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Charlton stars earn their stripes

Thursday, 24 March 2005

By Andrew Warshaw

Most ambitious European clubs have a sophisticated scouting network and a strong local academy. But it is rare for a team to move into a part of the world where the game is still taking root, professionally at least, to seek out the stars of the future.

Holy Grail
English Premiership club Charlton Athletic FC are convinced, however, that football's Holy Grail lies across the Atlantic in the United States. The London club may not be among the most fashionable in Europe, but the fact that they sit comfortably in the top half of the Premiership says much for their forward-thinking initiatives and coaching programmes.

New talent
Charlton are the first English club to launch an academy in the US. They have christened the camp the Charlton Athletic United States Soccer Academy and hope it will help them to focus on identifying potential Premiership players.

Grand Canyon
The academy will be based in Arizona, with an initial development centre set up in Tucson before a planned expansion across the Grand Canyon state. Courses will be delivered in both English and Spanish to cater for the large Hispanic communities nearby, and players will follow the same syllabus as Charlton's academy in England.

Community role
Charlton are at pains to point out, however, that the project is not only about talent spotting, more about moving into the very heart of local communities trying to use football as a unifying force. The US soccer academy concept is a natural progression from Charlton's European Soccer School project launched a year ago in Spain where thousands of youngsters are taking advantage of a series of courses and after-school clubs.

Problematic areas
Charlton's community work, which also operates in the townships of South Africa, has already been compared to those run by Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain FC. Community scheme manager Jason Morgan is proud of the way the club are using football to engage youngsters.

Brand awareness
"None of the clubs where we have links had any strong community work beforehand, where children take part in a fun and safe environment," Morgan told uefa.com. "Brand awareness is part of it but it's not only about identifying talent. We can't afford to spend €30m on a player so if we can bring one through the ranks via community programmes, it helps both parties."

Expensive venture
For other clubs such as Southampton FC, however, talent-spotting begins and ends at home. Malcolm Elias, Southampton's recruitment officer, said: "We prefer a more hands-on approach, bringing in boys from home. If Charlton can crack it, good luck to them, maybe they have seen a niche. But we tried it a few years ago and it was not really for us."

Sceptical Reading
Reading FC, one rung down from the English Premiership, would not even consider going down the same route as Charlton, according to their recruitment manager Steve Shorey. He believes the danger is that the best local talent in the area of the club itself can easily slip by unnoticed.

Individual invites
"All-singing and dancing overseas academies are one thing but what kind of quality are the kids going to play against? We only invite over individual boys who have been specifically recommended to us. Some clubs bring them in by the busload but I'm not sure that works. Even if we did have the money, we wouldn't go down that road." For Charlton, however, the hope is that in America at least, that road will lead to success.


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very interesting article.. thanks. It seems football is growing in America, especially with the mexican influence in the western states. and hopefully this will make it even bigger.
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