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Editor's Blog

Manchester United’s Noticeboard…

Last week I was fortunate enough to be the guest of Nike, who took me along to Manchester in the UK to see their Nike ‘The Chance’ project in action. 

Basically, a squad of supremely talented players under the age of 20 are selected from around the world and are moulded into a team who then travel the world playing against the likes of the Juventus youth team, training with the likes of Barcelona in Spain, and last week playing against the Manchester United reserve side and also training at the Trafford Training Centre, the training ground of Manchester United.


Our own Charlie Tsotetsi of South Africa is in the squad, and the creative central midfielder-cum-playmaker looks like the real deal. Come this weekend, three players will be selected from this squad to be inducted into the Nike Academy in England, where they will receive top level coaching and basically live the life of a young pro as they try to secure contracts from teams across Europe.  It’s a unique concept by Nike and certainly ‘The Chance’ does take these young players who, for whatever reason, have slipped through the scouting nets in their country, and it gives them one last chance to make a career out of football.


The highlight of the trip for me was going first to ‘The Cliff’, Man United’s famous training ground for years. The ground where players like George Best, Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Eric Cantona honed their talent. The training ground where Sir Alex Ferguson was able to coach and manage the famous Man United team of 1999 to a treble. Crowned not only the best in England, but the best in Europe as well. 


Now the Cliff is not fancy by any means. One full field, one five-a-side field, an indoor pitch for when the weather is too harsh to train outdoors, a modest clubhouse - not much more than that. But Man United, despite their success, clearly felt it wasn’t good enough if they were to continue on an upward spiral. And so the Trafford Training Centre in Carrington was built, a training facility the likes of which I have never seen before.


More football fields than you could wish to have for training. Outdoor astro-turf fields, Indoor astro-turf fields, small-sided fields, gyms... the list goes on. But it was not the brick and mortar that stood out for me. Not the fancy cars in the parking lot or the famous Manchester United emblem emblazoned on the buildings. What impressed me the most was when I stood in front of a Man United Youth noticeboard in the academy clubhouse. 


You see, you can build the best football training facilities in the world. You can have the kids wear the best gear, you can drive the fanciest cars, but it’s the degree of detail that Man United put into their youth development that ultimately keeps them among the very best in Europe. That was evident as I scanned over this noticeboard.


On this board, from the U13 team right up to the U19 boys, were fixture lists for the entire season. Now, not even the PSL can guarantee that a fixture list is set in stone when it comes to venues and times, not because they don’t want to, but more I think from a lack of planning, from a limited attention to the details. On this board was a notice to parents of the exact times the team bus would leave the ground throughout the season, with a reminder that if a child is not there 10 minutes before the bus leaves, he will not make the trip.


What’s more, there were notices of tournaments around Europe for the season, explaining to parents which boys qualified and with a note to parents to make sure the boys all had valid passports in the event of being selected. The exact training session where a travelling team would be announced was marked on the board.


A note explaining that any kid who could not play on a Saturday, the parents had to notify the coach by Friday 6pm and have a doctor’s certificate and might still need to bring the kid in to the club to have the club physio check the kid out. A note that kids not playing on a Saturday still had to come down for training on Saturday and Sunday unless otherwise notified. This was the planning for U13 kids! An entire season planned to the minute. I doubt very much many PSL clubs in our country have this level of detail, never mind their youth programmes.


In line with what my colleague Joe Crann wrote last week about the England national team and the South African national team being great underachievers on the international stage. From what I saw on a Man United youth noticeboard, there is one very big difference. English football certainly haven’t stopped trying to be the very best. I’m not sure South African football ever really started.   


Shapa, Clint


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