Joe Tweedie – what attributes, besides talent, determine whether Player X becomes the next Gaël Kakuta or the next Ousmane Dembélé?
PR — I think the word 'mentality' is quite a buzzword now in youth development, and I guess it's all the more so with Dutch media given how many crash-and-burns we've had recently. A lot of clubs -- especially the Big 3 and AZ and FC Utrecht -- recognise that it's very important to complement their football training with psychological support and help. Especially because kids leave their houses at 12 or 13 to come live in Amsterdam/Eindhoven, etc. Memphis is a big example of this and has acknowledged how having a 'mental coach' really helped him in his teenage days.
Apart from that, I think in general, having the ability to help the team in more than one aspect on the pitch is important in Dutch football. Being able to think and adapt to essentially any situation in any outfield position.
JT – at what age do you think a young talent is ready for the rigours of first team football?
PR – depends on the talent. There are some players who at 17-19 are already primed for regular first team football in the Netherlands and particularly those touted as 'big talents' at youth level end up being regular first-teamers while still teenagers. A lot of them become regular starters by age 21-ish. They tend to stay 'til they're around 24-ish and then usually leave for foreign clubs, of course. So, I think anywhere between 19-21 is a good time for them to start being involved semi-regularly in the first team and then look to become starters. (But of course, the demands of the Eredivisie are different to the PL)
JT – in terms of developing players between the ages of 18-21, what is more beneficial? Training with higher quality players (i.e. exclusively training with the first team) or playing regular adult football at any level? Why?
PR – I think definitely playing regular adult football. I think the experience of actually playing football matches and playing when there is a real stake in the game is very different to just training with the first-team. Obviously training exposes you against high quality players but it's still not the same as a match and the psychological and physical demands of those 90 minutes isn't quite replicable.
JT – what is the ideal development strategy for a promising 18-year-old at a club the stature of Chelsea? Loan or in-house development?
PR – I think loan, especially if the route to semi-regular first team appearances is not simple (which it increasingly does not seem so).
JT – which position is easiest/hardest for an academy player to play?
PR – I'd say winger or wingforward is easiest. You're less likely to find yourself in a defensively compromising position, the wings offer a bit more space for them to 'do their thing' while the centre tends to be crowded. You can also feel like you have a better view of the pitch from the wing, so they're less likely to be completely disoriented – as you might in the centre. Difficult to say regarding the hardest… probably centre back. There's a lot of decision-making involved and there are certain things to movement and awareness that likely only come with experience. (That being said, I am gunning for Christensen because he does have reasonable experience and definitely the talent.)
JT – is there an aspect of the game you feel is undervalued by the wider public when it comes to coaching and developing young talent?
PR – I think simple things like making the right pass or the right run are commendable at that age. Like, people look for end product and that's natural, but at the start, just those fundamental decisions are key in building a player's confidence and obviously the public are used to pros and don't see much in the small details. You build on from there, but just things like constantly scanning the pitch, looking for passes to play and receive are good signs that might be glossed over.
JT – what is something, in your experience, you wished the casual fan knew about coaching youngsters?
PR – I think it's very easy these days to chastise young talent. Even if they're not you know, washing boots or mopping the dressing room, they still go through a lot at a very young age. Peter McVitie and I were talking about this last December. These kids have been through a lot in their 18 or 19 years. Their lifestyle has had to be almost entirely changed to revolve around football. These kids have had to leave home (at least in NL and the Scandinavian talents too) and live with foster families to play football at the big academies. I just think we need to cut them a bit of slack sometimes.
JT – what constitutes an opportunity for an Academy player? A few substitute appearances? Consecutive starts?
PR – I think 30-min cameos initially, and then starts against some weaker opposition is a good way to bring them in. Once they're used to the demands of that level, you can start playing them in the XI and trusting them a bit more. Bosz's use of De Ligt and Kluivert was exemplary, I think.
JT – any other thoughts about youth development?
PR – I think in the Netherlands, we need to rethink it a bit. Obviously technically, our players are proficient but it's become a culture that's so indoctrinated by Total Football that the dogma is getting stifling. We haven't produced a proper creative midfielder since Sneijder and the one we did (Ziyech) has been overlooked and switched international loyalties.