30 Nov Irish Youths Display Quality against Peers of Different Football Financial Landscape
The Sozopol Stadium is the quintessential Eastern European football stadium, and was the venue for Ireland’s opening game against Italy in the UEFA Under-17 European Championships last Thursday. While the Boys in Green were very unlucky to succumb to a late goal and lose the game, the quality of football on show illustrated a far greater story of the opposing football landscapes of the nations, and indeed of the other countries in Ireland’s group – England, Italy and The Netherlands.
The stands of The Sozopol Stadium are wide and low; having likely seen better days, but the football on show was of an elite class, with the Irish displaying their undoubted skills despite the financial and demographic handicaps which they face. There are several key factors worth discussing when taking into account the obstacles the players from Ireland’s squad have had to overcome, compared to that of the Italian, England, and Dutch squads.
The obvious and most pertinent point to address here is population; the pool of players available to coaches from each nation varies wildly. Ireland’s opponents last Monday Italy had the highest pool of players to choose from with an estimated population of 59.83m, while England rank second with a similarly high 53.01m. Next in line is The Netherlands with a population of 16.58m, while lastly the estimated population of The Republic of Ireland is a relatively meagre 4.58m.
While in times of economical unrest population figures see erratic peaks and troughs, the general trend is clear; the Irish coaches have a lot less players to choose from. Should we look further into this, we see how the cultural sporting preferences of each nation skew these figures further: whereas in The Netherlands, Italy and England football is the clear most favourite sport in the country, Irish football has to deal with a majority preference which veers toward GAA, and other sports such as rugby too dominate the rural sporting landscape.
If we look specifically at the Irish squad today, while all the players are of undoubted quality, some still ply their trade in the DDSL – essentially a schoolboy league, albeit the best one in the country. Trevor Clarke for example, a regular starter for Tom Mohan’s under-17 side competing in the tournament, still plays for St. Kevin’s Boys, who are based in Whitehall, Dublin. While clearly a fine club to nurture Irish talent, they are a world away from the resources of clubs who stock the talent within the Italian, Dutch, and English squads.
Now compare that to their opponents in Italy last week who had several players who are all emerging as some of Europe’s brightest talents. Look at Gianlucca Scamacca for example, who this year left Roma, snubbed an offer from Southampton, and joined Dutch side PSV in search of regular football and a fast-tracking to senior football.
Also in the Italian squad we have striker Patrick Cutrone, having scored over 25 goals at youth level this season, has resulted in making the bench for AC Milan recently, while in the English squad attacking midfielder Trent Arnold has been tipped to be the next to make the grade from Liverpool’s illustrious academy. While this is not to talk down the Irish squad by any means, the resources which back their opponents illustrates just how well they’ve performed to date against such high quality opposition.
In 2006 FIFA conducted the most extensive football survey to date – The Big Count of 2006 – with several key areas to our discussion are brought to light. In one area of study FIFA sought to find out which world football federations have the most male football players registered: Italy ranked in 5th, England 7th, and The Netherlands 8th – unsurprisingly Ireland doesn’t show up in the displayed top 20.
The study also looked at the amount of clubs in a nation: again unsurprisingly England ranks number 1, while Italy comes in at number 6, Ireland moves up to 13th and The Netherlands doesn’t rank in the displayed top 20. One pertinent point here would be of course the number of professional clubs per country, which Ireland would clearly be lacking in.
Finally looking at the amount of males youth footballers per nation we see how England comes in at 6th, Italy 9th, and neither The Netherlands nor Ireland ranking in the displayed top 20 in the survey. What must be prefaced with the above statistics is the survey is now nine years old, but it is the last global soccer survey conducted by FIFA, and still displays a clear trend within the varying demographics of the game on a global scale.
Budgetary issues was something such an investigation seemed necessary to look into, but with big business and global corporations, such monetary details are kept largely inaccessible to the public and media. Interestingly though, some reports suggest the disparity between the Irish under-17 camp and that of the English under-17 camp for the year of 2015 ranges between €30,000 for the Irish and £1.7m for the English.
Whatever happens to the Irish under-17 side in these UEFA European Championships and beyond fans can take great solace by the spirit and quality shown by the players and staff, despite the many hurdles they face on a daily basis against the global elite.