The knotty balance of playing time for talented youngsters can be complex, a frequently unstable element attached to a series of short fuses, as we know.
They need experience. But they surely need to earn it, otherwise what’s the point?
And while “individual player development” may be ideal for the long term, does it mesh with the critical need for short-term gain, i.e. “wins?” In the absence of supporter-soothing Ws, the masses go apoplectic, revenue dries up, managers lose jobs, stadiums crumble, dogs and cats, living together! …
You get the point.
It’s all more art than science. Or at the very least, it’s quite tricky math.
Still, I think it’s fair to ask: Is Juan Agudelo getting the message?
Desire for more playing time drove the promising U.S. international’s wishes to escape New York as his professional club address.
But that familiar sentiment stands in some contrast to Jurgen Klinsmann’s message, one the U.S. national team manager has delivered loud and clearly lately. In fact, you could say Klinsmann is on something of a campaign to take this point, along with a few others, and nail it to the proverbial wall of best developmental practices here.
His message: Young players simply must earn their time on the field. It’s on them. The athletes must force the manager into handing out a starting assignment. Because, duh! …the manager wants to win.
Listen to Klinsmann’s words from an April 4 national media teleconference. (And feel free to note the irony, or read something into the situation, of the player he chooses as his example du jour). The question is about young players not always getting minutes with their clubs.
It is a big concern. We need to find ways to get our 18- to 22-year-olds, 23-year-olds more playing time and maybe here and there more help.
On the other side, they also need to realize that they have to fight their way through the system. They have to find a way to break into the team. I’ll give you an example: Juan Agudelo, who often last year was saying, ‘I want to play more. I need to play more.’ My response to Agudelo was, ‘Well, you’ve got to train harder and you’ve got to force the coach of that team until he makes you play.’ It’s not something that is given to you. It’s something that you have to work for and you have to fight your way through.
We had a discussion years and years ago after the Bosman ruling in Europe happened, everything opened up. The borders opened up. Suddenly, instead of a limited amount of foreigners, there were foreigners all over in every league. Every kind of National Team program complained and said, ‘Hey, suddenly we don’t have enough of our domestic kids playing anymore and it makes it tough for the National Team programs to develop.’ I came in and I said, ‘You know what? If I’m the player and I want to break into a team, it doesn’t really matter to me if now I have to kick out a foreign kid or if I have to kick out a domestic kid. I have to kick out somebody to play.’
That’s really the message to the youngsters. Yeah, we understand you should play more, but you have to build your case. You have to fight your way through and you have to do more than whoever’s in front of you. So if you want to pass whoever you want to pass there in the team, then you’ve got to make your case to the coach. Show the coach that you’re better and that you work harder and that you’re hungrier and you’re more aggressive than the guys in front of you. Sooner or later that coach will play you because the coach will play the players that give him the best chance to win the game.”
So there you go.
Agudelo at Red Bull Arena? He had Thierry Henry in front of him – and the famous Frenchman wasn’t going to be displaced.
But Kenny Cooper? He’s having a sensational season, the league’s second leading scorer. But if Agudelo is going to be the wow-wow young wonder of the moment, a rising international name, shouldn’t he be able to crack the lineup ahead of a guy who isn’t currently on national team radar?
And if he’s not, then why not?
Just asking. Good luck to young Agudelo at Chivas USA. Maybe the change of scenery will be just what the soccer doctor ordered. But do know this: Chivas USA manager Robin Fraser will be no less inclined to parcel minutes to the undeserving.
It’s still on Agudelo.