The following contains a 10 minute side chat between my co-host Terry and myself, discussing at what age player development starts diverging between the US and the standard bearers across the world.
This has been the subject of much debate here in the States for a long time. But luckily, we have direct experience to share on this matter.
Because yes, you guessed it, the conventional wisdom here in the States is not correct. But before we jump into our personal international experience, allow me to provide some data points to consider – just some things to better contextualize the matter.
Without getting too far into the weeds on all of the nations, I’ll highlight just a few things for your memory stores.
- Consider Nigeria. Well, actually many of the African nations do very well and are consistent title contenders at the youth levels. But with five titles to their name, Nigeria has won the U17 world cup more than any other nation. Where’s their national team, their senior national team been? Where is their program with respect to the rest of the world, to the standard bearers?
- Mexico. Yes, our neighbor south of the border, had a so-called golden generation, that won the U17 world cup in 2011, and was again in the final the next world cup, in 2013. The senior team, however, what has it done? Nothing.
- Now to the United States. What has the United States done at the youth level? It hasn’t won anything at the youth World Cups. Certainly not like Nigeria, or Mexico, or anybody else. Or even been a finalist.
But the US won some international competitions.
For example, they’ve won the Nike International friendlies more than once. And in fact, defeated Brazil. Yes, Brazil, to take the title on two occasions.
In 2011, after the victory, media outlets published article after article about how this meant the “future was bright”. Have you heard that before, guys?
Quote unquote, “the future is bright”.
Here, I’ll quote you word for word what one prominent outlet wrote:
“Rubio Rubin, Tyler Turner and Wesley Wade scored first-half goals, as the U.S. U-17s completed an unbeaten run at the Nike International Friendlies in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., with a 3-1 victory over Brazil on Sunday to capture the tournament championship.
The United States Under-17 national team proved that there’s much to be excited about when it comes to the future of the U.S. program. “
This was 10 years ago, guys. Fast forward seven years and the US couldn’t even qualify to the World Cup from the easiest, and most favorable, Confederation in the world, CONCACAF.
Fast-forward to today, and where are these players who should now be in their prime?
Have you heard of Rubio Rubin, Tyler Turner, or Wesley Wade?
Well, I have. But I’ve been intimately close and working in the game for a long time, for many cycles. That was in 2011.
I started publishing things publicly in 2009 through 3four3. I had to hear all kinds of nonsense about “the future being bright”.
“Everything is different now, Gary. Rubio Rubin is a generational talent …”, crazy stuff, crazy stuff.
Nobody remembers, nobody goes back into the history books to see who said what, and when, or how nobody’s held accountable for these lame takes – football has no memory in this regard.
Listen, I understand being enthusiastic. But someone’s gotta be the adult in the room and be real once in a while.
You know what the stories are now, since our youth teams haven’t done so well?
It’s completely inverted.
For example, after the fiasco that was the U17 world cup, where the US got obliterated in group play.
The story now is youth tournaments are totally meaningless. “Just look at where those players are now” – referencing Gio Reyna, Pepi, Busio, and a few others in that cohort.
They cite this as evidence that youth soccer or youth tournaments aren’t even worth looking into all that much. That you can’t really extract or predict outcomes from that point forward.
When someone’s opinions swing from one point to its polar opposite, it’s usually a signal of not having a solid grounding.
This should not be confused with being open-minded, and somebody being willing to change their mind. No, no, no, because watch, as soon as one of our youth national teams does great in a meaningful competition, the opinions of these very same people will once again invert its polarity.
Okay, well, I just wanted to place youth results in some sort of context for you to consider while we talk about the main point of today’s episode.
Specifically, at what age does a divergence in development start happening? And at what age do our international counterparts kind of start breaking away from our domestic talents here in the States. Some people have said it’s happening at 17, some say at 19, some at 15 and some earlier than that. This is kind of all up in the air.
Now, we have our own view shaped not just from being intimate with this sport for a very long time, but critically from our direct international experience.
Hope you enjoy. Hope you get some insight. Here we go.
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