Small is beautiful to develop young skills

Talking point
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The Independent Football

For a young pre-teen footballer it is a change as profound as moving from primary to secondary school. Few boys forget the first time they play on a man-size 11-a-side pitch. Just like Drogba, Rooney and Fabregas on Match of the Day.

It is exciting, and it is madness. Up to the age of 10 most boys play seven-a-side on small pitches with small goals and rolling substitutes. Lots of touches and learning opportunities. Then they are thrust onto the same pitch as the Dog & Duck. The big lad, who can kick it 30 yards, is a superstar and the goalie keeps getting chipped. The little kid who dreams of being Lionel Messi is left out on the wing in the cold.

Jon Gritten teaches at primary level in East London. His experience is typical. The first match this season his boys were able to play across the pitch, with small goals. "They loved it," he said. "They did all the things they'd been taught like passing in triangles instead of hoofing the ball up the pitch."

Then came the first home game, on the vast acres of Wanstead Flats (like most inner-city schools, they do not have their own pitch) on a man-sized pitch. "It was next to pointless," said Gritten. "It was all about who's biggest, who could kick furthest. Some boys hardly got a touch."

They do not make this great leap, and backward step, in the Netherlands, a country with a third of England's population but far more technically gifted footballers. They have a nine-a-side intermediate stage, with proportionate goals.

The problems are a lack of facilities and resistance to change, often from parents and managers who believe it is not proper football unless it is 11-a-side. It is time for a joint FA-Premier League campaign, with cash for pitches and goals, fronted by the likes of Robin van Persie who learned his skills in the right setting.