Monday, 16 September 2013

Youth Development

I headed down to the London Soccerdome yesterday to watch my mate's boy play for the Cambridge United U11's against Palace. Cambridge United have a tie-up with the owner of the London Soccerdome and use it on occasion when the weather's bad or to make it easier for their opponents to get to the game.

Lewis has progressed through the U9's and U10's and both of those sides were also in action against the Eagles yesterday in SE10. His Aberdeen-supporting father is a coach for local side Milton Rangers (he hates the fact that they have Rangers in their name) and he has recently been asked to scout for Cambridge. His youngest boy, too, has just been asked to join the Cambridge youngsters, so there's a growing family connection.

I am on nodding terms with a number of the parents now and it's really interesting to see the progress this team have made and to see the ideals in action that Cambridge preach about youth development. In the football league, clubs only play against other clubs who are of the same status e.g. Category 1 Acadamies only play other Category 1's, Category 2's only other 2's etc. 

If you are outside the football league, you can play anyone else, which means Cambridge get to play whoever they can agree to play which is typically Category 2 and Category 1's. There is a good interview with Cambridge United manager, Jez George here
where he talks about the value of their youth development programme and the fact that consistently punch above their weight. Several things struck me about watching them go down 4-2 to Palace yesterday. First was that they outplayed the Eagles youngsters, easily creating three times the number of chances and should have won at a canter. The second was that the coaches have very little interest in the result of the match = the performance is everything. The team I have watched over a couple of years have struggled with goalkeepers. The coaches don't see it as a big priority and they have often played an outfield player in goal - results aren't critical. I also noticed yesterday that their regular finisher was absent and was informed he's off to Corby Town having been released. I asked the coach why and was informed that he didn't have enough technical ability and wasn't developing his game in the same way. I pointed out that he would have made the difference yesterday in beating Palace. The coach smiled and said that they were very pleased with the performance and that the Palace coach had acknowledged the better side lost.

Cambridge are currently top of the Conference. Promotion would mean that Lewis and his pals are denied trips to Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Man City going forward. Doesn't seem fair really...

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