Omar Cummings and the American Way
January 22, 2011 7 Comments
Colorado Rapids talisman Omar Cummings isn’t exactly a household name within the realms of world or even domestic football. But his performances during a recent trial spell at Aston Villa could have altered the former, with Gerard Houillier pronouncing that Cummings was ‘getting better with every training session’. However, tragedy struck for Cummings, who was to be let down by a slip in the international rankings of his native Jamaica, rendering his work permit application an impossibility.
Cummings’ rise to relative, albeit short-term European fame highlights an intriguing contrast of youth player development between the US College system and the British YTS route. For us British football enthusiasts it would be unheard of to think that a recent graduate of even the English football powerhouse universities such as Harper Adams College or the University of Bath could eventually rise through the ranks to within touching distance of the Premier League in such a short space of time.
Cummings is one of many, you could point to the US starting eleven in their match against England at the 2010 World Cup; 7 of their starting 11 players had played at some point within the upper echelons of US collegiate soccer. Even amongst the second, third and fourth tiers of English football we have great examples of former American College students that have made a successful transition into the European professional ranks in Anton Peterlin (Plymouth), Conor Doyle (Derby), Mike Grella (Leeds) and Seb Harris (Northampton Town).
Whereas an English player can sign a Youth Training Scheme contract aged 16 and then move on upwards, the College route still remains the most common point of entry into the world of professional football for the aspiring American. Although not all players graduate, they generally enter the elite set up later, but with greater drive to succeed and a higher level of suitability for the complete rigor of the modern game. The American player gets a longer period to develop physically and mentally whilst honing his athletic and technical capabilities.
Could we learn from this alternative development model that places a continued emphasis upon a more rounded academic, personal and technical development before releasing players, ready for the professional ranks? This is not to say that every English player should have an academic book thrown at him for three hours before training, or to have to read for a degree in aeronautical engineering before being allowed to sign a lucrative contract, but we should do more to ensure that our players are prepared for the career that they are about to embark upon.
This idea has some credibility to it, Harry Redknapp had previously stated that ‘A lot of the English kids, they’ve got agents telling them how brilliant they are. The agents haven’t got a clue about football’. Redknapp does not stand alone either, everybody is aware of the careful attention that Alex Ferguson provides his young starlets with and the infamous ‘hairdryer’ consequences they face if deemed to have stepped out of line.
The underlying commonality here is that our players simply are not ready for the mental and social intrusive nature of the modern game and it comes back to haunt us time and time again. The easiest component to borrow from the Americans would be the inclusion of a greater level of education, with the opportunity to perform attached to effort. We could encourage our younger players to learn about the administrative, less glamorous aspects of the game thus equipping them to cope with their potential successes. An added bonus would be the removal of the need for an agent which would be much to the delight of managers up and down the country.
One of Harry Redknapp’s main jibes is at the humility of young English player and this is definitely something which requires rectification. Our players are blown up with hot air, and if they reach the professional side of the game the only way is down. If we channeled our younger players through a system where they had to earn the right to step onto the pitch as they do in the States then the training and the playing would be seen as a privilege and an opportunity as opposed to a formality or a God-given right. Through education, you may delay the starting age of the average professional’s career by a couple of years, but this could prove vital in ensuring that they remain grounded and committed to achieving the highest results throughout their career as opposed to making a few cheeky million and heading for Qatar.
One could take the recent meteoric rise of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is he really equipped to deal with the pressures of a £10 million move aged 17? We all know that when he eventually makes the step up, he will most probably follow in a similar fashion to most youngsters perhaps initially spending the majority of his time on the fringes of the first team; we often talk of the value of going out on loan, or remaining with the original team but what about the possibility of eliminating the need for this debate entirely and ensuring that they want it enough to work and wait for it, training and educating themselves so that they are ready.
The American system allows the individual in question to develop in an environment of normality, ‘growing up’ as opposed to being thrust into the public eye and then shot down. How important to you were those memories of spending times with your mates or girlfriends or the experience of doing something wrong and learning through error? Our footballers simply aren’t afforded the same luxuries as we were, leading to a chain of issues that could lead to their complete meltdown as it nearly did with Tony Adams or Glen Johnson’s favourite, Paul Merson.
What about the absurd behavior that seems to accompany our wonderkids; how often is it you see a Prima Dona American footballer, even in the Premier League? The American collegiate graduates are embedded with a work ethic and humble nature that points to the blindingly obvious, professional football is a privilege that is only open to the few. Perhaps somebody could also point that out to Mario Balotelli.
The age-old debate about excessive player wages should be consigned to the scrap heap; players are paid highly because of their relative economic value which also dictates how you, your colleagues and even your friends and family are financially rewarded.
However, the issue of youth player development is one that is completely neglected. By introducing a greater level of integration and normalization at the key stage of player development, we could reduce the chances of another Francis Jeffers and ensure that our young players arrive grounded and hungry to succeed at the highest level possible. Their pre-professional experience could also help them in their career aftermath, ensuring that they aren’t relying solely upon their Central or Southern Masters paycheck once they’re retired as Gary Neville should have been five years ago.
by Nic Patmore
have a read of a similar article: A league of their own?