Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe Dog and Duck Goes Global - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The Dog and Duck Goes Global - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The Dog and Duck Goes Global

Every true football person, be it player, coach or just general observer, has an affiliation with some sort of stereotypical Sunday morning team.  You know the one; they’ve all got an ‘experienced’ (old) centre half, a winger who’s had trials with Crewe Alexandra and a Mr. Versatile figure whose best position appears to be linesman as that’s generally what takes his time up on those freezing January mornings.  While these qualities exemplify our English version of the amateur game, what goes on in the various far-flung corners of the world?  The recent World Cup has further reaffirmed the notion of football as the global game and if you scour the globe you can find countless traits, quirks and traditions of local football that vary from country to country; some good, some bad, and some downright ugly.


In France, Italy and Holland the amateur game is a cornerstone of their national sport.  France have their own Amateur Football Association; Italy’s southern regions in particular place a huge emphasis on the amateur game and Holland actually host a competition to recognise their country’s ‘National Amateur Champions’.  It’s a similar case in Germany, who are slowly regaining their status as an international footballing superpower due to massive investment in the grassroots of the game.


Six million people, seven per cent of the population in fact, are active in one of their 27,000-plus registered football clubs.  The Bundesliga is the best attended league in the world and fresh off the back of the 2006 World Cup, the Women’s World Cup will also be coming to Germany in 2011.  Right now German football is in the ascendency, with their swashbuckling performances at the recent World Cup attributed to ’ten years of grassroots development’ by highly-fashionable national team coach Joachim Löew


Spain, Germany’s conquerors in South Africa, don’t appear to have as healthy an amateur game though.  The emphasis instead is on youth development and the professional game, with the amateur leagues regularly topped by reserve sides of big professional clubs.  The National Governing body has no real interest in the non-paid ranks, instead leaving it up to their various regional denominations to organise competitions for those Spaniards without the effortless talent of Andres Iniesta. 


Argentina has a matching attitude to that of their Latin counterparts, with their Football Association distancing themselves from the amateur game and delegating responsibility to six regional governing bodies instead.  Again much like Spain, the coaching of young players is deemed paramount in the grassroots of the game, with youths at the country’s top academies encouraged to play in all positions across the field (apparently Javier Zanetti was a cracking centre forward) and to try different codes of the game such as futsal and beach football.


These two games are also hugely important in Brazil, who boast a whopping 10,000 professional players worldwide, more than any other nation.  It’s a safe bet that each of these professionals has played futsal at some stage, a small-sided game played with a smaller, heavier ball that forces players to pass the ball on the floor; the notion of ‘pump it forward’ is certainly not the order of the day when it comes to this highly-technical game. 


Despite the undoubted ability possessed by Brazilians at all levels of the game, the Brazilian love-affair with football almost dictates that their amateur game will never be as good as it could be.  It is not uncommon for prospective players released by academies to leave the country and seek footballing employment thousands of miles away, rather than find a job domestically and play the game just for fun.  Still, those that stay behind have access to plenty of football, with Brazilians of all ages happy to engage in a kick-about on fields, streets, roads, beaches or wherever.  So long as there’s a ball, a Brazilian will play.


What of the so-called emerging nations though?  How are the non-professional players from soccer’s less established nations doing compared to their seemingly more-experienced counterparts?  In the case of the USA, the answer is rather well.  ‘Soccer’, as the Americans have annoyingly labelled it, is the most popular sport by far amongst its youngsters, and has been for some thirty years now because of its ability to engage children of all ages and sizes.  Its appeal stretches to girls also, with forty per cent of America’s soccer players being female.


When they get older there are still huge opportunities available, with America’s famed college sport system now fully extended to the traditionally un-American sport of football.  Kids from all over the world, a lot of them from English shores, are taking the opportunity to study at American universities alongside an intensive soccer training programme, often earning scholarships based solely on their ability to deliver a good free-kick.  With crowds of thousands turning up to watch games, and a very realistic chance of being drafted to a top MLS club at the end of your three years of study, the American adventure is one of the most thrilling for any amateur footballer.


The African continent is suffering the inverse of these problems.  Whilst football is the dominant sport, a void of organisation and leadership amongst its football federations means a lack of direction in both amateur and professional football.  Although things have improved since the 70’s and 80’s, with most African countries now offering recognised coaching qualifications, still African football relies on the influence of academies set up by big European clubs to develop the best African youths.  While a huge enthusiasm remains for the game across the continent, galvanised further by the staging of the World Cup in South Africa, it seems amateur football in Africa is where the organisation and facilities remain at their most amateurish. 


The African continent may soon be overtaken by Asia in terms of its football development, with a thriving amateur scene the catalyst for the start of a footballing revolution.  Coverage of the Premier League has boomed all across Asia, attracting literally millions of loyal fans who are now taking to the streets in the hope of emulating the heroes they see on TV every week.  Unlike Africa, Asia’s organisation is exceptional, witnessed at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, and this thorough preparation is successfully transferring to the amateur ranks.


Another factor in Asia’s favour is the lack of migration amongst its top players.  Whereas African players are whisked to the riches of Europe as soon as they hit their teens, a huge majority of Asia’s superstars remain in their home country, maintaining a high standard of domestic football which in turn filters down to the amateur levels.  This talent is starting to be recognised, with Manchester United recently launching a massive search across India to find a gifted youngster to join their academy.  Don’t be surprised if a number of other clubs follow their lead. 


Jon Vale

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