Bruce Arena exposes fallacy of Euro training for MLS youngsters

By Paul Gardner

Bruce Arena, I'm delighted to announce, has returned to being Bruce Arena. After a season in which his Galaxy gave us game after game of very dull, very un-Arena-ish games, he has now had his say -- a very invigorating, straight-talking, totally Arena-ish say -- on a topic that has long cried out for such a comment.

This business of MLS players -- usually young MLS players -- spending the offseason “training with” European teams. Something that is always positioned to make it sound like a triumph for the player involved, a major step up for his career. After all, training with Arsenal ... wow!

Well no, definitely not wow! “It’s not what it’s built up to be, believe me,” says Arena, “This thing, training with a foreign club . . . they don’t really care about that player. The big clubs are in competition three times a week, so he’s training with the reserve team or the academy team. For the most, part it’s OK, but it really doesn’t move anyone further along, to be honest with you.”

Which comes pretty close to saying that the whole rigmarole is a waste of time. At best, it can be seen simply as a way of keeping fit, and you have to wonder why it’s necessary to travel to Europe to do that.

From the young player’s point of view, of course, there is the excitement of spending a few weeks at a world-famous European club, the feeling that he has suddenly moved up in the soccer world, coupled with the satisfaction that he was considered good enough to have this honor bestowed on him.

Pretty good for the ego, I guess, but if there’s been an example of an MLS youngster training in Europe and then returning to MLS as a massively improved player, I must have missed it. Obviously, Arena feels the same, with his comment that such short training stints don’t “move anyone further along.”

These are not loan deals -- the players involved in them cannot play for the European team, they are limited to the training sessions and intra-squad scrimmages.

An odd business, then, in which neither side -- not the player and his MLS club, nor the European club -- gets anything much out of it. But that is not quite true. There is another aspect to these deals, one that Arena didn’t mention, though he must be well aware of it. That the young players are not merely training with the European club, but that they are on trial.

Which brings us to the extraordinary situation where MLS is quite openly allowing -- nay, encouraging -- its brightest young players to wander off to Europe and, so to speak, showcase their talents to prospective buyers.

Considering that MLS is not exactly overflowing with brilliant young players -- especially young American players -- this is an absurdly self-defeating activity.

I don’t know of any other league in the world that deliberately sends its best young players, the ones it needs to hang on to, into exactly the sort of situations where they are likely to be picked off by richer clubs.

That European clubs are now busy scouting for young players in the USA is widely known. This can be seen as proof of the growing strength of the American game, and this seems to be the way that MLS Commissioner Don Garber treats it. If he really believes that, someone should tell him that he is deluding himself.

The attitude of national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t help either. Klinsmann seems to have an obsession with fitness, which is unfortunate for a national team coach, who spends so little time with his players. He is evidently not satisfied with the level of fitness prevailing among MLS clubs -- although he has not actually made that accusation -- and is strongly in favor of the league’s national team players spending the offseason with European clubs.

To have its players noticed -- even coveted -- by European teams may make MLS feel good about itself, but in fact it is a dangerous trend, one that will not help MLS to grow. Consider the recent case of teenager Marc Pelosi, the captain of the USA team at this year’s Under-17 World Cup in Mexico -- already signed by Liverpool. No MLS for Pelosi, then -- and his quick departure for Europe highlights the problem. I doubt whether there’s any way (other than the obvious, and not practical, method of offering them big-money contracts) to prevent youngsters leaving for Europe.

That is bad enough. But to be actively involved in encouraging the defection of its own players -- which is certainly one way of interpreting the “training in Europe” scenario -- has all the attributes of a death wish. Especially so, given that -- as Arena has told us -- the benefits to be derived from a few weeks spent with a famous European club are hard to discern.

13 comments about "Bruce Arena exposes fallacy of Euro training for MLS youngsters".
  1. R2 Dad, December 9, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.

    Wait. All the MLS fans love Beckham, and he has made a point of training/playing in europe regularly. In truth, watching and playing with better players that are more hungry that you is a good environment for our guys to be in. Maybe if they were more technical players there would be more loan/transfer deals, but that doesn't mean the whole "training in Europe" effort is crap.

  2. Emile Jordan, December 9, 2011 at 9:28 a.m.

    Look at what Barca's young players did yesterday in the UEFA match while its stars rested for Real Madrid Sunday. I was tempted at the start to turn the game off, but the game grew on me because of the quality of play demonstrated by the young Barca players. The day is coming when our boys will play with that passion and skill. It may be spotty in the youth clubs where it all starts, but it is happening.

  3. Mark Edge, December 9, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.

    Interesting. So training with the collective knowledge, experience and heightened level of technical and tactical abilty of Dutch, German, Spanish, English, Scottish and French coaches and players is a bad thing because an ex-Lacrosse coach from Long Island agrees with Gardner. Have you ever read amore jingoistic, chauvinistic piece of journalism.

