Foreign players, video games and a lack of coaching are behind the current shortage of young talent in British soccer, national managers agreed on Tuesday.
England’s Steve McClaren, Northern Ireland’s Lawrie Sanchez, John Toshack of Wales and Scotland’s Walter Smith called for more facilities and better coaching for Britain’s youngsters if they are to make a career at the top.
Sanchez said: “When Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup in 1986, they could name 15 or 20 players in the top level of English football (soccer). At this moment, I’ve got four players and they don’t play all the time in their first teams.
“The move to foreign talent has brought in more money, it’s brought in great players but it has pushed players from the smaller countries down into the Championship (second division).
He also highlighted the choice of more “comfortable” hobbies available to modern youngsters.
“When we all grew up, we didn’t have Playstation, or PS2 or 24-hour TV….so we played football (soccer). If my son played football (soccer) as much as he does with his Playstation, he’d be a better player if ‘s a fact of life.”
Pointing to Brazil’s longstanding success in the World Cup, he said: “They have 180 million people, it’s their religion and you can find 11 decent players out of that 180 million. It’s their passion.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a passion any more with the majority of the kids in the British Isles.”
Though Smith criticized a lack of investment in Scottish sports facilities, he too echoed the change in lifestyles.
“Especially in Scotland, working class lads were all brought up to play football (soccer). They would play 20 or 30 hours a week of unstructured football — and in one generation that’s probably been cut to about three hours.”
McClaren also felt talent was not being sufficiently nurtured, though the former Middlesbrough manager had some sympathy with the demands on Premier League coaches.
“Maybe clubs, managers and coaches would like the time to develop youngsters…but the pressures for success, for avoiding relegation, for getting into Europe and all the expectations, means the pressure is not to produce our own youngsters but to import the quality straight in.”
Toshack, who coached Spain’s Real Sociedad during a Basque-only recruitment policy, said British scouts were more likely today to monitor competitions such as the African Nations Cup than lower division soccer in England.
The talent is there, he argued. “Maybe we’ve just got to work that bit harder to try and push them through,” he said.
The managers were speaking at a Nationwide Building Society event in a primary school to promote a child road safety scheme.
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