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Time for the FAI to take some Spanish lessons

• Making mistakes is part and parcel of life. The trick is to learn from them. Irish football must learn from its mistakes and follow the example set by Spain.

Lesson No 1: As Dougal might say: "Ted, you have to start at the start."

The Spanish side we marvel at is only the tip of the iceberg: Spain boasts an impressive network of youth academies and nurseries where young players can flourish.

The transition towards creating a unified youth system started in 1995/96. Spanish clubs, in conjunction with the Real Federacion Espanola De Futbol, set to the task of developing players from their own country rather than relying on foreign talent. In addition, they embarked on a training programme for coaches.

In 2008, Spain had almost 15,000 UEFA A and Pro Licence coaches -- more than double the number of any other European country.

Within no time, this new system was churning out skillful players and savvy coaches. The emphasis is on intelligence, technique, ball control, possession, controlling the pace of the game and a hunger to win the ball back when they lose it. The values of hard work, teamwork and discipline are also extolled.

This is now part of the DNA of Spanish football -- from grassroots to the senior team. Almost 80pc of La Liga players could represent Spain, as against 40pc who could play for England in the English Premier League.

In the oft-criticised era of 'footbiz', the core of the best team in the world was not 'purchased' but cultivated -- in Barcelona's famous La Masia youth academy: Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Pique, Puyol and Guardiola all hail from this alma mater.

Lesson No 2: playing exciting, attacking football and achieving results are not mutually exclusive. I doubt there is a Spanish equivalent of 'Get rid of it' or 'Row Z' -- they do not treat possession as some kind of venereal affliction.

Spain are the world champions and the European champions. Spain are also the U-21 European champions and the U-19 European champions. Between 1998 and their victory at the 2010 World Cup, Spanish youth teams from the U-16s to the U-21s won 19 UEFA and FIFA championships.

The FAI should send a team to Spain to see how to emulate their model. Even if we established four provincial academies and a proper coaching school here, it would be a start.

Imagine what we could achieve if we could combine the traditional Irish qualities of fight and spirit with footballing intelligence and technical skill, in addition to having the best supporters in the world.

We have a choice between proceeding according to Shaw's famous maxim: "You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'" or Homer Simpson's: "If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing". For all our sakes, I hope it's the former.

Rob Sadlier
Stocking Avenue
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

Irish Independent