By Shane Lynch
They say that the one thing that you cannot teach is talent. The idea behind this is that you can only direct them in the right direct and facilitate them towards achieving their preordained potential. The greatest example of trusting in youth is putting them in the proverbial deep end and seeing how long they last when competing amongst more experienced and established opposition. Nurturing talent is a lot like performing surgery on a vital organ. One slip, and it may ruin the chances of success for both parties in the arrangement. Many sports have established academies in order to produce talent for their respective teams, and, in doing so, have created a legacy of producing youth who carry their franchise for decades to come. One of the most recognisable examples of this is “La Masia”, the academy system for Barcelona FC, one of Spain’s footballing powerhouses.
Arguably the crown jewel of Barcelona’s academy system is Lionel Messi. Messi emerged from the Barcelona academy as one of South America’s hottest prospects and was subsequently signed to “La Masia” at the ripe age of thirteen. He proceeded to make his senior debut at the age of sixteen against Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Messi became the poster boy for a club who went on to dominate at both domestic and European level, leading to Messi and his golden generation of Barcelona players to an unprecedented four Champions Leagues and ten La Liga titles. He is not only a poster boy for the sport of football itself, but is the greatest example of having faith in, not only your youth system, but the player himself.
However, “La Masia” has not always nurtured talent to the best of its ability. One man who was on the lips of every coach within the system was Bojan Krkic. His rise through the Barcelona academy was almost identical to Messi, except for one major difference, and that was that every record that Messi obtained through the academy, Bojan broke. The legend goes that the Barcelona executives were counting down the days to his seventeenth birthday, so that they could sign him to a professional contract and reap the rewards of another star, destined for similar stardom as Lionel Messi. This constant comparison of himself to, at the time, the greatest young footballing talent to come out of Argentina since Diego Maradona, ended up being too his detriment, as Bojan himself couldn’t become his own player whilst in the shadow of Messi. Bojan also admits to having experienced severe cases of anxiety from becoming an unknown prodigy to the next in line to the Barcelona throne. Due to this, unfortunately, he could never live up to the hype surrounding him and his amazing ability. He has recently moved to Major League Soccer and plays for Montreal Impact.
Football is a rapidly growing sport in North America, with leagues garnering respect due to the investment of millions of dollars into acquiring some of the most recognisable faces in world football, such as Zlatan Ibrahimović and David Beckham, in order to bring footballing respect into a region which has, arguably, under achieved, from both a regional and international perspective. At one time, however, America possessed a young player who was tipped to be the next major player, with comparisons to Pele weighing on his shoulders. His name was Freddy Adu and he was fourteen years of age.
The idea of putting such a massive tag on a boy who was fourteen years of age is absolutely incredible to look back on in hindsight, but, at the time, American soccer was looking for its poster boy and found it in young Freddy Adu. Adu was originally from Ghana, but moved over to America after his mother won a green card lottery and almost immediately began to turn heads. He soon received a Nike sponsorship deal worth almost seven hundred thousand dollars and featured in television ads with Pele. His story is something that wouldn’t be out of place in cinemas worldwide, the ultimate rags to riches story.
The fame slowly caught up to young Freddy Adu, who got sucked into his new celebrity life, in which he dated a young singer named JoJo and proceeded to question and criticize his manager, leading to him hopping from club to club. Thirteen clubs, three continents and no future in football, all for a man who only turned thirty in June.
The universal concept of talent itself is that you need all the ingredients in order for it to work. You need the talent itself, the right support and the correct management setup, who have faith and believe you can become a great asset for the club. Alex Ferguson nurtured a young boy from Liverpool and turned him into a United legend, and that man was Wayne Rooney. Ferguson said it best when describing young promising talent.
“Youngsters can inject a fantastic spirit into an organisation and a youngster will never forget the person or organisation that gave them their first big chance. They will repay it with a loyalty that lasts a lifetime.”