Childrens Health Irish Grassroots Football

Irish Kids disappoint the worlds best Academy coaches..

The reality is that our kids are far less superior to our Iberian neighbours and why? Well the game in Europe is age appropriate and the focus is to develop the kids technically, allowing more touches of the ball and encouraging them to express themselves by taking risks and being spontaneous. They want the kids to enjoy the game and play with a smile, be flamboyant, take the players on….Dribbling is taught at a very earlier age and always encouraged.

Encourage more touches

Kids begin learning with smaller size balls; when I lived in Portugal we played and trained with size 2 and size 3 balls (in our spare time we played with a Futsal or Olympic handballs) all the time. Using smaller size balls allows kids to get a feel for the ball and its much easier to control with both feet.It’s also much easier to master a skills. Bigger footballs are heavier and harder to control for younger kids. Futsal has a huge part to play in this country and every child taking up football or Soccer should really begin with Futsal. Kids need to be learning and developing in the game with small sided games, i’e. 3v3s, 4v4s  or 5v5s etc

Currently our focus is results driven, leagues, cups, top goal scorer, getting the ball forward and playing bigger kids over the smaller more technical and why? Well to win of course…..!

Why do we have an All Ireland competition for 9 and 10 year old’s…totally daft???!!! 

What they said!

This year 3 FCBarcelona coaches, 1 Sporting Club de Portugal Coach, 1 Sporting Braga Coach and Horst Wein to name a few all had the opportunity to watch Irish kids of various ages and abilities and they all expressed the same concerns, Irish kids are not intelligent (Game intelligence) and technically very poor.. “They weren’t able to take instructions in and could not understand the basis of a very simple phase of play”

I don’t blame the kids, the blames lies with SFAI, The leagues, FAI, The Coaches. The fact is we have leagues at such a young age and this takes the focus from away from developing over winning. Something that could so easily be rectified with a board meeting. We don’t have enough qualified coaches working at the youngest age groups. Although we have some of the best surfaces and facilities in Europe and much better than facilities local clubs in Brazil, Spain or Portugal and out kids are provided with the best equipment and enthusiastic coaches (who give up their time for no pay) in most cases.

We are not making the most of these beautiful GREEN pitches we have all over Ireland. With these surfaces, its a shame we don’t encourage and coach total football, like our European neighbours. We still look to England for solutions, which we won’t find in a hurry as they themselves are looking towards the Bay of Biscay.

The Leagues

If you look at our league structures they are solely focused on winning and fast tracking kids to the adults game of 11v11 players on full sized pitches and what has this done for developing kids in Ireland? Well, not much, we are producing less kids every year for the English market. Yeah we still get the handful that go across the water but as research has shown its not long before they return home.

A recent report stated in an average year, 50 young Irish footballers are contracted to play with British clubs. But according to a recent study carried out by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), 85% subsequently fail to make the grade as professional footballers.

In May I spoke to the coordinator of the SSG of one of Dublin’s biggest leagues, I asked why are we playing competitive leagues as such a young age  and why 11v11 at age 11 even 12? (which is still pretty much the case, we just moved the age group).  I was astonished to hear the negative attitude of this person, he/she was more concerned with the response of what the big DUBLIN clubs would do if changes were made. Not to my surprise, they showed no concern for the kids or even expressed an opinion of youth development.

We have come along way, but we still have a long way to go….. we’ll get there…one day. Its never to late to make change. The changes are coming but when the game is run by volunteers don’t expect things to happen quickly. Finance will have a big part to play if we are to see nation attitude change towards developing young kids. A player centred approach is what is required from bottom to top.

Some interesting Stats: 

  • On average 50 kids go to England every year, 18 sign contracts
  • 94% who are good enough to get deals with an English club, don’t get as far as a second contract.
  • 75% come home and never play at League of Ireland level.
  • Liverpool Academy stated: 98% of players who are taken in by the English academy fall out by the time they are 18
  • Only 0.021% of u21’s players currently playing in the Barclays u21 league will make it to the premier league.
  • 10% of players in premier league academies make it to the professional game.
  • Over 4000 registered pros in the UK.
  • PFA estimate Over 700 kids released every year by English clubs as per Oshor Williams of the PFA’s education department, which offers support and training to prepare them for a life outside professional football. Of those entering the game aged 16, two years down the line, 50% will be outside professional football. If we look at the same cohort at 21, the attrition rate is 75% or above.
  • There are about 297 former professional footballers currently in prison. 150 young offenders 147 adults
  • Most are under 25 and around 87% sentenced for drugs offences.
  • 40% of pro footballers go bankrupt within five years of leaving the game.
  • 33% divorced with a year of retirement.

