Should Tayo Dunne emulate his father Richard by developing into an Ireland international, then his grounding within the learning environment at Monaco will be key.
Not that his eight-year-old is getting pressurised by his Dad, who wouldn’t mind him taking an interest in strumming a guitar.
Dunne is now almost two years retired and living in Monaco, where the lifestyle, as well as their ethos on guiding the next generation of footballers, suits him perfectly. He never shared the desire of his contemporaries Robbie Keane and Damien Duff to venture into coaching and what he’s observed in recent years not only vindicates that decision but concerns him about the future.
The English system, which he passed through at Everton on his way to a Premier League debut in 1997, is fraught with pitfalls that have contributed to the troubles of the English national squad. At a time the FAI are recalibrating their underage model by placing the task of hothousing talent into the hands of the League of Ireland fraternity from traditional schoolboy nurseries, Dunne wants them cloning the French approach rather than the regimental structure so detrimental in the UK.
The 80-times capped defender cites plenty of examples to support his stance. Martin O’Neill has only one viable deputy for the injured Seamus Coleman against Austria and that’s Cyrus Christie at the end of a Championship season in which he struggled with injury and for game-time.
England turned to 34-year-old Jermaine Defoe in their quest for goals and there’s no indication that their major tournament fallibility won’t curse them again next year at the World Cup.
“Players aren’t coming through Academies at all anymore,” noted Dunne.
“From the age of five, they’re all doing the same training and the search is to identify one for the first-team. It’s like a factory and box-ticking exercise.
“Everton have their kids training four days per week and playing a match on a Saturday.
“Those include one-on-one sessions, yoga, strength and conditioning and then hand coordination. And these were U9s! That’s mad stuff.
“I’ve been around to a few Academies and there’s no desire to build a team and let the kids enjoy themselves. England’s senior team is like a factory-produced side; they’re all pretty similar in terms of how they play. There are no standout players or character about the side. And it doesn’t like look it’s changing. They keep going with the same system.”
That’s the system Dunne shied away from when his son began to show an interest in the game two years ago.
“Tayo is eight now and plays for Monaco,” he reveals. “They just train on a Wednesday and play their match on a Saturday. The rest of the time he plays with his friends outside on the road. Kids learn as much from playing six hours in the field than spending six hours throughout the week at club sessions trying to get fit. Kids develop at different paces and Monaco get that. People think because they’re a great club that they must have this big Academy but they don’t even have one.
“They let all the kids enjoy it and will decide at 13 or 14 whether to give certain ones more training. Monaco have picked up most of their players for free released from other clubs. All I want is my son to enjoy it, he could end up playing the guitar if that makes him happy.” From an Irish perspective, Dunne feels the time is right to get back to basics.
“Damien Duff and Robbie Keane are right to be talking about Ireland needing street footballers,” he laments. “That’s where you get the freedom to express yourself but also the hardness from playing against older kids. You get battered and you’re falling on the ground, getting balls buried at you, but you just keep going. You learn about losing, whereas in these academies it’s all winning. That’s not realistic. My advice to Irish clubs is to do it differently.”
Listen to a preview of the Champions League final with European football writer Paul Little of the Daily Star and backpagefootball.com, Spanish-based football writer Dermot Corrigan and Italian football journalist Emanuele Giulianelli. Presented by Peter McNamara and Larry Ryan of the Irish Examiner.
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