Want to Play in Serie A? All roads lead to Rome, but the highway goes through Montevideo

Last year I looked at which countries are best at producing players for Serie A, and this fact may or may not surprise you: Italy only comes second on the list. Yes, in terms of sheer numbers Italy comes out on top. But in terms of players produced per capita your chances of turning out for Juve, Inter, AC MIlan, et al are actually better if you were born in Uruguay.

I based this conclusion on league appearances in the 2014-2015 season.  In order to be counted, a player had to have appeared in at least one league game during that season.  Yes, I did check where each player was born, but that was as meticulous as the research got.  I’m not beyond relying on Wikipedia for other data. (I do have a job)

Twelve Uruguayan born players took the pitch in Serie A during the 2014-2015 season. Based on a current Uruguayan population estimate of 3.324 Million people, and assuming half of those Uruguayans are male, that means there was one Uruguayan who appeared in Serie A for every 138,500 Uruguayan males.  Granted, the statistical advantage for Uruguayans is slight… the ratio is 1:140,082 for Italians.  But it is still pretty amazing accomplishment for Uruguayan football development, particularly when compared to their Argentinian rivals.  Despite being the most common nationality for foreign born players in Serie A, the Argentine ratio is a surprisingly weak 1:547,044. On a per capita basis, Uruguayans are more than three times as likely to play in Serie A than their bitter rivals.

Okay, so when dealing with a country the size of Uruguay, the sample size is always going to prove problematic and the data can be taken with a grain of salt. But when you look at the historical numbers, Uruguay’s contribution to Serie A is even more impressive.  According to stats gleaned from Wikipedia, the country that boasted a population of just over a million people when in won the first World Cup in 1930 has sent a grand total of 154 players to Serie A, including those Oriundi who would become naturalized Italian citizens.  The Argentines, by contrast, have sent 314 players to Serie A. Twice as many, but again they have always had more than ten times the population Uruguay has.

 

 

  Italian born Uruguayan born Argentine born
Players with at least one league appearance in Serie A during the 2014/2015 season  

217

 

12

 

39

 

  Italy Uruguay Argentina
Estimated 2014

Population

 

 

60,796,000

 

3,324,000

 

42,670,000

 

  Italy Uruguay Argentina
Ratio of Serie A players to total male population

 

1:140,083 1:138,500  

1:547,051

 

Uruguay’s success at developing players for Italian soccer did not surprise me, in fact the data was collected in order to settle a bet with an Anorak who… as it turns out…. doesn’t quite know-it-all.

But the scale at which such a small country can continually punch above it’s weight is staggering to me, Especially in comparison to the USA, which has sent a grand total of three players to Serie A in my lifetime… and one of those was Alexi Lalas.  At least now with Guiseppe Rossi back this year, we actually have a ratio: 1 in 155 million.

 

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VIDEO of the month: Chicago Sting @ New York Cosmos 1984

I remember watching this game on Sportsvision in my rec room as a 19 year old.  I was so excited to see my beloved Sting put the Bully Beatdown on the Cosmos in Giants Stadium.  Even Robert Meschbach scored!!!! What I didn’t quite grasp at the time was how clearly this game signaled that the Cosmos and the NASL were very much on their last fumes.  I started following soccer in 1982, the year after the Sting won their first Soccer Bowl, so I had never known anything other than contraction, franchise relocation, and dispersal drafts.

The Sting had always enjoyed a good rivalry with the Cosmos.  I’m pretty sure that Chicago had a better win-loss percentage against the Cosmos than any other team that had ever been in the league.  But this was too easy.  With a heat wave baking the Giants Stadium carpet to 130 degrees (literally breaking the on-field thermometer) the idea of a Cosmos team going down 5-0 at home in front of an empty stadium pretty much says it all.   Dancing on my coach as the fifth goal went in, I might as well have been dancing on the league’s grave. The Cosmos were going out not with a bang, but a whimper.  And the remaining eight teams would follow them out the door a few months later.

But hey… 31 years later.  We’ve all moved on, so let’s take a look back

Screenshot (67)

Chicago Sting @ Cosmos 1984 First Half 

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Chicago Sting @ Cosmos 1984 Second Half

Throwback Thursday: Beckham-It all Makes Sense Now

From July 14, 2009

Vainman_v1

Just 48 hours before Goldenballs prepares for his on-field return to the LA Galaxy from his self-orchestrated loan to AC MIlan, Beckham is still being featured in the press preposterously contradicting himself in the same breath by professing

1) His unbridled commitment to “the” MLS and the Los Angeles Galaxy
and
2) His desire to return to AC MIlan (or, as he recently hinted, any team in the EPL that might fancy him)

Arrogant? Stupid? Out of touch? Condescending? Hardly!

