Investing in Youth
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For the past few weeks I’ve criss-crossed Europe meeting with Academy directors in preparation for GotSoccer’s World Youth Soccer Championship next year, and spent considerable time with Jean Kindermans of Belgian giants Anderlecht.

Now the Belgians, conspicuously absent from Euro 2012, are actually building a tremendous team. With players like Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Mariuane Fellaini (Everton),  Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) and Vincent Kompany (Man City) they look to be a powerhouse of the future. But most promising, they have a true super-star in the making in Eden Hazard. Currently with French team Lille he’s expected to be the biggest transfer this summer, with figures around $75 million bandied about.

How did he get away from Anderlecht? That’s what I wanted to know from the director of Belgium’s most famous club.

Eden Hazard is expected to go for about $75 million on the transfer market this summer (Getty Images)

A rueful  Kindermans got very philosophical. According to the coach it was a case of penny pinching that has cost the club millions. Hazard was an Anderlecht academy player until the age of 13. His father, a school teacher, was offered a job in nearby Lille but didn’t want to take Eden out of the Anderlecht program – but the club didn’t have the setup to provide housing and schooling for the boy.

“We had never done anything like that and just couldn’t see spending the money on a 13-year old boy,” explained Kindermans.  Now, 9 years later Hazard is going to bring Lille $75 million. A pretty good return for its investment in the player.

But Kindermans says the loss of Hazard led to Anderlecht creating a housing program for talented players who are out of the club’s direct neighborhood. “Now we arrange to put young players with families, we put them in schools and arrange to pick them up and bring them to training every day.”

It’s worked well for the club. They have a  state-of-the-art new facility on the outskirts of Brussels  with nine grass fields and four turf.  Romelu Lukaku, who came through the academy and moved to Chelsea in June last year for $20 million (the fee will rise to $30 in add-ons) is just the first of the latest crop of youngsters.

GotSoccer’s World Youth Soccer Championship in Bournemouth, England next year is for U12’s through U14’s and Anderlecht is planning to send their top academy teams in each of the age-groups. Kindermans is intrigued by the quality he will see from the American teams.

He was particularly glad that we were not offering an Under 15 age-group.  “We’ve lost two top U15 players, one to Manchester United and the other to Manchester City.”  And looking at his academy players it’ s obvious why he’s nervous – Anderlecht has another young star coming trough their ranks, and he’s only 13!


About Gavin Owen-Thomas

Gavin's a former journalist who worked in both newspapers and television media while also coaching at both youth and professional level. Born in Namibia, he grew up in South Africa before moving to England and then on to the United States, arriving in 1978. Gavin started playing as soon as he was old enough to kick a ball, and like every youngster he dreamed of playing, fame and glory. Oh, well.... But he does have a USSF A Coaching license, and took his UEFA A License in Wales. GotSoccer is a play on his initials. He launched the website in 1996, and for the first few years it was well-known for its soccer forum. In 2003 Gavin commissioned programmer Aaron Wilmoth to build a scheduling program based on a design he drew on the back of a restaurant napkin, and GotSoccer as we know it today was born.
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