From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.35 :: NO.07 :: Feb. 16, 2012
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is one of the most prodigious English talents.
Recently, at the age of 84, Miljan Miljanic, one of the leading club and country managers of his day, died. I'd known him pretty well, liked him very much and respected his outstanding achievements. First in his native Yugoslavia, which it then still was, with Red Star, his one and only club as player and coach. Later with the national team in two World Cups and in Spain with Real Madrid. In 1973, after his Red Star team had beaten Liverpool 2-1 in the European Cup first leg in Belgrade, and just before they did it again at Anfield — inducing Liverpool radically to change their tactics from long ball simplicity to a more measured build up — he spoke of his football philosophy.
Eight years the manager of Red Star after many years of working and playing for the club, he said that when he took the team over in 1965, after years of travelling in Europe, studying training and tactics in numerous countries, he found he had “37 players but no team. We'd been bled white by foreign clubs.”
He therefore decided to build from the base, with his juniors. And in good time it worked. He opined that it took five to seven years to develop a player but very few clubs were prepared to wait as long as that. His reward for such patience was a flow of excellent young players and a strong, well organised, fluent team which as he admitted might not have been among the best in Europe but — as Liverpool painfully discovered — could more than hold its own.
Suddenly, at the end of that impressive season, he decided to join an all contrasting club, Real Madrid, where money was no object and though local talent, not least in such major stars as Emillio “The Vulture” Butrageueno, costly players were brought in from all over the football world. After those 28 long years with Red Star, Miljanic, always a canny and diplomatic operator evidently decided it was time to make some money and to reach for the heights of the game. Which he duly reached, winning Spanish titles.
Who in these volatile times can afford to wait five years for their youngsters to develop though it is true that such are the pressures even in clubs with fame and money that they will recruit players as young as ten-years-old.
It was Alan Hansen, once an accomplished centre half for Liverpool and Scotland, now a television pundit, who once proclaimed, “You win nothing with kids.” Broadly true, money talks and far too loud — look at Manchester City and Chelsea — yet the shining example of Barcelona shows that a club can with devotion, skill and patience, build its highly successful and universally admired team, with home nurtured talent. At Barca, there is a special building close to the huge Camp Nou stadium where a dedicated and inspirational group of coaches seems to turn out brilliant young players galore. True, the best and most dazzling of them, the incomparable Lionel Messi, is an Argentine, but he came to Barca when he was only 13 years old, so the club must surely take much credit for his immense prowess.
In Barca's case, the flow of young talent from the coaching programme — no fewer than nine of the team which thrashed a bewildered Santos in the final of the so called World Club Cup in Japan were developed by Barca — has been tremendous. The old boxing adage “Youth Will Be Served”, rendered somewhat obsolete by the elderly heavyweights who have tended to dominate the sport since the halcyon days of Muhammad Ali is somewhat reflected in Barca's capacity to bring in one new player after another successfully, from their youth programme.
Legendary Serbian soccer coach Miljan Miljanic, who died recently, was a great advocate of giving youth a chance.
Miljanic said in that 1973 interview that Ajax was a club he hugely admired, but here we can now see how difficult it is for a team constantly to produce its own young talent. In the heyday of Johan Cruyff, Ajax with its marvellous Total Football team dominated European Soccer, winning three successive European Cups. Their elaborate and dedicated policy seemed to ensure them an endless flow of ability. Youngsters joined the club as schoolboys and were duly educated in classes by Ajax, until the best of them worked their way team by team to the senior side. But it was all too good to last. What seemed to be the pattern of success has for years now failed to produce the same abundant talent.
Ajax today are simply another decent but unexceptional European club, buying in players — Luis Suarez was a notable example — how and where they can.
Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger has recently lamented how hard it is to hang on to star players given the colossal wealth of Manchester City and their like. Yet over many seasons, what has Arsenal's elaborate and expensive youth scheme produced? Ashley Cole now at Chelsea, and the splendidly inventive playmaker Jack Wilshere, though even he, who joined as a schoolboy, was originally at Luton Town. The Gunners moreover were ruthlessly adept in snatching young talent from abroad.
Nicolas Anelka the French striker, spirited away from irate Paris Saint Germain for nothing, and the remarkable Cesc Fabregas, grabbed from Barcelona, were both teenagers when they came to Highbury. Can Arsenal really complain now when key players are expensively lured away?
But what of Chelsea, whose manager Villas Boas has banished his reserves from first team facilities, yet allowed the precocious 18-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran to go on loan to Swansea City? Yes, time in modern soccer is pitifully short, but surely when young talent appears, it deserves its chance
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