There are 12,500 players in the English academy system, but only 0.5% of under-nines at top clubs are likely to make it to the first team. There are also suggestions that drop-out rate in football is similar to other sports, such as rugby union, which can lose 76% of players between the ages of 13 and 16.

Sources ( XPRO,BBC Sport and The PFA)


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Coaching Clinics Irish Grassroots Football

Horst is back this Friday 30 September


Friday 30th September and Saturday 1st October or Sunday 2nd October

White Sands Hotel, Portmarnock (and Portmarnock AFC all-weather pitch)

To find out more and REGISTER for this  event just visit:

If you have any further enquires please email

Horst Wein

who has trained over 11,000 coaches in 54 countries over the last 25 years has created, developed and perfected (with the input of 1000’s of coaches around the world) the most complete and up-to-date YOUTH FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT MODEL


The Beautiful Game, Phone:             01 8464047      , Mobi:             086 851 3339




Come see for yourself

Next Saturday and Sunday 13/14th August, The Beautiful Game is hosting a Football Festival to give teams a taster of the non-league playing formats as recommended by Horst Wein in his YOUTH FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT MODEL.

The event to be held in Portmarnock AFC at Paddy’s Hill (which is very near the PSLC where the seminar was held). Kick off times will be staggered but start at 10.30am and later matches will run to about 4.30pm.

You are invited to bring your team if applicable to play on either day, and once teams are confirmed The Beautiful game will design a schedule for the games.  The format is not a tournament, but a friendly, more details will be forthcoming early next week.

The age-appropriate game formats are as follows:

8 year olds (2003) play 3v3 (mini-football)

9  year olds (2002) play 5v5

10/11 year olds (2001/2000) play 7v7

12/13 year olds (1999/1998) play 8v8

If you want to get involved contact the Dermot Dalton

The Beautiful Game

Ph: 01 8464047

Mob: 086 8513339



Irish Grassroots Football

Indiscutibles Reyes Del Mundo

Living in Portugal for many years, going to Spain was always something to look forward to. At least once every summer we would head off by car across the Portuguese Spanish boarder destination Badajoz. Which is situated close to the Portuguese border along the Madrid/Lisbon railway line. It over looks the river Guadiana and the town is a fortress.

Pop Rocks in Badajoz

As you can imagine going from one country to another in a day was a great adventure for any young lad; After Badajoz had different sweets to Portugal and it was here that I first encounter the Peta Zetas popping sweets or Pop Rocks as they are known in English. Even back then I had a great admiration for Spain, after all my Grandmother was Spanish and we accompanied her on so many of these trips.

Obviously growing up in a fanatical fútbol country like Portugal you were exposed not just to Portuguese soccer but also to Spanish and if Portugal wasn’t on the TV then Spain was, so you always had someone to support and unlike the English/Irish situation, I actually supported Spain as if they were my nation but only when Portugal and Ireland weren’t playing.

So for me Spain have always been that dominant power (over Portugal and Ireland) in world football and it seems today is no different, only history tells us otherwise.

The Underachievers

Before 2008, Spain was one of those national teams labelled as a “tournament underachiever”, meaning they often failed to deliver after so much promise. They hadn’t won a tournament since Euro 1964 and a series of near-misses and disappointing results finally came to an end in Euro 2008. It’s not that the Spanish have lacked quality, but their star players often failed to reproduce their club form on the international stage.

Now with dominance at all ages and lets look back at this year alone in world Futbol, Barcelona conquers of Europe made very little of the best team in UK, which will go down in history as one of the best displays of Tiki-Taka football the world has witnessed. Spain in both men and ladies soccer have been sweeping nations aside like no other and as we know, only the other day the 4 time winners (u19s) reached yet another final in a convincing display of brilliance as they demolished a very good Irish side 5-0.

