FA Youth plan for players in Barca mould

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Gareth Southgate hopes the Football Association’s proposal to overhaul youth football will allow England to develop a new generation of players who are on a par with Barcelona’s current stars.

Southgate, the FA’s head of elite development, and national development manager Nick Levett, have been touring England promoting the ‘Your Kids your say’ programme.

The initiative includes a raft of recommendations for changes in youth football and was unveiled last December as a result of an 18-month research project into how to improve development at grassroots level.

The programme, if approved by 75% of the FA’s voting shareholders, will mean children will not play 11-a-side club football until under-13 level, while other younger players will play in teams of five, seven or nine dependent on their age.

The FA point to the fact that three of the most successful countries in the world in recent years - Spain, France and Italy - do not play 11-a-side until under-14 level as proof that the plan will have a positive impact on England’s chances of international success.

The programme also recommends young footballers play matches on smaller pitches with smaller goals.

Southgate, who assumed his new role in February, says the research that went into the project shows England needs to implement the changes recommended in the plan to bring the country onto a par with the continent’s most successful nations.

“We are at a point in time where people want change,” Southgate said.

“People have seen the way that the likes of Barcelona have played this year and they’re asking: ‘Why can’t our kids play that way?’

“We want them to play that way. We feel that what we are proposing will give them the environment to develop those skills.”

The research involved in the project showed that children who are slow to physically mature are also being forced out of the game before they have a chance to have a crack at professional level.

Southgate thinks the idea of introducing smaller teams and smaller pitches will help to encourage a player the size of Lionel Messi come through the English system, rather than be bullied out of it.

“In 11-a-side matches there are fewer touches for players,” the former Middlesbrough manager said.

“If we go to that format too young then it becomes much more of an athletic-based game. We have huge pitches that kids can’t get around.

“It benefits the physically stronger players but there’s a real danger that we lose the smaller, more technically gifted ones.

“There is a high drop-out of players in that nature.”