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Italy's Head Start Program

World Cup Champions Italy have for many decades had much more success than their English counterparts. This drives the English crazy. It is made worse by England's recent failure to qualify for the European Championship next summer. England is as soccer-mad as Italy, so why the difference in national team success?

UEFA chief Michel Platini and his fellow would-be regulators blame the foreign players in the Premier League, for "denying" places to English players. Refuting this is a fairly simple proposition: England's national team was mediocre well before the foreign invasion, and they still are. The difference is that the foreign players in the EPL (a) make the game more skillful and enjoyable to watch, and (b) raise the skill level of the English players who train with them.

Gianluca Viali, who played and coached at the highest levels in England and Italy has a different perspective.

Kids in Italy train the way professionals do. I went through it myself, both at my first club, Pizzighettone, and then when I moved to Cremonese at 14. In retrospect I think this is hugely important. A boy's first experience of organised football affects his vision of the game. And, for a kid in Italy, this means treating football as a job, something to be taken seriously - enjoyed, of course, but in a professional way.

The English boy's first experience of organised football is different, often in the context of a school team. In Italy, there is practically no football in schools but there are plenty of 'football schools'. For English kids football is an extension of school - the 'fun' part. Nobody is forcing the young Italian boys to join their local football clubs, but once there, they immediately adopt a 'professional' - some might say regimented and quasi-military - attitude to it.

The lesson is that focused training at an early age matters. Viali recognizes the positives and negatives in the two football cultures, and offers a nuanced comparative analysis in his piece. It may worth purchasing his book, Italian Job, from which this excerpt is taken. One thing Viali doesn't do, unlike Platini, is employ half-baked pseudo-analysis in an effort to change the economic rules of the game.