Cradle Snatching - Is Youth Football Dying?

Cradle Snatching - Is Youth Football Dying?

Last update: 21 September 2017 Categories: Featured.

Written by Uche Abug

His face lights up with enthusiasm. He curls up the fingers of his right hand around an imaginary trigger; the same hand is used to show a make-believe barrel. He then snaps his curled finger backward, going through the motions of firing a shot, while his hand jerks up as if his imaginary rifle has just kicked back, releasing a satisfactory grin as one who just hit the bull’s eye in an Olympic shooting game. Turning around to see if his audience is enjoying his dramatisation, he rubs his palms round one another in a circular motion, depicting satisfaction and a job well done.

If only this was the script of a block buster movie, it sure would have gone down better, but in reality, it depicts most agents in the world of football having a gorge at the big elephant we all love called football.

Schoolboy football is supposed to be fun, innocent & satisfying, but for league scouts identifying youthful promise and the parents seeking comfortable retirements, it has long become a serious multi million dollar business. Parents deciding to switch their boys from one club to another after they have had a new kitchen or bathroom installed, or had an expensive new car delivered. In special cases such inducements can even come in the form of a new house and varying needs met. Undercover scouts had infiltrated junior games everywhere in the bid to find the new Messi, which represents jackpot.  How many have been ruined by this vicious and soul-less pursuit of the next Messi?

This can be compared to international criminal trades like drugs, guns and human trafficking. The practice of player poaching has a barrage of negative consequences on football.

It is a disservice to the players and football that genuine talent is being wasted, a curse because of man’s avarice for success. We place a significant emphasis on our children getting a good education in school before any other thing- and rightly so a good education is the foundation upon which a successful career is built. The question mark is, are we doing just that?

Morally and ethically, poaching youngsters is wrong; clubs should really promote from within.

Top clubs use nefarious tactics sometimes illegally - to nab kids from the lower leagues at home and abroad. This is tantamount to taking the applecart, eating all the apples, and then turning the cart into a rocking chair!

They are too immature to make these decisions in most cases. Paying Paul Pogba's family vast sums of money to get the player is seen by many as very inappropriate & wrong.

A rule banning under-16 transfers exists as far as European Union transfers are concerned, but this is often flouted through other exceptions and loopholes. Article 19-The rule, created in 2001, has pure intentions and clearly tries to stop agents and clubs from bringing children from less-developed non-European countries to the Continent for mass tryouts (before frequently abandoning them if a team did not sign them). In clear terms, the rule says that youth players are not allowed to register with a team in a country other than their own until they are 18.

Poaching seemingly has not yet reached rates alarming enough for it to be declared an international disaster because these activities are put under the cush and the numbers are not well reported, clubs go as far as using ‘all means’’ to gag the media and feed their indulgence.

FIFA estimate that there are 500,000 transfers a year, many of them across national borders, of under-18 players from one club to another, lots are as a result of a youngster failing at one club only to try his luck elsewhere, but far too many, are the result of rich clubs taking advantage of those less well off.

Most leagues promote short term over the long term goals - meaning quick fixes which often dovetail to ‘proven’ talent or ‘experience’ over young and developing.  Because of the vast wealth which the English league & football at large provides, clubs cannot ‘risk’ using young players who may make errors and cost them money, which results in young talent being neglected. The owners demand immediate success and are not willing to be patient and give managers time to develop and plan for the future.

It has resulted in a lack of development and long term strategies. The English team is suffering most from this- maybe they should ask Jurgen Klinsmann and Germany how and what they did.

This has shortchanged viewers on quality of football displayed on the pitch. We are denied those sumptuous movements, skills, the fearless-ness of these youngsters taking on defenders, attackers en route having fun. Everyone is raving about a certain 16 year old Pietro Pellegri of Genoa presently, as he almost spoilt Totti’s send forth party at Roma, or maybe it’s his brace over the weekend against Lazio- whatever you call, this is simply a case of ‘fresh breathe of air’, youngest goalscorer in Serie A history- let’s not forget  Marcus Rashford, who lived his dream, pulled several rabbits out of a hat in Manchester United's conquest of the Europa league- this why we love the game.

These children often face heavy competition at the new club and they are not physically and more importantly, psychologically ready to deal with it and most end up under-performing. Often, they can’t fulfil their potential and the larger clubs aren’t bothered too much because they bring in dozens of young players. They simply ship the ones that they don’t need.

Manchester United & Inter put in bids last season already to steal Pietro Pellegri from Genoa and reports say as much as $40m. What he needs most now is to consolidate on his football, not move abroad to a different culture and language, risking failure.

When you look at Mpappe’s price tag, you can deduce at one point or another it’s going to play into his head - Yes, you heard me. Instead of improving on his game play, technical abilities and grow his talents, he’s become embroiled in how many goals and assists he will get.

We saw a Neymar disrespecting his elder at Parc des Princes last weekend, just because he’s the most expensive footballer currently. These players are becoming rich before they even make the senior side, they are not being treated like players who need ‘development’ & ‘home training’ but as players who are already there by virtue of environment. Yet what have they done in football to earn these wages except play for a club where the value of money means little.

Youth intake of clubs with a history of finding young talents like Southampton, Everton, Monaco,  et al are all suffering the power and brunt of their bigger colleagues.

Youth development is not about winning competitions but preparing players for a good professional football life. Look at Marco Asensio of Real Madrid - fun and innocent, a kid doing what he loves best - in this case instead of building sand castles, he’s making and breaking records on the pitch. When you watch him play, there’s an unadulterated freshness to him, the guile, the speed, the skill and purity makes you clap or nod in acknowledgement with a smile on your face.

Looking at the shortlist for ‘golden boy of the year award’, you’d know that there’s been a dearth of young players coming through the ranks - we should be having more quality names. Kylian Mpabbe tipped to win was heralded with wonder and shock by many - waltzing Monaco to the holy grail of football semi-finals. If only we knew, there are so many ‘Mpappe's’ & ‘Asensio's’ yearning for a helping hand- just one chance!

Even the famed La Masia of Barcelona has dropped off significantly in the past few years - not churning out graduates like they used-Xavi, Iniseta, Fabregas, Busquets. That is why lots of people will just look at their well publicised brouhaha with Liverpool over the signing of Philippe Countinho and laugh at them. If you want older wine, then pay the piper what he wants…hmmmm!

Recently Southampton nicknamed ‘LFC Academy’ threatened to report Liverpool FC to FIFA for tapping, which involved their star CB- V. Dijk. A lot of the Premier League and football clubs are actively involved in tapping up of players. The academies and centers of excellence of smaller clubs everywhere remain on constant alert to the – often illegal – antics of predatory scouts and agents from the big boys.

"We need to arrive at a system whereby in any transfer there is a willing buyer, willing seller, willing player and at the appropriate time."

An intervention that could have far-reaching ramifications on football at large is now sacrosanct. - perhaps now is the time to start considering points deductions with heavy fines and also maybe ban from the transfer markets.

Leonardo Jardim’s conquering Monaco has been torn to unrecognisable shreds this summer- picture if the team played together for probably another 3years, what it would have been like. The natural cycle of nature replenishing its self is simply for sustenance and longevity- if changes are not made in this particular area- I fear for the future of the game, especially when this generation moves on- extinction level event? Only time will tell.