Pitfalls of affiliation with European pro soccer clubs?

You might have read this blog post about the many changes in our Bay Area youth soccer landscape and also one with two recorded calls from two US youth soccer clubs discussing their experiences affiliating with European pro teams.

This post is a guest post written by Andrew Hogg, a Bay Area soccer dad, with his perspectives on the value of affiliations of our youth soccer clubs with European pro clubs.

The insights and views in this post are Andrew’s only, and he takes a strong position on this issue that won’t agree with some of you, but I hope that his views help to at least inform the debate about the value of these affiliations.

Please also refer to the comments section below for additional/opposing perspectives.

Over the last few years an increasing number of youth soccer clubs have ‘affiliated’ themselves with European pro soccer clubs. Those clubs include West Ham, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Bayern Munich.

The big question for parents and youngsters should be what the benefits will be on the field and how will the youngster improve as a player. Ask this question of many US youth clubs who have been affiliates for a few years and they typically only speak in generalities and typically point to overall ‘club growth’ as a benefit.

So let’s examine some of the promises made by our local youth clubs and their affiliated¬†European clubs:

  • Access to their European youth development curriculum
  • An ID program or player development camps
  • Monthly calls with pro club coaches
  • One or two visits a year from pro club coaches
  • ‘Select teams’ formed from multiple affiliated US youth clubs to travel to tournaments in Europe
  • The possibility of select youngsters being able to¬†train with the European clubs’ home youth academy

In return for these benefits, the US affiliate youth club pays an up-front fee, some annual fee, and requires their players to buy (typically once a year) and wear the Euro clubs’ uniforms.

But are these affiliations actually delivering an improved soccer experience to the youngsters at our youth¬†clubs? Or are they just a way for those European clubs to get US parents to pay for the privilege of wearing Euro clubs’ jerseys and propagating their brand?

Is the main reason for our US youth clubs to affiliate with a Euro club simply a smart marketing strategy to grow their clubs, generating more revenue, but not necessarily better soccer?

Keep in mind that youth soccer is a business¬†here in our country and youth clubs in our Bay Area are competing for players and resources, including money, fields, and coaches. Click here for a recent article on this topic.¬†And here’s another one on pay-to-play.

Let’s take a look at each of the promised and implied benefits:

Curriculum

Let’s start with asking what a curriculum even is.

Is there a “system”? Does that system include number of days of training, training focus (technical, tactical, physical etc.) by age, a step-by-step progression model a-la Common Core, practice methodologies, workout drills, discipline models by age, a training ethos (# positions per player by age, playing time models by age, etc.).

Or, to be blunt about it, is the ‘curriculum’ just a bunch of drills that any coach or player or parent could just pull from the Internet?

When you’re promised a curriculum, ask your club to explain what that means, what aspects of training it will cover, in detail. And ask to see the curriculum. Many times the answer will be vague and no actual Euro club curriculum will be forthcoming.

ID Programs and Camps

Usually for even more money, your player can attend an ID Program. This is usually an additional practice, run by your club’s normal coaches, using the Euro club “curriculum”, and ostensibly used to “ID” players who might get “promoted” to the next ID Program (costing more money) and ultimately invited to play on a travel team in a tourney in Europe or on a “tour” to the affiliate club.

Often you are just paying for an extra practice with the club’s normal coaches using their standard curriculum. The camps are much of the same, offered to those in the ID Program, and probably more driven by the revenue they can bring the club than any real desire or ability to deliver superior training to your player.

Monthly Calls with Euro Club Coaches

What actionable items are produced from these monthly calls that have a direct effect on the field for your youngster? Or are these calls just to make the affiliate coaches and/or parent board members feel good?

Are European 2nd or 3rd tier youth coaches really that much more insightful (from 5,000 miles away, with no presence on the field) than a well-educated, motivated and experienced US youth coach? And are calls really enough to transfer the know-how that these Euro coaches have?

Annual Visits by Euro Club Coaches

Which coaches are coming? How long are they staying for? Who’s paying for their flight, hotel, rental car and per diem food expenses? What training of either coaches or players are they doing? For how many hours on how many days?

In reality most of these visits are for a week or two at most, by perhaps two second-tier coaches, sometimes in the summer when half the kids are “gone”, and are given to a specific age group or ‘level’ for a few hours during those two weeks.

‘Select Teams’ for Travel Tournaments

These are teams like a “West Coast Girls U15 Euro Club”, made up of players from multiple affiliated youth clubs. The kids are chosen as much for their parents’ willingness and ability to pay as for their soccer credentials.

They will travel to Europe, on the parents dime, to play in a tournament, or go on what’s commonly referred to as a “tour”, where they play a couple of friendly games, visit the stadium and tour some of the local sights.

These are tours that have been organized for years by third party companies for anyone with a team (and the money), but are now advertised directly by the affiliate club.

Are they worthwhile? For sure, as much as they have always been. It’s a holiday to Europe for parents and players, and it’s a way to get your player jazzed about soccer. That’s a genuine choice parents can make, of course.

