We have some great responses to young Jack's question about how readers first got into football. Plus, finally some intelligent thoughts on Dave Whelan's outburst...
That's the message to any Arsenal fans who don't appreciate the midfielder. Plus, plenty on everyone's current favourite football club chairman and a wee question about fandom...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Final Word On Talent
I've never written in before despite looking at the site every day since I started work. Office life eh? However having read the initial mail from Crookster and then his subsequent response I can't help myself.
The thinking that talent is some intangible ethereal mystery is lazy in the extreme. We all like our stories to be nice and simple, we like the heroes of these stories to be special, to be imbued with something that sets them apart from everyone else. This idea of people as you say being "born gifted" is very appealing to us and fits in with the narrative we naturally want to construct around events but it simply is not true.
The final ability of a single player is going to come down to a mix of things, coaching is a big part, genetics will play a role, the environment and experiences they're exposed to. Two factors will be more important than the others though, the first is luck, the second is the amount of hours that player spends practicing. That's it, there is no magical fairy dust or "gift".
World class footballers aren't biologically different to you or I, or at least they weren't when they were born. To attribute their ability to just god given talent makes no sense. It comes from practice, coaching, sacrifices, luck in scoring when the scout was there, luck in not getting injured, luck in living close to a youth club, luck in having a good coach, practice, supportive parents, willpower, good diet, getting a good sleep when your friends were out, practice, being psychologically strong enough to handle setbacks, genetically having a good metabolism, having a sibling that played the sport with you when you were young, and then finally more practice.
You bring up the Netherlands again like this is some sort of trump card. This is a country of less than 17 million people. That's less than a third of England. They've been to three world cup finals, they just finished third in the last one if you hadn't noticed. Before their last disastrous European championships two quarter finals, three semi finals and won one of the previous six European championships. How exactly are their centres of excellence not working? Per head of population they surely must be one of the most consistent over performing nations in the world. It's not like football is all the Dutch are good at either.
This is a country that does well at the summer Olympics and punches above its weight in the Winter Olympics. They're absolutely dominant in field hockey. They produce good professionals in tennis, golf, cycling and sailing. They're weirdly good at both kickboxing and baseball and even play a bit of cricket. Once again this is a country of only 17 million people. They achieve all this because they are constantly at the cutting edge of youth development and the whole world knows that. They realise that world class athletes are made, not born.
Maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe instead we should tell all those boffins with their fancy words and their centres of excellence to jog on. Silly boffins there's no point in having a plan, there's no point in identifying a problem and using reason proven techniques to solve it, don't bother coaching anything differently because it all come down to luck. Maybe if we pray extra hard to the football gods they'll see fit bless our new born babies with these magical gifts and then the rest will just sort itself out right? Deadly that's a load off my mind.
Out of curiosity what's your theory of why these players who are "born gifted" have a weird habit of being born in some countries more than others?
Football has Changed, So Must We
There has been a lot of 'is it the right response / method / tactic' regarding England's youth development / international team post our world cup knock out. I think what is pretty much accepted, is that this country will repeatedly fail its future players if their priority is their own short term goals, along with their sponsors.
Adidas have just signed an obscene contract with Manchester United, do you think Adidas want Man Utd to do well in the league and Europe and get their brand out there and selling shirts, or for England to do well? If they need a holding midfielder, will they look for the best that money could buy, or would they risk not winning the league and blooding youth players?
When Manchester City over pay for some young English talent, do you think it is because they want to nurture them? play them and let them succeed? Or is it because they have quotas they need to fill? That and it weakens opponents? And vice versa, to the young men who go to sit on the bench, or in the reserves. These young men have finite careers, and they are being offered money we can all only dream of. You wouldn't pass up the opportunity, to go to a bigger firm on more money, so why should they?
I think the international football whole bun fight is a series of difficult choices, with everyone going for self-preservation, and understandably. I don't know how Germany made it work, or Spain, but they did. We need to look from the bottom up, stop playing the fastest kids, or the strongest kids, and let all of them play football, make it fun, make it about technique and skill, don't make it about genetics.
We need to look at our football identity, and our national tactic should come from this. You hear words like heart, and bravery, and never stops running. Why not build on that, make our method all about pressing, look for players with stamina, and technical ability to move the ball quickly. Stop making football, from the age of 5 to be about winning.
