The "cruel process" underpinning youth football's ruthless system

'No Hunger In Paradise' author Michael Calvin sheds light on concerning issues on Newstalk's Team 33

BY Raf Diallo 15:14 Wednesday 17 May 2017, 15:14 17 May 2017

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

"Can you imagine the moral outcry if, say, major banking institutions went into a particular area and they hoovered up all the most promising 8 year olds in that area and they trained them up in foreign exchange. Then when they get to 10 or 11, they start trading these boys amongst themselves for cash. Now he said there would be a massive moral outcry. But that is precisely what is happening in youth football." 

That is an analogy made by a person in Michael Calvin's book on youth football, No Hunger In Paradise and shared with us on this week's Newstalk's Team 33 by the author who also co-wrote Joey Barton's autobiography and penned the insightful book on the world of football scouting, The Nowhere Men.

Calvin's acclaimed book on youth football lifts the lid on many concerning aspects of the system with churns out young footballers but more often than not sees the many who do not make it to the top (there is an acutely tiny success rate of just 0.012% making it all the way through the system) essentially cast aside unceremoniously. Essentially, young footballers are being commodified in a sense if you follow the aforementioned analogy from root to branch.

You can listen to the full interview with Michael Calvin on the podcast player below or stream on iTunes:

In our interview with Michael Calvin, he shared a number of anecdotes and insights about a ruthless system, including the following point: " There is a mania not to miss the chosen one, the 7 year old who will emerge in time as a superstar. There's a numbers game going on in terms of there's a race to the bottom in terms of recruitment where you've got boys of 3 or 4 being scouted which is patently absurd."

Calvin added: "If you've got people going that low in terms of age, the natural follow on that - and it's depressingly natural - is that you've got 6 year olds now who are being released from pre-academy programmes because they're picking up, to quote the coach, bad habits. You've got 11 year olds who are stigmatised as failures because they are known locally as the boy who was with a particular club and he has to then go back into the playground after having been released and the thing that really surprised me about the whole thing is how virulent the criticism and the scorn that these guys face when they go back into their natural environment, which for 11, 12 or 13 year old boys is the playground.

"It's a cruel process and I'm not saying everything is bad. I try to be balanced in the book. I met some fantastic coaches and some clubs that were pursuing enlightened strategies and some great parents. But equally on the flip side, I saw clubs exploit the power of opportunity and they exploited fear and insecurity, which basically fuels the game from youth level up to international level and I saw parents who were quite happy to smuggle agents into a training ground and quite happy to commoditise their children."  

You can listen to the full interview on the podcast player above which is then followed with a chat with Ireland legend Packie Bonner. Next week, our main interview is with former England, Aston Villa and Manchester City forward Darius Vassell.


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