But does it improve your soccer player? Does it increase your chances of playing for the Euro club? Of course not. What else could you have done with the thousands of dollars you spent (US tournaments, 1-on-1 training, summer camps, etc.) that would have improved your player’s chances of improving their game, getting to play at college, etc.?

The Big Promise

The big carrot often dangled in front of parents and players: players can be chosen to train in Europe with the pro club.

Many parents think their player is better than they really are. Many don’t understand the US Soccer system, think that NorCal Gold or Premier is the pinnacle, don’t know that USSDA exists, don’t know that their kid might be good in their local pond (even in a big pond like LA or Dallas) but is mediocre at best on a global scale.

Do one or two get chosen to go, all expenses covered? Maybe. But that’s after 1 or 2 have been chosen from your club to go to state tryouts, from which 1 or 2 were chosen to go to US tryouts, from which 1 or 2 were chosen to go to Europe.¬†In other words the odds, after spending many thousands of dollars for travel and hotel stays, are miniscule.

For example, Liverpool have been doing this for years in the US, longer than probably any other club, and my understanding is that to date they have only taken 2 boys to Liverpool for a 1 week tryout, and neither progressed beyond that week. This isn’t a criticism of the Euro club (their only goal for their youth academies is elite talent identification after all), but parents needs to be aware of the reality of this.

In summary, these Euro club affiliations make many promises and often deliver on too few of them. There are probably exceptions, but in general the ‘return’ often isn’t good enough to justify the additional cost and inevitable changes at your club. Carefully evaluate your club’s implementation of any affiliation and how that implementation affects specifically your son or daughter.

Think carefully about which players might benefit more than others. For example, do the top 20% benefit because the club now attracts better players, but the bottom 80% get “pushed down” to make space for the new (and better) players but nevertheless have to pay more money every year for uniforms etc.? Consider carefully if and how the promised benefits of an affiliation trickle down to the large majority in your club.

How long will these affiliate programs last? In some cases, only until parents smell the bacon burning in the kitchen. Those affiliated youth clubs that make a much better effort to deliver the benefits to the majority of kids in the club can be successful with this if success is measured by a better soccer experience and education for the 80%.

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

8 thoughts on “Pitfalls of affiliation with European pro soccer clubs?

  1. Being the LFC IAA Bay Area President and you knowing there is one in this area, you were and still are welcome to pick up the phone and ask before making comment or discussions. The support has been huge and just when one visit from them is over they are planning the next. I personally am very slow to comment to anything without information, hence you won’t see me saying Trump or Hilary as i do not know the finite details of each campaign and want to make sure i share good information. Wont see me listing all the LFC info and benefits I believe in here, people should experience it for themselves. If you want to write an article on the benefits then we can, which i can ask if possible to share on the monthly call i have directly with the Academy Directors on Friday 9/30. Thanks

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    • Hi Alex – I’ll let Andrew respond to you regarding his viewpoints. Btw, please take a look at two comments below from two LFC parents supporting your affiliation with LFC. Happy to post an article on how your affiliation is working out – I think lots of families would love to learn more. Please send me something when you’re ready.

      LFC is looking good in the EPL so far this season. This might be their season!

      All the best!
      -James

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    • Hi Alex,

      As I mentioned in the comments, this was not about LFCBA and not just about the Bay Area soccer scene, or about just my own experiences. It was an amalgamation of info (from other people, myself, and other, recent articles) about affiliate programs in general throughout the US. Since people may not read all the comments, we have modified the article to remove “Liverpool” as an example and just referred to “Euro clubs”, as had been done in other areas of the article.

      Personally I think LFC in the Bay Area is well run, with excellent coaches – at least the ones I have dealt with. I don’t know much about the LFC Bay Area specific relationship with Liverpool other than some bits and pieces shared on the sidelines. It would be great if you could take James up on his offer to blog about that relationship and the benefits you are seeing that impact the kids on the field.

      Andrew

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  2. Another LFC IAA Bay Area parent, coming from the same path that Heather did, Pacific Soccer Academy, PSA Royals, LFC. We have been with this same ‘organization’ since my oldest was 3 – almost 10 years now. My oldest played with Heather’s son for 5 years before the US Club mandate changed the age grouping.

    All of what Heather’s experience is I ditto in this comment.

    And I also want to say I don’t know any club that could afford to pay $60K in fees to ‘buy-in’. Most soccer clubs are running on extremely tight budgets. This was not part of the LFC affiliation at our Club.

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    • Hi Jennifer – thank you very much for participating in the discussion. I’m glad to hear that you also had positive experiences at LFC. All the very best for your youth soccer journey!

      Best regards,
      James

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  3. Hi– My name is Heather Miksch and my 12-year old son has been playing competitive soccer since he was 6 (he started on a U8 team) first with Pacific Soccer Academy in Los Gatos, then PSA Royals (when they merged with Royals of Campbell). In fall of 2015, PSA Royals signed a licensing agreement with Liverpool FC. I’m responding to this post because Liverpool was used as the example in this blog post, and I simply wanted to share my experience.

