In terms of results and so forth, our youth players have always seemed quite talented. Our past successes I have documented elsewhere, with several scudetto victories under Moratti, as well as Coppa Italia triumphs.
Yet the question must be begged - are we preparing them best mentally for their careers? We have a lot of great young players who excel at the younger levels, looking more mature & more capable technically than their counterparts, yet somehow the majority of players coming through the Inter ranks in the last 12 years end up as non-professional footballers - if not retiring all together.
So, I like to imagine I'd do a great job as a youth administrator at Inter.
What needs doing?
We had a large influx of African talent under Mourinho. The rewards of this are currently being reaped - with players like Obiora, Duncan, MBaye, Opoku, Taufer, Appiah all coming in (as far as I'm aware) in roughly the Mourinho era. They - even to me - significantly exceed the previous players we've had in terms of talent.
Yet, is Inter truly the optimal environment? I mean in terms of youth trophies we are highly competitive, and all the loans to first teams in Serie A/B does pay off - we now have something like over 55 professional footballers emerging in the last few years. But why are these players, whom impress over alot of their peers, not quite cutting it at Inter?
I had a discussion with ZeroTituli a few weeks ago which entailed some of this - you may re-read some of it if you want to here.
There are three categories which are fundamental, in my opinion.
Clearly a player requires some talent to become a top class player. And from that side, Inter employ 20 scouts in the Lombardy region, 10 for the rest of Italy in the youth level. There are also clearly foreign things going on, however, the rate at which we sign these foreign players seems to depend quite a lot on the management. With different managers, our international youth activities vary quite alot.
It is obvious that you must start with good players to create great players, so the scouting side is obviously fundamental to any successful youth system.
The development of the youth players is fundamental as well. Coaches who are capable of creating individual players into a whole team unit - the mentality of it is just as important as any familiarity of playing - is a very important aspect of their development. Variations in how they train might seem minute at the time, but make all the difference. It is no coincidence in England, where full scale matches are the emphasis from an early age, players come out with significantly less technique (but more stamina and higher work rates) than other countries. The order of the day should be emphasis on personal ability, rather than tactics at such an early age. One or two touch football should be emphasized at the lower levels, with players getting used to passing and retaining the ball under pressure over anything else. The ability to read the game is very important - but this comes with match practise at an older age. Set plays should not be emphasized too heavily at all, rather, developing players individual talents. It is no coincidence that, for example, Beckham is one of the world's best crossers of the ball, and that came with practising crosses hours a day from the age of 12 and up.
This is the aspect where I fear Inter lack the most at the moment. Players seem to find it easy to get highly rated at Inter, but don't seem to develop. Crisetig, in my opinion, is the perfect example of this. Bursting onto the scene at 16 years of age, where he soon after was given a record breaking call up to Italy U-21, his development seemed to go stale for a few years - with only 3 U21 caps, all in friendlies. There seems to be an inability in helping players get in the right place mentally, with Stevanovic, Daminuta, Slavkovski (among many many others) all having issues with their attitudes (not just minor issues but very large ones).
Players need to be disciplined in their approach, especially around the age of 16 and up - where for a lot of these guys they move away from home and their parents, to a high paying job.
The question, though, also comes down to a moral one...
What is the obligation of a youth academy?
1 - To prepare the players to the best possible level for joining the first team?
2 - To prepare the players to the best possible level for a career in professional football?
3 - To prepare the players to the best possible level for life, whether or not they remain in football.
It is common - neigh almost unheard of not to be the case - that footballers give up their studies aged 16 to focus on their training and careers.
I don't think the current implementation at Inter is the ideal method.
We need an academy. A proper academy, a boarding school. Youth players should be at training camps one month a year where they are focused on football exclusively, working with specialist coaches to help them develop their techniques and so on. The entire youth team (from U-14 to U-19) should be in attendance at such an event, with any former Primavera players waiting to go out on loan training with them as well. The boarding school aspect is an important control on the player's life, allowing discipline to be imposed outside of the 2 hours a day they are trained. Curfews would be placed during the competitive season, with a harsh punishment system where a player who (for example) breaks curfew 3 times to get drunk during the competitive season released from the youth team. The warning signs are there in terms of a player's mentality, and the biggest killer of some of our more talented youngsters the last few years has been exactly this.
Perhaps more unconventionally, I feel that studies should form an important part of their development. Two hours of training a day (At a push) is not so much that it impedes their abilities to at least get to IB or A-level equivalent degrees. The education allows them something to focus on outside of football, and generally helps them prepare for life. Perhaps some humbling perspectives as taught via history lessons (or similar) would help develop their mentality as well. One of the other problems we face is that Barcelona and Real Madrid invest up to 5x more than Inter do in their youth. More coaches to support the player development and other more specific technical aspects would go a long way, as well as running a boarding school properly. Entering more competitions, as well, would do the club well. The scouting range needs to be massively upgraded, such that signing players like MBaye, Duncan, etc, are the norm rather than the exception.
The investment will be expensive - probably on the order of doubling our youth budget every year, as well as a one off cost in building a boarding school - but it would provide a much more controlled environment in which to train the players in, and the rewards would make it justifiable.
The current budget according to Sacchi is approximately 10 million euros a year. That means our youth academy has to justify its budget to that order a year in terms of players. Clearly, for example, Balotelli instantly justifies the youth budget. Having an Obi would do (in my opinion) in his own right. Players like Belec, Bardi, and so forth do as well. With a new academy, would come with increased international prestige. Coupling this with recent successes in the NextGen series & the 3 of 4 victories in the youth championships, Inter would no doubt be competing with some of the biggest clubs for younger talents.