KUALA LUMPUR: Asian nations have been urged to go to the really young children for their grassroots development programmes.
German Thomas Flath, the AFC director of grassroots and youth development, told the first Asian Football Conference yesterday that Asians tended to start coaching their players later in life, making it difficult for the players to reach their full potential.
“If Pele had been born in Asia, at the age of 17 he would have been still playing in age-group competitions rather than in the World Cup, which he did for Brazil.
“The right age for a player to commence proper training is between six and 10 years old. However, here in Asia, the norm is to coach a player after he is at least 12.
“The Asian practice of starting development programmes with older players is not beneficial at all and the present mindset needs changing,” said Flath, who presented a talk on AFC's Youth Policy at the conference.
Flath commented that the crucial period to mould a youngster's playing abilities is between the ages of 10 and 12, known as the formative phase.
“There should also be more regular training and tailor-made competitions in Asia for children between 10 and 12.
“The need for sufficient qualified coaches at grassroots level is also something which needs to be looked into by the national football associations,” added the former Shalke 04 and Fortuna Dusseldorf youth teams’ coach.
In an effort to unearth talented Asian players, AFC have launched the Under-13 Festival of Football targeted at the 10-12 age-group throughout the continent.
The first festival, involving six West Asian countries, was held in Qatar last month. Further festivals are planned for Cambodia, Laos, China and Bangladesh this year.
“The festival of football is not a competition, but rather a football educational tool for Asian kids. Players are not judged by their teams' results, but by their own performance and positive behaviour.
“Next year, we will be organising it for the Under-14 group so that the present group of players can be retained before switching back to an Under-13 festival in 2007,” explained Flath.
Former France and Liverpool manager Gerrard Houllier backed Flath's call for players to be exposed at an earlier age.
In his talk on elite player development, he said: “Normally, the senior career of an European player starts when he is 19 or 20. By then, the player should have spent seven years in the formation period.
“A player who starts proper training at the age or 15 or 16 can only make a maximum improvement of 20%, which is not enough to make it to the top level.”
The Frenchman also listed several problems facing Asian players in European clubs and their solutions.
Among the problems mentioned were lack of power, strength and physicality, difficulty in adapting to new conditions and the lack of individuality or imagination for outstanding performances during matches.
“You must play to your strength and not copy other nations like Brazil or Germany wholly. Asian coaches need to encourage more individual initiative and aggression from their players.
“It is also important for Asian players to be sent early to European clubs to enable them to adapt to the new environment,” Houllier told the Asian participants.
Besides Flath and Houllier, UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh also delivered talks on “New trends for the future of European football” and “The coaches compass (developing philosophy)”.