Talent Management: Transition from Youth to First Team Football

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The process of successfully integrating talented young players from a clubs youth setup into the first team is something on an enigma. Some countries excel in the process consistently producing elite players year after year, whilst other countries find the process extremely difficult.

In order to develop and prepare young players making the transition from youth football to competitive first team football a variety of club professionals are required to fill essential roles. From my experience working within the game, I believe that there are five crucial roles within every club; (1) Academy Manager, (2) Youth Coach, (3) Head Coach, (4) Club Captain and (5) Director of Football.

1) The Academy Manager is responsible forcoaching the coaches’ whilst also supervising the development of all youth players with a long term and helicopter view. One of the most important aspects of this role is overseeing a player’s development within their final academy years as they progress towards the first team – U16, U17 and U19s.

2) The Youth Coach (U19, U20 or U21) works on a daily basis with the potential first team player and is often the most important person at the club for any young player (coach-athlete relationship). They are the one closest to the player, who usually have a long standing working relationship and is capable of predicting their chances of progressing to the first team. Therefore it is vital that the U19 coach is respected and listened to by the Head Coach who should ideally have a strong relationship and understanding of what each other expect and strive for in terms of; playing qualities, player potential, style of player, formations used as well as personal characteristics such as players behaviour and personality.

3) The Head Coach is understandably and without question a key figure too of course! Are they able to see the future? Are they brave enough to include the youngster in training sessions, give them the opportunity to play in a pre-season friendly or even in the early stages of cup competitions? Do they pick an establish substitute to replace the youngster when the team is winning OR do they purposely fast track the youngster building up his first team experience? These are just some of the situations faced by the Head Coach on a daily basis regarding the inclusion of any young player, however the most important thing to remember is that each decision made can and will have a direct impact on the players short and long term progression.

4) The Club Captain is often responsible for overseeing the players in the first team dressing room, on the training ground and therefore able to keep an eye on them. Maybe even ‘protecting’ them in certain situations, helping to make the youngster feel at ease and to settle in. Whilst at the same time teaching them the vital lessons on and off the pitch of what is expected and required in the ‘professional full time game’.

5) Last but not least is the Director of Football, the tactician responsible for implementing the objectives at the beginning of the season, whilst constantly adhering to a long term strategy and vision. In my opinion, introducing home grown players into the First Team should be incorporated within every Club’s Philosophy. There is no healthier way of strengthen your squad if an Academy kids makes it all the way to the Flagship. The Director of Football should challenge the Head-Coach’s player wish list and debate with them about whether or not a youngster could fill one or two of their requirements instead of taking the easy option to bring in a tried and tested (and often expensive) player from another club.

Players brought in from other clubs are usually allowed the luxury of a couple weeks, sometimes even months, to ‘settle in’. However, does the Director of Football or even the Coach provide the younger players the same privilege and time to settle in? In cases such as this it is the obligation of the Director of Football to protect the players especially when a debutant does not fit the bill and are initially branded not good enough. Similar to the Head Coach, the decisions made by the Director of Football can massively influence the player’s career; should they be dropped back to the youth team for a period of time, should they be loaned out to a lower league club?

In my opinion the roles and responsibilities involved in aiding the transition from youth football to first team football, whilst demanding and challenging are not rocket science. This then begs the question as to why Talent Management causes such a problem in many footballing countries.

Mark Wotte



All words and images were supplied by Mark Wotte

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