How to create a football star

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That was only one game, of course, but it seemed to bring into focus what I had been observing at the Ajax youth academy, as well as learning about American soccer. How the US develops its most promising young players is not just different from what the Netherlands and most elite soccer nations do — on fundamental levels, it is diametrically opposed.

Americans like to put together teams, even at Pee Wee level, that are meant to win. The best soccer-playing nations build individual players, ones with superior technical skills who later come together on teams the US struggles to beat. In a way, it is a reversal of type. Americans tend to think of Europeans as collectivists and themselves as individualists. But in sports, it is the opposite. The Europeans build up the assets of individual players. Americans underdevelop the individual, although most of the volunteers who coach at the youngest level would not be cognizant of that.

Michael Sokolove (what’s in a name?) takes a long hard look at what makes the youth academy of Amsterdam’s professional football club Ajax tick, and how this contrasts with the system in the USA.

A very interesting read, even though (or perhaps because of) the author at times keeps a lot of distance from what he essentially describes as something close to modern slavery.

(Photo by Patrick de Laive, some rights reserved. Shown here are Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart in national garb. Both players rose through the ranks of the Ajax youth academy to become world stars. Link: Eamelje.net.)

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