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Andrea Pirlo is the dominant Italian footballer of the last 20 years.

Creating opportunities for others to score and spectacular long range free kicks are the hallmark of his game.  Pirlo’s vision and passing ability is now much admired, but as a young prodigy in Brescia it was a different story.

Competition Matters

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The results of La Masia speak for themselves, with all three finalists of the 2010 Ballon D’Or coming from Barcelona’s youth academy

“In terms of player development, competition is very, very important.”

So said Empoli U-15 coach Simone Bombardieri to me on my recent visit to Serie A clubs Fiorentina and Empoli.

Real Sleep FC

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Wales and Real Madrid forward, Gareth Bale, “hates early mornings”

Should Real Madrid win La Liga and the Champions League this year special recognition will go to an unlikely type of coach.


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Marco Veratti, in action here for Italy, is one of a host of young footballers off the Italian youth system production line.

When competition and development are linked, young footballers perform at their best.  Without competition, there is no mental or physical challenge.  Training and playing gets boring. A player needs to be challenged both physically and mentally.


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Andrea Pirlo in action – just one player in a long list of great Italian footballers.

Italian football produces fantastic players.  Its production line of talent is founded on the ability to link competition and development at junior level.

The Long Road to Success

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Brazil’s Neymar, right, vies for the ball with New Zealand’s Tim Payne

All White midfielder Tim Payne (21) has become used to responding to adversity.

“Professional football is such a cut-throat environment.”