    Over the past year, since PSARoyals signed the licensing agreement and became LFC IAA Bay Area, I have seen the following with our club:

    *No increase in academy training fees
    *No increase in summer camp fees (formerly the summer camp was run by the local PSA coaches, this past summer the boys had LFC coaches)
    *Change of the player curriculum from the US Soccer curriculum to the LFC curriculum
    *Our coaches have trained with LFC coaches on the LFC curriculum (which is an actual written curriculum)
    *Change of kit to the LFC official kit. If I had to guess, I probably paid $35 more for the “official replica” LFC home jersey than a non-affiliated jersey. The rest of the kit (shorts, socks, away kit, etc.) seemed a comparable price to past uniforms.
    *Invitation to watch the Liverpool first team practice at Stanford stadium when LFC came to the Bay Area to play AC Milan in the International Champions Cup.
    *Marked increase of premier players to our team. My son has always played on the “highest” team in his age group. Fall of 2015 they played in the NorCal Silver bracket. We had an influx of exceptional players to the club and his team is currently playing in the NorCal Premier bracket.
    *Increase of scholarship recipients (at least on my son’s specific team).
    *No promises or expectations of training or invitations to Liverpool, England. (As an aside–We have no expectations of our son turning professional, and doubt that other parents on his team do either. We are fully aware that NorCal premier is not the pinnacle, even in NorCal. We do expect our son to learn respect, responsibility, love of the game, grace under pressure, teamwork, sportsmanship, etc, etc. and appreciation of an active, healthy life.).

    Correlation does not prove causation. I’m sure many of the positive things I’ve observed have more to do with the local club management and great coaching than the LFC affiliation specifically, but I also have not observed any downside at all to the LFC affiliation. In fact, I think that my son takes pride in wearing the LFC jersey, rooting for LFC, and feeling some connection (regardless of how tenuous) to that team.

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    • Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experiences, Heather. This is the kind of sharing that helps all of us make better, more informed decisions for our youngsters, which is the motivation for this blog. It is quite possible that affiliations of this kind are positive in general, but that the actual experience depends on how it’s implemented by the local club. So it’s quite possible that you and Andrew have experienced this differently in your respective clubs.

      Anyway, I hope that you find this blog informative. Very much appreciate your participation!

      Best regards,
      James

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    • Hi Heather,

      Thanks for the comment. As I’m sure you know, blogs like this aren’t just for “reading” they are meant to start a discussion, where people can share their experiences, thoughts and opinions, in a civil manner hopefully! ūüôā So thanks for participating. With that, here are some thoughts:
      1. I used Liverpool as an example not because of LFC Bay Area, but because Liverpool has been using the affiliate program in the U.S. longer than most. So no offense meant to any particular program or club.
      2. The article isn’t meant to be about any one affiliate program or any one club, but more general observations from my own experiences, others experiences in other programs and research. In other words, “your experience may vary”.
      3. Fees: The point on fees was more to the point that these affiliate programs are not free. One example I saw was going to cost the club in question $60,000 as a buy-in price! So, even if your fees don’t go up, that is $s not being spent elsewhere.
      4. Uniform costs: Many of the affiliate programs require the purchase of a new kit or jersey every year, to keep pace with the every changing jerseys of the pro team. So, it’s not the “this kit costs $35 more” that’s the issue, it’s the “I have to keep buying a new kit (jersey, shorts, shirt) every year. Vs the typical 2-3 years “custom” kits usually last. My math assumed a new away or home kit every year, and looked at the additional cost over 2 years vs standard “custom” kits. I don’t know if Liverpool has that “every year requirement”, but multiple others do.
      5. Curriculum: You mention that LFCBA has a curriculum. As a parent in my club asked at the parent kick off meeting “what’s the difference between this new curriculum and the one we already had”? Have you seen a difference with LFC? And, as I question in the article, what do they even mean by “curriculum”? Many words are bandied about by comp soccer clubs (Academy, Premier, Elite, Curriculum…) that sound good but don’t have much weight behind them. What is the LFC curriculum? How is it better than what you had before? How is it better than anyone else’s curriculum? How is it being implemented?
      6. If your coaches have trained with LFC coaches, and you have seen a difference on the field due to that, then that is great. The question I always ask is “Will this affect the players on the field, and if so how”? If the training is a couple hours once a summer, then I have my doubts on any lasting effect on the coaches habits on the field.
      7. I have seen your feedback on “more Premier players” from other clubs across the country. I mention such “growth” in the article. The question is, and this is really the point of the article, why? Do those players really think the new program is better than the old program, and if so why? It also begs the question “has your son, or any player on the team, gotten better coaching, or have you just added better players”? Finally, does playing in Gold vs Silver really matter. That movement is based on winning games, not on individual plAyer development. Personally I would gladly have my kids teams stay where they are (in Gold), losing some games, because they are playing developmental soccer, vs winning soccer.
      8. Love your last point on using soccer as a vehicle for learning life skills. Couldn’t agree more.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to comment and engage in the discussion.

      Andrew

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