Get rid of the swearing parents who shout abuse from the side lines and intimidate refs. Get more coaches teaching the basics, and as some other mailboxers have said, get them to think about game management. Get rid of all the ex-pros in the game who are clogging it up with anachronistic thinking like 'if in doubt, clout it out'. Get in young managers at low levels who have grown up watching football from the last 10-15 years, not 30 years ago. The game, as has also been said, is constantly changing, and we need to evolve with it.
John Matrix AFC
Data Is Coming
Daniel Storey in his recent article says that "the footballing world is made so small by scouting programs, intricate player assessments and comparison matrices" and "it just seems phenomenally short-sighted to stump up a huge fee based on the performances within one tournament."
Instead of simply focusing on the obvious fact that clubs clearly haven't heard of a player before three above average matches in the group stages, it is perhaps better to question those scouting programs, player assessments, and comparison matrices. Are they actually any good?
You would think in this age of big data that you could figure out what it takes to step up to the next level and then the level after that. I am not suggesting it's easy to figure out what to analyse, but it is certainly possible once the old boys club is dispensed with and some serious types combining footballing interest and intellectual rigor brought in. But I suspect scouts are much like the government affairs professionals I work with: taking credit when things go well and blaming external forces when not so well.
Fernando Torres scoring loads of goals for Liverpool after less than loads at Madrid was down to shrewd analytics while Iago Aspas being far below not quite must be beyond being quantified. Maybe it was an inability to learn English? Or maybe he had to pick his son up before corner kicking practice?
To the scouts out there, big data is coming and it will make a mockery of your profession up to now. You are not doing the work and soon we will have the proof. And like everything, moderation. We don't need all the one thing (one suspects lots of good bantz about work rate taking in a match at Carrow Road) or all the other thing (geeks in glasses staring at screens for hours looking for correlation without causation).
But if the world is to actually become more small, we do need less of the first and more of the second.
Get The Schools Right
I've been trying to work out how to couch this argument, so that it actually gets printed, rather than discarded as an anti-footballer rant and I hope I've managed to do it. This is the actual reason why England will continue to fail on football's biggest stage.
Although our coaching system is sub-standard and needs huge work and investment, the real problem is not one of coaches or talent. Both of those are there, however in this country, unlike Germany or Spain, we have two other massive professional sports which attract players from the same pool of talent, Cricket and Rugby. These are both seen as gentlemans games (neither have been for years though) and the vast majority of middle-class parents would much rather their budding sports-child went into these sports rather than the "working class" grubby game of football.
Grammar schools and Public Schools simply don't coach or have football as part of their curriculam and so players that might be decent or even excellent, never get a sniff of playing football.
This leads to a secondary issue, English footballers tend to have a lower standard of education than their continental counterparts, if you listen to a German footballer they are articulate, bright and often have a bigger English vocabulary than our footballers. I have no doubt that in terms of kicking the ball our players are pretty much up there at the top of the game, however they don't seem to have the ability to think about the game whilst playing and work things out for themselves. The Germans team however, are clearly able to do that.
What's the solution? Throw incentives at all schools to encourage the uptake of football at an early age, get proper coaches in at primary schools and then encourage footballers to be properly educated, rather than yanked out of school at the dop of a hat. It'll both solve the talent pool issue and the fact that our footballers cannot think on their feet.
Matt L., London
Or, It's About Population
Might I suggest that the winning formula is probably as simple as talent AND coaching?
If I had to hazard a guess as to why the Dutch don't seem to be reaping the same rewards as the Spanish and the Germans it would be down to their population size. There are roughly 200% more Spaniards than Dutch and nearly twice as many Germans as Spaniards. If your population is your talent pool then it stands to reason that you have a greater chance of spawning naturally talented footballers if you have a large population. I don't know the ratios for quality youth coaches to population but I suspect the Dutch would be runners up in this respect too.
I reckon Brazil produce talented footballers consistently by virtue of headcount as well but they have the added bonus of having a huge proportion of their massive population playing football religiously which crunches the numbers for them. Culture is probably a factor also but I don't accept that 10 year old Brazilians really love the game that much more than their English counterparts. The fact that they've been able to field supremely gifted footballers like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Robinho, Kaka and Neymar in the last 10 years without state of the art training facilities may suggest coaching is not the only way to success but I think their recent (ahem) showing on the world stage suggests the rest of the world has found a more reliable way to catch up.