It’s just that since arriving in LA, David has been channelling one of the greatest American movie characters of our time, Rain Man’s Raymond Babbitt. The parallels are uncanny.

Savant-like genius ability in a specific field: check!
Lives in his own world protected by “handlers”: check!
Difficulty relating to “regular” people: check!
Frequent use of the word “yeah”: check!
Spends too much time with Tom Cruise: double check!

So when David talks about his near term football plans, he is simply playing out his own version of the scene near the end of the movie when the doctors can’t get Dustin Hoffman’s character to understand that going back to the institution and staying with his brother Charlie are two different choices. I can see the scene being played out now, with Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and MLS Commissioner Don Garber playing the roles of the exasperated doctors, as David continually contradicts himself:
“I definitely want to go back to Milan. Yeah…. I’m definitely commited to the MLS. Yeah…. Of course I’m an excellent d(r)iver…..”

David, are YOU taking any perscription medication?

This being Hollywood, I sense an opportunity for a remake her, with Tom Cruise reprising his role and David Beckham supplanting Dustin Hoffman. We can call the movie “Vain Man”

Heading for Disaster? A Tale of Four Concussions

US Soccer just settled a lawsuit regarding concussions and heading the ball 

The epidemic of concussions in American Youth Soccer is a real issue.  But is heading the chief culprit? Taylor Twellman certainly thinks so

Here is the concussion advocate and former USMNT player talking with Bob Ley on ESPN’s Outside The Lines

Bob Ley:  “There’s a lot… going on in the game. There’s contact.  There’s elbows.  There’s a clash of heads just going up for the ball. There’s falling down to the ground….  What percentage do you guess as a very educated layman on this, of trauma might be occurring just because simply of heading? Because there’s a lot of other stuff going on.”

Taylor Twellman: “I don’t think we have enough data that says heading a soccer ball causes concussions. The act of heading a soccer ball… that is where the majority, if not all concussions in the sport of soccer occur.”

Well, since a prominent concussion advocate sees no reason to back up his argument with data or statistics, neither do I. Instead, I will draw on 35+ years of experience as a player, coach, and (reluctant) administrator in the game.  And what my experience tells me is that the concussion problem with Youth Soccer has much less to do with heading the ball and much more with the overall culture of soccer in this country, and how the game is subsequently played, coached, and refereed.

I’ve seen plenty of concussions and head injuries. I would put heading and attempts to head the ball down to at least number five on the risk chart, especially at the younger ages and lower levels where there is a natural aversion to heading the ball anyway
I currently coach a mid level GU14 team that I took over in the summer of 2014. There have been four diagnosed concussions among my players in the past year.  Interestingly enough, our pattern of concussions fits very neatly with the overall pattern of concussions I have observed in American soccer over the years.

My team’s first concussion occurred when a girl lost her balance in a collision and hit her head on the ground while falling backwards.  I’ve seen this over and over, and had seen a carbon copy event while working at a soccer camp a month earlier.  American kids don’t learn how to fall.  Most don’t get specific agility training and most don’t get the same formative experiences that we did as kids from playing unsupervised on our own.  Unbeknownst to my parents, when I was a kid we played “train tag” on an abandoned rail spur near our neighborhood.  Slipping off a caboose on to fist sized gravel and steel rails teaches you how to fall well.  A less extreme example: in about 50 hours of playing and observing players of all ages engaged in very physical games of futsal on cement courts in Bolivia over the past two summers, I never saw one head injury, or even a serious hard fall.  It seems tht for American kids, playing Xbox is not an effective substitute for the experiences of physical play.

We can significantly reduce concussions in American soccer by teaching kids how to fall.

