September 02, 2015
Looking to Spain makes sense

By Mike Woitalla

If I had a dollar for every time a foreign club offered to teach us how to coach, I’d be able to buy one the replica jerseys they’re selling.

I certainly don’t think it’s a bad idea for American soccer to consider the methods used in other countries, and to adopt those that might benefit our players. I’ve visited the youth programs of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Boca Juniors, Tahuichi in Bolivia, and have attended countless coaching “clinics” run by foreign coaches. And I’ve seen stuff that makes good sense to me.

I also find it laughable that foreign clubs that hardly, if ever, produce their own players claim they can teach us how to do it. The first questions we should ask ourselves when clubs or coaches from abroad come here offering their services are:

1. What is their track record of producing talent?

2. Do they play the kind of soccer we’re striving for?

3. What’s in it for them?

In August, U.S. Club Soccer announced "a technical partnership" with Spain’s La Liga. According to the U.S. Club Soccer, La Liga is “investing significant resources in U.S. youth soccer development.”

So what’s in it for them?

“They’ve been upfront about it,” says U.S. Club Soccer’s Executive Director/CEO Kevin Payne. “They realize they have not done a very good job marketing the La Liga brand. They believe that if they ask Americans to consume their product, they should first give something to American soccer. To share their knowledge and help the game grow.”

La Liga will provide U.S. Club Soccer clubs with training curriculum. The partnership includes “reciprocal coaching education seminars and elite player training opportunities abroad” and “direct involvement” with U.S. Club Soccer’s player identification programs.

“I believe it’s the best league in the world,” Payne says. “Certainly there’s no argument about that from UEFA.”

La Liga tops the UEFA club competition rankings by a significant margin. Spanish clubs have won five of the last 10 Champions League crowns and six of the last 10 Europa League titles (formerly UEFA Cup).

“And obviously Spain as a nation is very successful,” says Payne. “I also believe La Liga is the most attractive in terms of style. …

“The English Premier League had a 15-year head start [in marketing to U.S. fans]. And if you say the Premier League is the best in the world over and over and over again, people start to believe it. But they’re really only No. 1 in money.

“When EPL clubs come to the United States, it’s always about making money, slapping their names on clubs’ jerseys. I can only think of maybe one or two exceptions, Manchester City in particular, whose ventures here aren’t just about making money.”

Payne has a strong case for La Liga. While its clubs’ success is obviously also thanks to foreign imports, La Liga’s percentage of foreign players last season of 39% is less than the English Premier League (69%), Italy’s Serie A (55%) and the German Bundesliga (46%). Moreover, Spain was second only to France in exporting players to top European leagues.

Plus, with European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012 sandwiching a 2010 World Cup title, Spain is the most successful national team of the last decade. (Spain also won the 2011 and 2013 U-21 European Championships and three of the last five U-19 European Championships.)

“I believe they have an enlightened approach,” Payne says. “It’s a great marriage for us. But it’s not a silver bullet. I think one of the biggest problems in American soccer is believing there’s one elixir and everything is going to be great. This is just another tool in the toolbox for us. And for them, it’s a way to develop fans.”

As far as the Spanish and La Liga style of soccer having a positive influence on young American players – I won't argue against that.

PLAYERS FIRST INITIATIVE. The La Liga partnership is part of U.S. Club Soccer’s Players First initiative – “a holistic club soccer experience for parents and players, which emphasizes the development of each individual to his or her full potential, and helps parents make better choices about where their children should play" -- it launched last month, encompassing the five pillars of "Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education, Player Health & Safety."

Around the Net

Sam Borden of the New York Times checks in with the family of 15-year-old California product Ben Lederman, who joined Barcelona in 2011 but for the last year has been banned from playing in games for Barcelona's youth teams because of FIFA's enforcement of its ban on the transfer of minors across international borders. “It is killing him,” said Ben’s father, Danny Lederman. “And as his dad, it’s killing me, too, to see him like this. A year? Kids need to play; he practices, he practices, he practices, but he can’t play? It’s not right. ... I understand the rule was made to protect kids from being pulled away from their families. But our family made a choice to move to Spain together. Why should FIFA be able to tell our family where it has to live if we want our kid to play soccer?” The Ledermans are considering taking their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and challenging the basic notion of the rule that created it. "Strict Enforcement of FIFA Rules Sidelines Young Players Abroad"

USSoccer.com features a video of 17-year-old Mallory Pugh, the USA's most highly touted female teen, and her experience of training with the full national team. Pugh, at age 16, started all four games for the USA at the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup. The Real Colorado forward, who graduates from high school in 2016 and has committed to UCLA, is currently leading the USA's quest to qualify for the 2016 U-20 Women's World Cup. "Mallory Pugh: A Day in The Show"