The Christmas gift for the fan with (almost) everything
By Tony Attwood
For years and years talented children and teenagers in England have been hindered if their talent is in the world of football. While talented youngsters who express their genius in terms of music, mathematics, the theatre, dance, visual art, literature or any other of the more academic areas where talent may be revealed, have been able to travel anywhere in the country to find the best support and tuition, football has had to do it differently.
So while the 13 year old mathematical genius from Sheffield could move to Cambridge to take a B.Sc in maths in one year, before moving on to a doctorate under the guidance of some of the greatest mathematical brains in the world, in football, no, it has not been deemed right.
The rule has been that a club cannot sign an under-16 who lives more than 90 minutes’ travelling distance away. For an under 12 the journey time is one hour. (If such rules had applied to the cinema we wouldn’t have had the Harry Potter films).
Put another way if Jack Wilshere’s great genius had been an ability to write poetry that went beyond the world of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Eliot he could have moved anywhere to get help from the best tutors. But being one of the greatest football talents England has ever seen he was restricted. OK this time it meant that we got him because we were in the area, but it doesn’t always work like this. And with Arsenal pitching for boys in the same area as Chelsea and Tottenham, the competition has been tough – and it has meant that Liverpool and Man U have had the pick of the northern kids.
The reason for this most insane dividing line between one area of supreme talent and all the rest is to be found in the way football coaching (or what has passed for it) has developed in England. For years and years it has been the province of the schools, who wanted to keep their best footballing talent so that the school would win the local competitions (irrespective of what it did to the emerging talent of the youngsters). Such self-centred selfishness has rarely existed in other areas where talent might emerge.
But now there is a change, and as part of the new system there is a formula to establish compensation fees, when a player moves on. This means that when a youngster is transferred from one club to another the selling club gets £3,000 a year for each year of development between the ages of 9 and 11, and between £12,500 and £40,000 for each year between 12 and 16.
What’s more English clubs are no longer hamstrung when it comes to the amount of time they can work with young players. At the moment, they get about 5 hours a week. In much of Europe 10 hours of more is the norm. Interestingly the daughter of friends of mine who was an excellent swimmer was doing 15 hours a week with a top coach by the age of 13. When I worked as a musician in the theatre many years back I came across youngsters who were showing sublime talent in dance working much longer than that.
Clearly what Arsenal need to do as a result of this rule change, is set up a boarding school which will continue the education of youngsters in the traditional school subjects and allow proper tuition in footballing skills
Footnote: just got my admission ticket for the Arsenal AGM next week so there will be a real on-the-spot Untold report from the meeting in a week’s time.
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