Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were selected 1-2 in the NFL Draft Thursday night. They are the prototype of the new era NFL quarterbacks, as Chris Brown of Grantland writes. They are the product of a system that identifies young athletes and instills in them, from an early age, the type of mentality and intelligence that will be required of an NFL quarterback. Brown writes that anyone from the future looking back will laugh at Tebowmania, because why would anyone want an athlete as a quarterback when every quarterback is an athletic quarterback? The new techniques used to develop young players make this possible in the NFL. But the NFL is not the only place where this happens.
Look at this matchup: 19-year-old left back David Alaba takes the first PK for Bayern Munich, while international superstar Christiano Ronaldo takes the first for Real Madrid. We all know how it worked out in the end. Perhaps Alaba's youth worked for him, as there was far less to know about how he would take the PK, but the pressure to perform in that situation is intense and can make any player wither (See: Ramos, Sergio). Alaba's calm and calculated PK evidences a confidence beyond his years. A 19-year-old hardly has any business being the deciding factor in a Champions League semi-final, and yet his success where Ronaldo failed may just have been the upset that tipped the scales in Bayern's favor.
The NBA is also familiar with young superstars. Just look at King James' coronation upon joining the league. The "1 year" rule has cut back on this a bit, but it is still significant. The NBA has been in the game of developing young players for years--the elite leagues, traveling AAU teams, expert youth coaches, etc. The NFL does not have these young superstars, but there is no question that the college game has been elevated to a level previously unimaginable. And it is partially due to the sea change in how youth quarterbacks are developed.
Expert young players like Alaba are not new to soccer. Christiano has been a sensation for a long time. If you felt like Rooney has been playing for a decade, you'd almost be right. But he's just 26, only 3 weeks older than Osvaldo Alonso. Messi is just 24 -- David Estrada is older.
Much has been written about the state of youth soccer in the U.S., and there is not much original for me to add. Many have discussed what it needs to do to succeed and what it is doing wrong. Much has also been written about how positive the Academies have been and will be. However, looking at what is happening in football makes me wonder how those in soccer should respond.
Should soccer capitalize on the inherent cheapness of the game? The academies are obviously fantastic for those who can make it in, as they are free, but what about the rest of kids? Football is no cheaper than the select teams generally are, but wouldn't youth soccer benefit from being the cheapest of options for families? And where can we put our technological advantage over (most of) the rest of the world to use? Are there must-have apps to help kids learn more about the beautiful game on their iPads, Andriods, etc.? NFL, NBA and MLB talents aren't developed in Residencies and only rarely in billetting situations, yet there is a feeling among some soccer fans that these are necessary for this sport.
Further, how can we break down the beautiful game so that we can identify the playmakers, the tacticians, the speedsters, the poachers, the tacklers, the markers, the linkers, and the stoics at an early age and teach them how to hone their craft, rather than just how to win in a team environment? Should we? Or should we just build basic skills such as passing in a crowded environment, waiting to identify their best positions and traits until a later age? It seems that quarterbacks are being identified and groomed at a younger and younger age all the time. Is that the right way to go for soccer?
I don't have any of these answers, I just have questions right now. Questions that I hope I am not the only one asking. Questions that have answers that should unlock a new era of American soccer, not of our Messi (though that'd be nice) but our Gerrard, our Puyol, our Schweinsteiger.
Note - agtk joined us behind the scenes as a sometime copy editor. This is his first post as he joins our stable of writers.