The success of the British Olympic team in Beijing serves up a simple lesson for English soccer, writes Sam Wallace. If you want to create a sporting elite, you have to root out the underperformers and let the country's best athletes train together.
Chelsea and Manchester United both boast impressive youth academies, but because of English Premier League rules forbidding recruitment outside of a 90-mile radius (or within one hour's drive, if boys are under 11), they will not attract the country's best players. The idea was to spread the most gifted players around all the country's clubs, and allow lower division teams to nurture local talent. In reality, it means that the EPL's top sides end up recruiting youth from abroad to fill the talent gap.
The Olympic sports where Team GB was most successful "recruit, promote and drop talent as they see fit," writes Wallace. "They are shamelessly elitist and single-minded about success. It is a level of control about which Premier League academy directors can only dream." The EPL rules on geographical restrictions mean that "if you live in Cornwall or Essex -- where David Beckham grew up -- there is no chance your son will be able to join Manchester United's academy."
This system ignores the crucial point that elite sportsmen "need to develop with the best of their peer group, not in isolation. In England, the best young footballers are stuck, in the most crucial years of their development, playing and training with 15 others their clubs have rounded up from the locality."