Wednesday, July 24, 2024
SportDeveloping the stars of tomorrow

Developing the stars of tomorrow

In his book “Shadow Team,” Jason Bitbur asserts that cultivating young football talent is crucial for the future of the sport. Establishing academies represents an investment by clubs and national teams to develop future generations of players.

Scouts fan out across villages, districts and schools searching for and recruiting promising young players. They strive to mold the footballers of tomorrow by immersing recruits in intensive football training from an early age.

Most football clubs around the world develop their academy system to cultivate players who can eventually break into the first team. Often clubs recruit boys ages 7 to 16 to join their academy programs aimed at building fundamental football skills and hopefully, form the foundation of future national teams.

Players progress through age-based categories, refining their technique and conditioning in hopes of one day joining the senior ranks.

National teams likewise maintain under-15, under-17 and under-20 squads to unearth replacements and ready them for international competition.

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Academies play a leading role in identifying and developing players who may one day represent their country. Several national federations carefully groom youth prospects for roughly four years prior to each World Cup cycle.

The German national team for instance had been priming young talents since 2010 for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. By assembling academy graduates and top club players in regular training camps, Die Mannschaft was optimally prepared to win the tournament on home soil.

In Africa, Senegal’s secret to consistently qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations lies in combining homegrown academy products with players polished in European developmental systems.

Various national teams now unveil eight-year development schemes focused on scouting teenagers and building match-readiness over consecutive qualification cycles.

 But what is Ethiopia doing to cultivate homegrown talent?

At a recent Dire Dawa Cup match played on an artificial surface, Ethiopia’s successor national team defeated Uganda’s 1-0. Notably, the Ethiopian Football Federation prominently featured many players earning their first call-ups. If sustained, such initiatives could reap rewards for the Walia’s in the years ahead.

The team led by Coach Gebremedin Haile called up 30 players for the match in Dire Dawa. Those called up played in the country’s Premier League and Higher League. Although most earned their first international call-ups, some players noted they were brought in suddenly without being part of a long-term developmental program as the Federation claimed.

Experts say for a team to truly be considered a “shadow side” replacing the senior national team, it must focus on grooming youth over several years.

Football journalist Daniel Mesfen expressed doubts about the planning and vision, saying such a developmental squad should start with 15-year-olds and remain together long-term.

Unfortunately in Ethiopia, teams are often assembled just for single tournaments rather than cultivated as ongoing projects, Daniel claims. This makes it hard to produce succession for veterans. The lack of goalkeeping and striking depth has hurt tournament results. Some players from the recent qualifiersfor the Africa Cup of Nations appearance areexpected to head into the next edition without understudies in place.

While Ethiopia’s victory over Uganda in Dire Dawa showed promise, critics argue the team should not disband so hastily and instead transition players into the senior pool.

Uganda’s own “shadow side” has been cultivating youth since the under-17 level for upcoming tournaments, according to Uganda’s national team.

Going forward, the Ethiopian Federation, experts say, must devise a pathway for Dire Dawa Cup participants to eventually replace established internationals, with plans to blood emerging talent gradually in qualifying matches.

Coach Gebremedin will hope to incorporate some debutants when qualifiers for the AFCON tournament in Morocco begins in March.

With continuity and foresight, Ethiopia can develop players ready to fill any gaps down the road.

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