The Stamford Bridge club’s move for Barca starlet Xavi Simons has managed to trump even the lunacy that traditionally occurs in the final hours and minutes of deadline day. It’s left Tom Simmonds asking, can footballing kids just be kids anymore?
Twelve-year-old Xavi Simons is apparently quite some prospect. No surprise, then, that he is in Barcelona’s youth system, La Masia. It is also no surprise, given the depth into which clubs go with their scouting nowadays, that he is already on the radar of other clubs. Chelsea have, according to Xavi’s dad, Regillio, reportedly contacted Barcelona about a potential transfer deal for the child.
Young Xavi has a significant advantage in terms of being protected from unscrupulous individuals drawn to talented youngsters, who attempt to exploit their naivety for their own ends: Regillio is a former professional footballer. The former striker played for seven Dutch clubs from 1993-2005, also spending a season in Japan with the splendidly named Kyoto Purple Sanga in 2002-03. Such long experience in the game means that Xavi will have the guidance of a man who knows where the bear traps are.
The fact that Regillio also holds the Uefa Pro License should also ensure that any attempts by coaches to sweet talk his son on footballing grounds will also be treated with the caution that these entreaties deserve. Regillio has been firm in stating that the important thing here is Xavi’s development, not money:
He told The Daily Mail: “We have spoken with Chelsea and we know that there is good money. I have approached many agents who say they work for English clubs but even if we have to move, the only thing that matters is the growth of Xavi, not the money.”
However sane and savvy those closest to Xavi are, the case raises two very big questions. The first concerns the matter of fact reportage of this particular case. Just when did we become so nonchalant about football and football clubs commodifying children in this way? We cannot pretend that this is a one-off case concerning an exceptional talent. This was deemed a serious enough issue in English football for the Football League’s Charter for Academy Players and Parents to feature a prominent clause stating; “Agents may not approach a player before 1st January in the year they become 16 or finish full-time education – whichever is later”.
The second point is related to the first. There are hundreds of talented players of Xavi’s age who will have nothing like the support structure or inside knowledge that he has behind him, and who might be more easily swayed by promises of faster reward elsewhere. Those young players in such circumstances will most likely be acutely aware, even at an early age, that their footballing talent provides the best chance of providing a more comfortable life for themselves and their loved ones. Having to make life-changing decisions under this kind of pressure when you are a long way from emotional maturity is an invidious position to be in, no matter what the potential rewards.
The very best players, the ones who capture your imagination all generally have one thing in common. They always look as if they’re enjoying their work. The hangdog expression while playing is not for the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar. There are two sure-fire ways of knocking this joie de vivre out of a player. One is bad coaching, but the other is putting an idea in a young player’s head that to play football is a job of work. To talk to a child about earning potential so early in their life risks killing that child’s enthusiasm for the game long before they reach the professional ranks. And subsequently, they are less likely to play for the love of the game, whatever level that might be at.
Do you think that it is possible to tell if a player will make it in football at a young age? Is there ever such a thing as a ‘sure thing’?
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