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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 1 day ago
Read
Sep 1, 2008

Talent down the drain

In the week that Andriy Shevchenko signed for Milan and Rivaldo joined FC Bunyodkor for ten million euros, Danny Hoesen went to Fulham. Not on holiday, but to join the Premier League club. Hoesen had just made his debut for Fortuna Sittard as a substitute, having done his warming up with Marc Overmars who came back from retirement and is now one of the first owner-players in professional football at Go Ahead Eagles. Anyway, Hoesen is a seventeen year youth international who played well for Holland in a tournament in Spain and caught the eyes of the Fulham scouts. A satisfying trial in West London followed and Hoesen will soon become the next of the many Dutch talents who choose to move overseas. 'It all went very fast', smiles Hoesen on Fortuna's website. 'But when a Premier Leagues comes asking, you should have no doubt. If you are good enough, you'll certainly make it.' His dream came true and no one can begrudge him his chance. Yet Dutch football seems to become the loser again. Another one to move last week was Nacer Barazite. In 2006 he left the youth academy of my team NEC Nijmegen to join Arsenal, before most of the club's supporters even heard about him. In Europe it is illegal to sign players under 18, while English clubs can only take on youngsters who live within a 90-mile radius. Therefore Arsenal had to provide Barazite's father with a job and a place to live nearby, so he and his son could move to North London. Should he ever make it, then Nacer Barazite will count as 'homegrown'. Barazite made his debut last year in the Carling Cup, but went on loan to Derby County this week. Hardly the place to nurture 18-year old super talents. It might be the first sign that Arsene Wenger has written him off and Barazite could be the next cast-off who tours the Championship or even lower leagues as a loanee for the rest of his contract. At least the Arsenal youth academy has a good reputation, yet it seems as if Premier League clubs are cherrypicking an international pool of young players. From their point of view it is smart politics as money is not an issue for them, however it might be even smarter to start investing in well-schooled youth trainers. I can't say I am impressed in what comes out of these academies. Hoesen and Barazite have every right to dream of playing in the Premier League, but both need to get proper training and enough games under their belt to ever get there. At this moment the standard of youth training in England seems to be below par and it is starting to affect the Dutch talents at these clubs. They all followed their dreams, but most of them wake up to find themselves training on park pitches and playing in reserve matches. It is not only the Premier League clubs who perpetrate such tactics. Royston Drenthe may well end up as a celebrated failure. He famously went from Feyenoord to Real Madrid, although his first and only league season in Rotterdam went by almost unnoticed. Kneaded in the hands of national coach Foppe de Haan, Drenthe did have an impressive Euro U-21 championships in 2007, after which Real immediately paid about seven million euros to get him. At the Bernabeu, the dreadlocked 21-year-old had one of the best seats in the house, the subs bench, and even played in several league games. This month Drenthe featured in the Olympic adventure of the Dutch U-23 team and played like a nine-year-old alone in his backgarden. Whatever he has picked up in Madrid, it sure has not not done anything for the development of his tactical skills. This week Foppe de Haan gave up on Drenthe and also on Evander Sno after their disappointing appearance at the Games. 'With those two it became very difficult to built a team spirit,' the coach said. 'They have really let me down. I can't accept this, which by the way I did tell them.' Whether Drenthe would have fared better if he had stayed in Rotterdam is questionable. Feyenoord, as well as the other top clubs in Holland, struggle to bring players from their own youth system into the first eleven. Even Ajax, still considered the guiding lights in youth developments by the experts, are going through rough times. Since the breakthrough of Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel their youth academy have not delivered any big talents. Hedwiges Maduro made a spectacular debut in 2005, but has failed to sparkle ever since. Last year he transfered to Valencia to join coach Ronald Koeman, without anyone much noticing. His performances at the Olympic Games showed a alarming lack of fitness. Over the last two seasons Urby Emanuelson is the only Ajax youth graduate to debut in the Dutch team. PSV have never relied on their youth system, choosing to buy in their talents. Their scouting system is much better developed than those of Ajax and Feyenoord. During the Hiddink era they depended on Serbian agent Vlado Lemic, who with contacts in South America and at Chelsea made it possible for players like Gomes, Alex and Jefferson Farfan to play in Eindhoven. The current technical director Jan Reker was not very happy with the influence of Lemic inside the dressing room and asked him to leave. Lemic went, taking several players with him to other clubs. After a tumultuous summer in Eindhoven the team has completely changed face and it is hard to predict what they will do this season. More and more the top teams in Europe, awash with Champions League money, look like dealing rooms, where directors like to trade their cash for whichever player comes in vogue. Smaller clubs are expected to provide them with youth players and to scout in far away regions. In Holland, FC Twente, Heerenveen and FC Groningen recently all had one or two good seasons with their excellent nurturing and scouting system. Now all three have sold half their squad for several millions. Some of these players make it, but others disappear into the reserves with a salary that is impossible for mid-table teams to cough up, even for a loan period. The current football economy makes this inevitable, not even FIFA's '6+5' ideas or the homegrown rule will change much about this. Football has never been so popular in Holland with sell-out grounds everywhere in the Eredivisie and several clubs planning new stands or even grounds. However, the level of the the game itself is spiralling downwards, due to all the wheeling and dealing. This has happened before and Dutch football has always previously found a way to pick itself up. Hopefully it happens before we join those other great lost footballing nations of years like Hungary, Austria and Belgium.

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