Young Irish players need an elite football education, says Niall Quinn

Dubliner welcomes launch of Under-17 League but questions if it will be effective

Former soccer players Chris Kamara and Niall Quinn   in Dublin on Tuesday. Quinn said there needs to be more of a focus on the development of young Irish players. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Former soccer players Chris Kamara and Niall Quinn in Dublin on Tuesday. Quinn said there needs to be more of a focus on the development of young Irish players. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

It’s a discussion often had when it comes to Irish sport but rarely does a revolutionary plan come about to improve domestic and international football in this country.

That’s not the case with Niall Quinn however. The former Sunderland chairman has a very clear vision of what’s needed both on and off the pitch for Irish football to improve.

Quinn is a former player with a difference – he knows the inner workings of the business side of the game.

He’s previously sat on the board of the Irish Sports Council and yesterday professed his interest in possibly taking on a role within in the FAI sometime in the future.

For that to happen the Dubliner wants to see change within the organisation and a greater focus on developing matters on the pitch rather than pleasing sponsors and going on “trips in blazers”.

“There should be a line drawn between senior football and what it means and the development of these players.

“There has to be a system put in place – you could call them academies, nurseries, whatever you want – to give our footballers, our young footballers, an education, an elite football education as a first.

Terrible interview

“That has to become the important thing and not – ‘Oh my god Trap gave a terrible interview, therefore the sponsors are not going to be happy’ – they should be totally removed.”

 

Referencing the culture of youth development in Holland and how that has led to success on the pitch at international level, Quinn says that that is because the Dutch FA “existed for that”, and not simply to go on expensive junkets around the world.

“I do feel I was right to say there has to be a different focus on what the league is, on what our young players are aspiring to, as sadly all our aspiring young players are trying to get away even more now than they did in the past and what are they getting away to?”

Premier League

What they’re getting away to is an industry that’s as cut-throat as it has ever been. There were no Irish players in the squads of any of the top six teams in the Premier League last season.

 

The influx to English clubs of young, talented players from around the world has made it even harder for Irish players to make it when they’re brought over at a young age.

That, Quinn feels, is the crux of the matter if he was to consider taking a role within the FAI.

“If we had a system here where we didn’t have to take the gamble which is now 100/1 but was 10/1 in my day, it could be even more.

If the FAI stood for that and that alone, or if the League of Ireland stood for that as part of its objectives then I would be very interested,” he said.

Last week’s launch of the National Under-17 League was a step towards change as it is hoped that it will persuade players to stay within the country and play at a competitive level here before moving to England, rather than going at the age of 15 or 16 because they are above the level of regular schoolboy football.

The venture is a positive one, Quinn thinks, but he still questions whether it will have the impact desired.

“I hope it takes off. I saw the launch, I wasn’t at it. It’s a step in the right direction but does it stop a 16-year-old if the scout knocks on his door?

“That’s the acid test and when that day comes then we’d have a proper association and league.”

When it comes to revolutionary plans for Irish football none are as drastic as Quinn’s vision for improving the League of Ireland.

The changes outlined by Quinn that are needed throughout the domestic game are hugely dependent on a strong national league with a steady revenue stream.

In the Sky Sports pundit’s eyes, that all depends on television rights.

“You’re at nothing without TV rights if you want to have a successful league. Sports content is becoming a huge thing for TV companies around the world.

Passion

“I spent a bit of time in Africa a few years ago and football is just off the wall, it’s off the radar, it’s incredible the passion and the love they have for football.

 

“And I know that there would be a company there that would hold rights in every country that they could go and do a deal with and say ‘Here’s where Roy Keane played’, or ‘Here’s Damien Duff playing in it’."

An extensive re-branding of the national league would be needed in order to facilitate such a move and one feels that it’s most likely not high on the agenda of the current FAI directors.

However, Quinn’s clear passion for the idea perhaps means that he may take the revolution into his own hands.

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