  4. Robert Hogan, December 9, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.

    Ok then but what's the alternative during the off season for a young MLS player.Yes their egos are just that... egos, but why wouldn't a player want to be in a coaching environment that is proven to work. Arena need not raise the obvious issue without having some credible plan to counter act it. A reserve Eng championship squad is as good as most MLS teams so where's the downside to have "your" player training at this level.Would he be better off running the mill with his college alma mater team in the offseason...God forbid as the 4 years he was there has already stumped his chances of "making it"...but does his ego know that as he's been told from the days at his academy, where he has to pay big $ to play, that he is the next best thing. The development plan, please tell me there is one, is broken. The natural talented player, if his family can't come up with the $ will get bypassed for the good kid who's family can pay the $ much did Rooney's parents or Beckham's parent's have to pay for them to get noticed...little but mostly nothing I bet...start down at that level and fix the 1st stage before we try to repair the kid when he's 22.

  5. beautiful game, December 9, 2011 at 10:32 a.m.

    Paul's accusation of JK's fitness craze is overboard. Fitness is key to team efficacy and overall performance, i.e., MLS teams do more walking and jogging compared to the euro-teams whose players give that extra step.

  6. Walt Pericciuoli, December 9, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.

    I think Paul and Bruce are a little off base. I think most of us knew that these American players were only going there for training. Paul says himself"it can be seen simply as a way of keeping fit". So,then why would you wonder that traveling to Europe is the best way to stay fit? Do we have something better here for our players in off season?I understand where Klinsi is coming from, he has to have his MNT ready to play against teams whose players compete at a high level 10 -11 months a year.(perhaps that is why most of our MNT is comprised of players not in MSL.)Fact is,if the MLS is to reach elite league status, it needs elite players.Elite players compete and train 10-11 months a year.Will MLS ever extend there season????

  7. Julio Vargas, December 9, 2011 at 11:15 a.m.

    I do not have anything against Arena, but his comments do not make sense to me. Even thought, the young players are not there to play in the A team or official games, this experience cannot be negative for them. This experience will improve their confidence as players. They will pick up new ways to dribble and play by observing other players. I am sure if they exceed expectations, they might end up staying there. As far as the comment of Klins focusing on fitness, I have to say that fitness is very very important to have a "top of the line" team. Even if the players have the technical skills, if the legs are tired, the players start making mistakes, and losing the control of the ball, passes are less accurate and dribbling takes no where. I want to believe that Klins wants to cover this "layer" of fitness first, so then he can concentrate on the skills. That way, the skills will stay constant during the 90mints of the game and not only for the first 45mints.

  8. Thomas Hosier, December 9, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

    Point missed is America's brightest and finest training with Europe's finest sets up the opportunity to whisk them off to European Clubs permanently. Is having them train with the Eurpean Reserves anything than a European Club audtion?

  9. cony konstin, December 9, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.

    For 21 years I have taken players to train at the Tahuichi Academy. Why? Because of the reason that Bruce gave. Those foreign teams don't give a hoot about our players. Let me have those players for one month and they will return as warriors. I have taken over 2000 players to Tahuichi. Francisco Gomez, Marquez White, John Jones, Aaron Pithcholen, Moore, and others who all played in the MLS. Give me those young MLS players and I will whip them into shape.

  10. Maria Soronellas, December 9, 2011 at 11:33 a.m.

    Of course these young players want to have a shot at playing for better leagues. As PG has pointed so many times, many of the more talented players are hacked out of play in the MLS. The level and style of play must change for the more talented to stay. That must start at the top by coaching and from the people who set the standards for MLS.

  11. dempsey23 *, December 9, 2011 at 2:24 p.m.

    Mark Edge hit the nail on the head. what a idiotic article.

  12. StrikerBob Norman, December 10, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.

    Maybe a little jingoism is in order if the end result is to have top American MLS players end up in Europe. I see nothing wrong with trying to keep our young talent in the MLS. It is our league, and I want to see it become a world class league. So does Arena and Gardner Why wouldn't you? As a Sounder fan, I am happy to see a Rosales, a Fernandez and now Gspurning bringing up the quality on the field, but five years from now I would hope to see more young American talent on the field at home,rather than in Europe. Let's face facts. Our season is long enough. Having it run longer would drive up season ticket cost and run into the football season, and hurt attendance and maybe kill the league inth long run. Maybe the MLS could put together teams of 25 and under MLSers on the field and have them challenge the European reserves. Maria has it right. The league does need to put money into player development in the off season, and invest in training officials as well. Take them to Europe with the kids. There is no doubt what happened to Stevie Z, Mauro (and Ljunberg got blasted regularly too) needs to be stopped. Lots of good points to address here. Let's see more ideas and less rants.

  13. Werner Roth, January 30, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.

    Mark's comment kind of says it all. The cloudy thinking forwarded by Arena and other internationally inexperienced MLS coaches is why we can't seem to catch up with the rest of the world.
    Just put any MLS games up side by side to any EPL, or other european league, and witness which training and developmental preperation delivers the best performances. And the article shows that we (US) get the kind of pro soccer we deserve. A little like our politicians.

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