The second concussion occurred when a player fell to the ground after a series of two handed shoves in the back from an opponent.  She rode the first two but the third sent her tumbling to the turf.  The referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge(s) and did not award a foul. Again, I see this over and over.  Whatever a ref permits, a ref promotes. So because most referees let a lot of illegal contact and sloppy fouls go in the interest of “letting them play” and “keeping the game flowing”, I see plenty of illegal contact and sloppy fouls at all levels of the game. Many of these fouls lead to injury, including ample concussions

If referees strictly and uniformly enforce the laws of the game, there will be fewer concussions in American soccer

The third concussion occurred when one of my forwards closed down a defender in possession of the ball.  With plenty of space to dribble and passing options to both sides, the defender aimlessly smacked the ball as hard as she could, striking my player in the side of the head. Again, nothing new here. I received my own concussion this way in an Over-40 game a few years ago.  We don’t teach our kids how to play properly.  “Not across the goal”, “Send it”, and “Get rid of it” are part of the American soccer fabric.  If you condition your players to be afraid of the ball, then they are going to treat the ball like a hand grenade that has been chucked out of the foxhole as soon as possible.  The results are predictable. In American soccer, from little kids all the way to college and MLS, the ball is in the air way more than in most other countries.  Not only do you risk a smack in the head for your pressing efforts, but it also creates an environment where aerial challenges and the potential for clashes of the head become commonplace.

If coaches eschew the boot ball style of play and teach players how to play with more skill, control, and intelligence, there will be fewer concussions in American soccer
The fourth concussion occurred when an attacker recklessly charged my goalkeeper who had just smothered the ball.  With the chance to win the ball long gone, the attacker slid in anyway, kneeing the keeper in the side of the head.  In my experiences this typifies the majority of concussions I have seen at the youth level…. Simple bad, reckless, and careless challenges all over the pitch.  Bad technique, bad decision making, no attempt to control one’s body, and no regard for opponents. Coaching is the same as refereeing.  What you permit you promote.  So regardless of whether you are not teaching proper technique, are teaching violent play, or simply turning a blind eye to your player’s bad tackles and swinging elbows, the result is going to be the same… Lots of injuries.

Teaching your players to properly and legally challenge for the ball will significantly reduce concussions in American soccer.

So what about heading? Let’s address high school first.  I did my hard time.   I spent five years working in an inner city high school as head coach.  I loved working with the kids, and if the state of the High School game in my state wasn’t such a violent hack fest, I might still be there now.  During that time I observed plenty of players removed from games due to our state’s very sensible concussion protocol.  Of these, only one case that I can remember was the result of a clash during a header.  As it turns out, there was no concussion in that incident.  The athletic trainer pulled the player from the game because “he was confused and could not answer simple questions.”  He was fine.  The problem was that the boy spoke very limited English.  Are some of those 50,000 high school soccer concussions per year the result of aerial challenges for the ball? I have absolutely no doubt.  Are the majority, or as Twellman suggests “almost all of them” the result of attempted headers?  I doubt that very much.  Again, most of the concussion scares I have seen in high school ball were the same that are typical to US youth soccer: bad falls, bad refereeing, bad coaching, bad challenges, bad style of play.  Bad soccer culture.

Do not get me wrong: challenging for headers is a serious concussion risk. But for those concussions that DO involve heading the ball it’s the same story; bad technique, bad coaching, and poor enforcement of the laws of the game play a major role.  I don’t really understand how avoiding the issue of heading during the “golden age of learning” is going to provide a knock-on benefit once kids get older.  Yes, it’s cringe-inducing to see a punted ball smack off of the top of an untrained u10 player’s skull as adults cheer.  And I agree that kids don’t need to be heading the ball much at the younger ages.  But if they are going to do it, and if they are going to need to learn how to do it, wouldn’t it be safer to teach them the proper technique and decision making instead of avoiding the issue altogether?  Shouldn’t we be working in ways to systematically and methodically train young players to be ready for that day when they are allowed to head the ball?

Proper training of the techniques and decision making of heading the ball will reduce concussions in American soccer

The problem of concussions in soccer is real.  But for me, heading is being regarded as a convenient scapegoat instead of a portion of the overall issue.  The real root of the problem is deeply embedded in our current American Soccer Culture.

Unfortunately, this lawsuit resolution is also unique to our American way of problem solving.  We have 50,000 concussions per year in high school soccer, so we ban heading for little kids who are in grade school and middle school. Now they will get little or no training until they are 14.   It seems to me that if heading is the major statistical cause of concussions at the high school level, then the problem could be more effectively addressed directly at the high school level, which is known for a preponderance of rough play, inexperienced players, inexperienced coaches, and lax refereeing.

Or is that thinking too far Outside The Lines?

Can’t be on Twitter if you don’t have a blog…

So now I have a blog. I plan to write about random soccer topics that interest me, including Youth Soccer Critique & Parody, Coaching and Player Development, American Soccer Culture, Inclusion and Soccer Outreach, Bolivian Soccer Adventures with Surge International, thoughts and ideas that cross my mind, and thoughts and ideas that crossed my mind back when there was no outlet for me to express them

Occasionally original artwork and photographs too