I presume we all accept that talent is more or less random and therefore would expect it to be distributed randomly across populations. If this is the case then there has to be a reason why Britain produces relatively few brilliant footballers even though we have a relatively large, football loving population. I suspect it's a lack of quality youth coaching and no coincidence that the European nations producing the most technically accomplished youngsters today have all radically restructured their set-ups since the turn of the millennium.
There are blatantly other factors I'm overlooking here but given our healthy talent pool and passion for the sport we are disproportionately sh*t at football and the most significant difference I can see between us and the top European nations is we don't have a well-funded coaching infrastructure at youth level coaching developing kids when it matters most.
Oh yeah, about Uruguay. No f*cking idea.
Disappointed By Luis
I'm writing in as I'm slightly disappointed/underwhelmed with the latest big summer signing to grace the Premier League...yes I'm talking about that particular eye-candy, Filipe Luis.
Here I was as a Chelsea fan believing that we had turned a new leaf. That we weren't paying over the odds anymore for the finished product but looking to the future and investing in young players able to carry the flag for years to come. That we were selling in order to buy and had finally becoming a sustainable team, no longer having to call on Papa Oligarch to bail us out.
But here we are buying a soon-to-be 29 year old to fill the spot that we just booted another oldie from. Why does this make sense? We could've had Azpi play there for another year while we groomed a younger, cheaper left-back into the position. It seems for every step forward, we take two steps back (still bitter about Juan Mata)
Kris CFC, (we got Filipe bloody Luis?) London
Liverpool have signed Lazar Markovic. I've never seen him kick a football, not even on YouTube, but he has a cool name and looks like Patrick Berger. It is on this basis alone that I am excited about him.
Similarly, I was not excited last year by Iago Aspas because he has the same name as the parrot from Aladdin, a character I did not care for (yes and a Shakespearian villain too).
Broadly, if you have a Z in your name and you sign for Liverpool, I'll probably be excited. I hope other people have similarly irrational ways of judging players before the season starts.
I know we avoided the seemingly inevitable penalty shootout this week but this tournament has again had its fair share of these events.
Each tournament I trot out an idea which no one has yet come up with a convincing argument against.
Is this a revolutionary change? No.
I suggest the means of deciding a knockout same remains the same but change the sequence of events, ie have the penalty shoot out at the conclusion of normal time and before extra time.
The outcome of the fixture is only determined by the penalty shootout result IF extra time does not provide a winner.
This has several advantages.
1. Shoot outs are exciting tv which is great for everyone
2. The player that misses will not carry the 'shame' as the whole team have an opportunity to change the outcome.
3. When extra time commences coaches have to change their approach. Often extra time is simply an extension of the pattern from the previous 90 minutes and offers nothing except tiredness as a point of interest.
I have heard people say this can be done, it won't work but I can not see why not. Even the tv coverage would be more predictable. So fire away your thoughts!
John ( still interested in football even from New Zealand now) French
We Have A Soothsayer
- 'B' is the second letter of the alphabet and 'B**locks' begins with a 'B'.
- Germany won '2' of their group games.
- Germany only conceded '2' goals in the group stage.
- Germany qualified from their group with a '2-2' draw against Ghana.
- They also scored '4' against Portugal (which is 22)!
- 'Deutschland' contains 2 syllables.
- Germany only played '2' games in Rio, the '2nd' of these was the final. Which they won.
- Germany played '2' of their matches on a Monday, the 2nd day of the week (based on the traditional Roman week beginning with the Sun Day.) This was the only day they played '2' matches on, spooky!
- Germany won the game in the '2nd' period of extra time, after '2' goalless halves.
- Germany won '2' games in extra time in the WC finals.
- The final took place on the 13th which as a prime number only has '2' factors.
- And Germany won '2' matches against South American teams, in South America, the '2nd' of which was the final!
- Because '2' is statistically more common than '7' (but only just) I found '2 times' as many nonsense co-incidences than the '2' billion people on Facebook.
An original piece because Facebook is for Wallies.
Snelly, (illustrating the concept of cherry-picking since 2002) Nelson, NZ