The Morality of Youth Football

The following is a true story. However, names and places have been changed to maintain the confidentiality of the parties involved.

Alejandro is a typical 11 year old Spanish boy. He attends the local primary school, he hangs out with his friends, he watches Real Madrid on the weekends, he plays for the local football club with all of his friends, and like many Spanish children in small villages, his father and mother are unemployed.

But there is something very special about Alejandro; he’s an extraordinary football player for his age. He’s one of those players that within seconds of watching him play you know that he’s capable of things that most kids his age would only dream of. He has such ease with the ball at his feet, it’s as if it’s sown on to his boots. Sometimes he sees passes so far in advance that his teammates aren’t able to play with him. He’s an exceptional player with incredible skill.

Alejandro plays for a small club (for the sake of this article we’ll call it Club A) located in the southwest of Spain. His team plays in a 3rd tier regional league which competes against other similarly small clubs in the region. His coach is a local man who received his UEFA B license a few years back but has no further aspirations as a football manager. To put it plainly, this local club is for kids that want to play football with their friends.

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Meanwhile, an hour and fifteen minutes from Alejandro’s house, in the nearest city, a much bigger club has just gotten wind of Alejandro’s talents. This club (Club B) is a much larger club that consists of a professional team which plays in Spain’s second division, several teams per age division, thousands of players and a budget that could buy Alejandro’s village.

Along with being much bigger than Club A, Club B is much more competitive and many of their teams play in some of the best leagues in Spain. At their disposal, they have some of the best coaches in the region, but many of them have higher aspirations than youth teams and are often only in charge of a team for a year before moving up the coaching hierarchy. I’m not saying these coaches don’t care about their players but most of them require winning results to continue climbing the managerial ladder.

The nature of this club model pressures coaches to win at all costs at the youth level. The club won’t ever admit that they need to have their teams win but the underlying tone throughout the club directors is just that; wins equal more players and more players equal more monetary profit.

Alejandro is a player that would help any team obtain three points at the weekend. He is a superstar in the youth system and he will be sought after by several clubs in the region. However, he just wants to play with his friends so any team that tries to bring him to their ranks is unsuccessful. This 11 year old is inconvincible, that is until his parents get involved.

Club B have found out that Alejandro’s father is unemployed, and are willing to give him a job with the club if Alejandro joins one of their teams.

These are the facts of the situation. The following is my own opinion on the morality involved; you are of course welcome to draw your own conclusions.

‘Money makes the world go round’. This couldn’t be truer in the world of football. In the last couple of years, FIFA has had its fair share of scandals and corruptions claims which consequently led to arrests of several FIFA executive committee members in 2015. The governing body of the world’s most popular sport is now synonymous with bribery and corruption.

Even though many of us think that FIFA is only in charge of the professional aspect of the sport, we are sadly mistaken. FIFA is the head of the sport, and that means at all levels, including youth football.

 “FIFA’s primary objective is to improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values, particularly through youth and development programmes".

This is FIFA’s mission statement taken directly from their website. They acknowledge and know that their primary task is to ‘improve the game of football’. Yet we don’t think of FIFA when we are watching our kids on Saturday mornings. This shows the major disconnect between the governing head and the millions of youth players that enjoy football every year.

Alejandro, his father and Club B have found themselves in a predicament created by the lack of morality shown from the heads of football’s governing body, FIFA. Money is the engine that makes the wheels turn.

Spanish law says that a minor younger than 16 shall not receive any monetary gain from any club for any reason. But what if the club pays his father for the child’s services; is that acceptable?

A child should not be robbed of the pleasure that comes from playing football with his friends. He should see football as a source of joy rather than a means for his father to have a job. A child should not have to worry about his father losing his job because he didn’t play well enough. This is a violation of the child’s rights.

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To blame the club would be very easy but it goes much deeper than that. FIFA should set an example through actions not words. I understand that without money this world would crumble. Money is necessary to all aspects of life but I’d like to think that youth sports should be a sanctuary to the wickedness of our capitalistic society. I am deeply saddened to hear stories such as this one, where children are exploited for their talents.

Unfortunately, I have no immediate solution to this issue. However, I would urge to see youth sports through a different lens and try to eliminate unnecessary profitability.

I have a friend who is one of the best cooks I have ever met. His passion for food is beyond anything I have ever seen, and I always reaped the benefits when he cooked the most amazing meals. However, he is an English teacher by profession, which would always lead to my question after finishing a meal of his; “Why don’t you open a restaurant or become a professional chef?!” His answer was always the same, “If someone paid me to do this, it would be a job. I want to cook because I’m passionate about it and not because somebody is paying me to do it.”

Alejandro loves football. His passion and fire for the sport can be seen in every one of his dribbles, shots, and celebrations. The joy of football is on display every time he touches a ball. He strives to try something new at every practice and to perfect it at every match. And like my friend, Alejandro wants to play solely because he enjoys it. Let’s not make football an 11 year old’s job.

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