English FA would do well to take heed of Belgium’s youth philosophy
There was a historic announcement from the FA earlier this week, as the youth game in English football is to be revamped to help develop technical ability in players and not the “kick and rush” style the country is most famous for. On Saturday, the English national team plays Belgium, whose squad contains eight players who will be plying their trade in the Premier League next season, so perhaps it would be a good idea for Gareth Southgate to sit down with members of the Royal Belgian Football Association during the game.
679 members voted in favour of reforms to the youth game, under-sevens and under-eights will play five-a-side football, while under-11’s through to under-12’s will play nine v. nine. Most importantly though, these will be played on appropriate-sized pitches, the emphasis being on technical ability on the ball in tight situations rather than playing long balls for the fastest boy in the team.
The whole idea behind these reforms is to produce players good enough to grace the Wembley turf — where the vote took place — and on Saturday, Belgium will showcase the fruits of their own labour. They are an attractive team raised on the right principles. Six of that team played in the Premier League last season, the oldest of them is Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen, just 26 years old.
Next season another two players from that squad to face England could also be in the Premier League: Chelsea’s on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, a Europa League winner at just 19, and the widely regarded next big thing in European football, Eden Hazard, who announced on Monday that he will be joining Chelsea. While England’s “Golden Generation” is fizzling out with no silverware, the Belgium team’s golden era is just beginning.
Bob Broways, head of the Belgian FA training school and Under-17 coach says: “Our main goal is that Belgium qualifies for the World Cup in Brazil 2014. It is important that our best players have the chance to develop themselves maximally by playing at the highest level.”
“Therefore we are very happy a lot of players play in Premier League. I mean, really play, instead of sitting on bench,”
“In Belgium we play youth matches since 2002-2003 as follows: five v. five (until under-nine), eight v. eight (until under-11) and 11 v. 11 from 12 onwards.
“For every form of play, specific learning targets are being worked out. We are convinced that eight v eight is a better format than seven v seven because in an eight v eight both duels as diagonal passing is ensured.”
The World Cup in Brazil will have different impacts on both countries, England may lose yet another manager, while Belgium could break their own records with the crop of talent coming through, and Broway is convinced that the Belgian FA’s hard work will pay off: “We all work for it and one day it will pay off. We will be rewarded.”
While the FA will have to wait at least a decade to see these reforms produce rewards on the pitch, seeing that Belgium team reaping their rewards will certainly whet the FA’s, and probably everyone else’s, appetite.