Saturday, August 06, 2005

Countries developing the best footballers in the world

I’d been thinking about whose producing the best footballers in the world at the moment.

This is not a top ten list of teams in the world; it’s a snapshot of promise, achievement and productivity at the youth and senior levels.

Top 10 countries football productivity, descending order:

10th Sweden – The Nordic country has been producing top talent steadily for a long time. Sweden doesn’t produce world players of the year or win World Cups but they ship their players allover the world and generally do ok in international competitions.

9th Germany – The low place for a former World Cup winner and traditional power is mainly because of the drop in form, less quality and persistent problems for the team to emerge from a technical straitjacket.

8th Portugal – The Portuguese have cemented their place in the list through a quality youth system and a litany of top players in top teams around Europe and an extra bump up because of the countries size. It’s competing globally with something like 12 million people.

7th Spain - The Iberian team steps up the list because of the recent emergence of great youth talent crossed with a new willingness for Spaniards to play abroad. That has done a lot for the team’s ability to play internationally and I have a feeling they are going to do well in World Cup 2006.

6th Argentina – The only reason Argentina drops down a bit is because they only seem able to produce players that can play in Argentina or Italy. The technical and creative qualities are hard to ignore otherwise.

5th Holland - The Dutch are masters of developing talent. They have been producing great player after great player for decades. They are a tiny country, but boy can they develop players from a pool of just 16 million people.

4th Italy – If this were a contest of defensive abilities, Italy would probably be top of the list. The reason they drop down despite their obvious quality and international profile is the notch below Italy stands in creative talent with the top 3. Italy also receives strikes for the relatively small numbers of players around the European continent.

3rd England - England are a pair of steps below France and Brazil, but are awash with so many really good players because the Premiership is the best league in the world. That’s the equivalent of playing at the level of an international every week. I have not figured out the French secret yet, but England have the complete infrastructure, all that’s missing is a few new faces.

2nd France - At senior and youth levels the French have been a master class for over a decade. The French, despite their poor showing at the last World Cup and Euro 2004 have a juggernaut of young players with fantastic skills. I’m convinced the huge number of matches these French stars play are destroying their international profile but when you see how integral some of these players are to their respective club teams you begin to get a sense of why France is #2.

1st Brazil - Who else. I know. Can you think of a league a Brazilian doesn't play in? Brazil so loaded with fantastic players that you could make 3 teams that would win 3 places for a World Cup. It’s like real estate: location, location, location. In football its talent, talent, talent. One superstar after another appears from Brazil and that trend is unlikely to stop in the next century. That is how far ahead they are.

As you can see, it’s mainly a list of European clubs and countries with players who play in Europe. It’s a statement of how dominant the continent remains on the global game.

Very close runners for that 10th spot was Cameroon and the Czech Republic. I also gave some thought to Denmark, USA, South Korea, Nigeria, Columbia, South Africa and Turkey. Infrastructure limited most of those names.

If I had to choose a most improved, it would be Ivory Coast for sure.
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