Ruling the World

In June they won the u21’s in Denmark, yesterday the Spanish u17s Ladies beat the French 1-0 to take the u17s crown, the u20s beat Costa Rica 4-1 in their opening game of the World Cup in Colombia and today the u19s play the Czech Republic for yet another title.

Having watched Spain alot this year, I cant see the dominance coming to an end anytime soon, and one would think that with an ageing Spanish National side, this could be end to an era, how wrong we are. Take for instance FCBarcelona Academia they have 6-7 outstanding talents at every age group, you only have to take a look at today’s u19s crop of Spanish talent to see how superior they actually are and don’t forget they also have a team at the u20’s world cup in Colombia. So not counting the Senior team they have at least 50 world class players currently playing in top competitions around the world. (Not forgetting the likes of Thiago Alcantara 20, Andreu Fontas 21, Jeffren 23 all currently with the FCB first team squad and that’s only the Barca players).

So the premier league is the best league in the world?, funny how the likes of Fabregas, David Villa, Reina, Torres can’t even get into the National team yet the we consider the English league to be better!!!

To top that all off, every single nation is now trying to play Tiki-Taka football, from young kids right up to senior level. Everyone wants to be Spain, but success as they are now experiencing  does not  come over night, it started many many years ago influencing coaches to nurture the same way, they had a philosophy, they played to their strengths and they stuck to it but it took someone to bring it to the forefront and after the failure to reach the group stages at Euro 2004, Spain changed manager, with the man who ingrained the style of play we are familiar with today, Luis Aragones, being installed at the helm.

The rise to greatness started slowly, with a disappointing crash in the 2006 World Cup, reaching only the last 16 inspired Aragones to change mentality, knowing that the team would not be able to physically, with strength, out wit their opponents, having more technically talented players like young and upcoming Cesc Fabregas, only 19 at the time, Sergio Ramos, 20 and Andres Iniesta, 22, he adapted the “tika-taka” approach, and made the team play to their strengths, with the ball and their feet, used by the Barcelona team at the time, having been implemented by Johann Cruyff when he was in control of FCB between 1988 and 1996. Cruyff was part of the 70’s Ajax team that played ‘total football’, so maybe, thanks to him, we enjoy today’s Spanish and Barcelona play.

They have been virtually untouchable and unstoppable for the past three and a half years since winning Euro 2008, covering any challenger in a blanket of supremacy. Undisputed kings, rois incontestes, they are, no doubt, the Greatest National Football Team of our modern footballing era and long may it last!

So what for Ireland?,

well if you have the same people doing the same thing then that’s what you get “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got.”and that’s ok if what your getting is success at all levels. I suppose for us a a nation maybe we need to decide what sports we want to be successful at?  We don’t do to bad considering we have Rugby, GAA and Soccer all competing for the top players, but I firmly believe that with the right structures and ideas about how we decide to PLAY feeding down to the youngest ages, we could do so much better.

Our game needs a complete overall and that includes age appropriate games, pitches, size of goals, size of balls. Yesterday I watched two very good footballing Dublin teams play (age 2000s) and both the goal keepers had difficulties kicking past 20 yards for goal kicks, which meant the only time the ball reached the other half was when the keepers kicked from their hands or when played out from the back with no pressure.

Bring on the Horst

Next month Horst Wein is back in town and them more I indulge into his mini soccer 3v3 games of which he has 21 different variations for age 7-9s the more I know we have it all wrong. We can do no worse then approve the methods of Horst. His Spanish version of Developing Youth Football Players is the official textbook of the Spanish Football Federation and is in its 5th printing addition. It was commissioned by Angel Maria Villar Llona, the President of the Spanish Football Federation (since 1988), he has been vice president to Sepp Blatter on 2 occasions. He has also served as vice president of UEFA.

If “Imitation is at least 50 percent of the creative process” then copying 100% of what SPAIN are doing and adding 50% of our own philosophy should bring us to near 100% Irish Youth Development process..