Michael Beale interview: The problems with English youth football

In Depth

Common consensus would probably be that there are more outstanding young Brazilian footballers than there are English ones, but, according to former Liverpool and Chelsea youth coach Michael Beale, that is not necessarily the case.

Plenty of reasons have been put forward as to why so few English youngsters are making the breakthrough at elite clubs, but few are in a better position to comment than Beale, who left Liverpool after four years in December to take on the role of assistant manager at Brazilian side Sao Paulo.

And Beale is certain the problem with the English game is not simply a lack of up-and-coming talent.

“Having enough talent [in England] is often not the problem, having the room and opportunity is,” he says.

“Due to the strength of the EPL we have a bottleneck situation of too many players, plus too many foreign imports and therefore limited opportunities to progress at the last stage – between the ages of 17-21. This is very damaging.

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“In terms of the best young Brazilian players and the best English players I’ve worked with, I can see little differences so far.

“The Brazilian players are extremely gifted technically and have excellent movement skills.

“But players such as Solanke, Abraham, Colkett, Mount, Loftus-Cheek and Chalobah at Chelsea would all be extremely successful here too.

“At Liverpool, Brannagan, Kent, Wilson, Ojo, Woodburn, Ejaria, Stewart, Brewster, Alexander – again, all would be deemed top young Brazilian players if they were born here.

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While Beale sees little difference between the raw talent of the best youngsters from the two nations, he believes a focus on tactics and the team as a whole is hindering those in England.

He says: “One aspect we must look closely at in England is the development of a player’s footballing identity and focus on the individuals rather than the team.

“Here in Brazil, the players are fantastic individuals firstly and then need help to improve tactically.

“In England, we are too team-minded, and therefore tactically our players know where to stand and how to move. But when they are with the ball they lack the individualism required at the top level.

“I think the players have it but lose it through coaching of teams rather than developing players’ individual qualities longer in their developing years.

“This is something I am passionate about as a developer of players.”

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READ: Formations: Are they worth the whiteboard they’re written on?

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Another much-discussed problem which Beale acknowledges is the difficulty in providing first-team opportunities to young players in the ultra-competitive Premier League.

“In England we currently have no plan with how we are going to give youth players the room to make the step-up to first team football,” Beale says.

“We have an ‘everything and nothing’ scenario in regards to youth development. We have excellent facilities and improved coaching, games programmes and finances to improve further.

“However, youth development is about giving a child an opportunity to realise their dreams. This is the ‘nothing’ part as, although we have a plan for youth development, we currently have no plan for how we are going to give these players room to make the step to first-team football.

“What the Brazilian players have is a much different culture and opportunity to continue to progress and develop more freely in the 17-21 age groups.

“They aren’t spoiled by finances either and therefore have a drive, a need and determination to keep pushing and improving.”

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Whereas English prospects often never look beyond their home nation to play their football, Brazilians on the other hand, look all around the world for their opportunities:

“In Brazil – there is a much more natural process to moving into first-team football after the Under-20s team,” Beale says.

“This move is often a stepping stone to a bigger club or a move into Asia or Europe for the best talents.

“Brazilian players are willing to travel, and often players will leave the country early in their development to play for clubs outside of Brazil.

“This opens a big gateway of opportunities for young Brazilian players that English players fail to create for themselves.”

Brazilian youngsters are also making headway on the football esports scene such is their desire to be involved within football. Last week Gerard Pique teased details of a footballing esports project that he is involved in via his Twitter channel. You can check it out here.

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