lack of quality players to choose from and our results on the pitch suffer too. In 2017 the players who played for the Under-20s in the World Cup final combined to play around 12 matches between them for their clubs, seven of them failed to play a minute in the Premier League. For them one cannot see another winners medal being in their possession.

There are plenty of examples of other nations ripping up their rule book and starting again in regards to their youth policy. In 2000 Belgium spent a large share of their profits from co-hosting the 2000 European Championships on revamping their youth system. They focused on player development, on passing and dribbling, they play 3 versus 3, 5v5 and 8v8, with the philosophy that small sided games give the players more chances to touch the ball and be more involved. They avoided using rankings and presenting trophies to hammer home the focus on player development and they also provided the best 14-18 year old players extra training sessions alongside their educational studies, the sessions focus on their technical abilities. This gives the best players double the amount of training sessions and thus a better chance of making the senior national team. Of course you may recall the FA had a similar system at Lilleshall back in the 80’s and 90’s, this was closed as a result of the introduction of Premier League academies in 1999 and it wasn’t until 2007, when the purpose built St George’s Park opened in Burton upon Trent, that this was replaced. During youth games in Belgium tackling is banned, the focus is on technical and mental development. Players are trained to become intelligent readers of the game rather than kick-and-rush, ball-and-man, tackling beasts which is the badge of honour of most English fans and players. Graduates of this revolutionary system include, Courtois, de Bruyne, Lukaku, Witsel, Kompany, Benteke, Januzaj, Mertens, Hazard, Vermaelen and Vertonghen.

Another post Euro 2000 shake up saw Germany set up youth academies across the country, this was after they finished bottom of their group containing a talented Portugal team and very average English and Romanian teams. Again the focus is on technical development, but the crucial difference between Germany and England is they overhauled the ‘German mentality’ of strength and organisation. They now value flair, skill and technical proficiency, something which may have been overlooked 20 years ago. The German FA (DFB) made massive upgrades to their facilities and employed thousands more coaches (at the moment Germany has over 22,000 more youth coaches than England). The DFB runs the academies rather than the clubs themselves which boosts the relationship between the two. They quickly reaped the rewards of such an extensive set up as two German teams contested the 2013 Champions League Final, of the two squads that day 26 players were eligible to play for Germany. They also won the World Cup the year after. Who can argue with their methods when they produced players such as Ozil, Hummels, Muller, Draxler, Kroos, Reus, Goetze and Neuer.

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These systems are music to the ears of anyone who has witnessed kids in England playing on full size pitches and coached to be the fastest and strongest while the smaller, flair players tend to lose out. The German relationship between the clubs and the DFB is a model the FA would do well to emulate, the Premier League has grown far bigger than anyone could imagine and they hold the real power in the English game funded by a TV deal from heaven. The latest deal saw Premier League clubs given a share of over £8bn. With that kind of cash clubs in the bottom half are instantly attractive to Europe’s top players. The viscous cycle continues and will continue to turn until the Premier League brand becomes less and less attractive to Sky subscribers. This is unlikely to happen because another cycle of increased ticket prices pricing people out of attending games leading to an increase in the number of Sky and BT subscribers is in motion. By boycotting the games you are merely funding your club’s greed via your Sky/BT subscription.

I have mentioned the club’s greed and penchant for buying ready made foreign players, another part of the problem is the players’ attitude to the game. The players are in a bubble in these academies, everything, from the age of 12, is done for them, no cleaning boots, carrying nets or hosing out the dressing rooms. Once they have their designer wash bag their hunger for the game diminishes. Why would they want to risk injury playing for England when they have the Champions League and Premier League riches in their lap? It’s argued no one cares about playing for the national team any longer, while the comfort of the Premier League and Champions League remain within easy reach, this will always be the case.

It would be wrong to suggest no good comes from the current youth set up as there are obvious success stories coming from Premier League academies. Nine of the eleven starters in Manchester City’s 2015 FA Youth Cup final team were from Manchester and two thirds of their academy players come from the city or the surrounding area. In May 2017, Manchester United started six youth team players versus Crystal Palace with Josh Harrop scoring on his debut. Harry Kane, Delle Ali and Marcus Rashford are three of England’s brightest stars. Speaking of success I haven’t forgotten the famous ‘Class of ’92’ players from Manchester United’s youth academy. They were truly a once in a generation crop of players but they came from a time when facilities and the standard of coaching are not what they are today. Given the money in the game today their story should be the rule rather than the exception.

Pep Guardiola recently mentioned the lack of competitive games for academy teams in England and pointed out the Spanish system of allowing the top team’s reserves entry into the professional leagues. The system has worked well for years by giving academy players a regular taste of competitive near-top league experience rather than playing against their peers in near empty lower league stadiums. This leads to a higher quality of player turning out for their national youth teams and eventually the senior team. I hardly need to tell you of Spain’s national team successes in recent years, while 12 of the 25 players in Barcelona’s 2014/2015 squad were products of their youth team and plied their trade at Barcelona ‘B’ in the Segunda Division during their academy years. In England the Checkatrade Trophy was used to give academy teams a greater taste of competitive football by allowing them to enter last season. People moaned about the devaluation of the competition but failed to acknowledge the good it will do the representatives of academy teams, choosing to focus on the here and now rather than the bigger picture of national team success. The Football League would do well to agree to a Spanish style system of Premier League academies being allowed to enter the Football League with financial incentives for fielding youth players from the reserves in their first teams. This will never happen because of the outcry caused by the supposed devaluation of a competition rarely given any credit even by those taking part, there is also the logistical factor of relegating more professional teams at the expense of academy teams.

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The England senior team are in a period of underachievement by our own media’s high standards but this is a result of years of focus on buying foreign players and lack of attention in producing quality English players who represent their clubs in the Premier League every week. A quota similar to that of the old Champions League ‘three foreigner’ rule should be implemented, thus giving academy players more competitive playing time. As we know there are already squad rules in place for teams competing in European competition, these surround the number of domestic born players and around players who have been at the club for a number of years. When Britain finally leaves the EU we should see rules restricting the number of foreign players come into effect, what this will be in reality remains to be seen. However with the amount of cash the Premier League generates I can’t see a majority vote in favour of this and so a watered down version of these rules seems likely. Our German counterparts have demonstrated a healthy working relationship between Football association and league can work. We in England need to do the same, again the amount of money in the game should mean there is more than enough to seriously invest in youth academies and their development. It should also be used to promote, educate and hire hundreds more coaches.

England’s youth teams have proven to be actual world beaters on the field, however it will be years, if ever, before the senior side emulates their feat if the current attitudes remain the same.