Here's that fine Bruce Sokolove article from four weeks ago in the NY Times magazine, "How a Soccer Star Is Made" on how Amsterdam's Ajax club trains seven-year-olds to be sold off to be eventually sold off to Chelsea and Real Madrid in the bigger leagues. The Netherlands have made three of the last ten World Cup finals despite a modest (although hardly tiny) population.
The inefficient American system of creating soccer players (play a lot of games, try to get a college scholarship) sounds both feckless and pretty nice, compared to this high efficiency Dutch machine of nature and nurture:
It is not unusual for players at De Toekomst to come from middle- or even upper-middle-class backgrounds, and virtually none come from poverty in a nation where the standard of living is high and literacy is 99 percent. The demographics are not much different from the soccer-playing population in the United States, where most players still come from suburban comfort. In the Netherlands, though, youth players may end up with less education than their parents in order to pursue professional soccer careers, starting with a less-demanding high-school curriculum than they otherwise might take.... [Dylan] said he guessed that probably only two or three of the boys he began with when he was 7 would have pro careers in their sport. “I would feel very bad if I’m not one of them,” he said. “I have tried everything I can do to make it. I haven’t done as much in school as I could. I would feel like I’ve been wasting my time all these years. I would get very depressed.”
I asked if some of what he learned at Ajax — focus, perseverance, the ability to perform under pressure — might benefit him no matter what he ends up doing. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “We’re training for football, not for anything else.”
Currently, the U.S. usually is in the top 16 teams in the World Cup. That's not bad. Not great, but not bad. I personally don't care who wins the World Cup. It comes around every four years and it's like the entire history of warfare re-enacted with only a few hooligans getting killed. Spain v. Holland? That sounds like the Eighty Years War of 1568-1648... but for the next four years, I won't care at all. The World Cup is like short track speed skating in the Winter Olympics, only more tedious to actually watch. (Has a more entertaining sport than short track emerged recently?)
I know a high school parent whose daughter is deciding between a soccer scholarship to U. of North Carolina or to Williams. For her, life is good. Soccer in the U.S. is largely a sport of the upper middle class, by the upper middle class, and for the upper middle class.
What I think is too bad is the Burkean organic relationship between soccer teams and their fans is being eroded, the kind that we only rarely saw in the U.S., like Larry Bird playing high school and college ball in the same John Cougar Mellencampy small town.
It used to be that kids would start with their local soccer club like Ajax and stay there and play professionally against other Dutch soccer clubs. But now their best players get sold off to the big money leagues in bigger countries, and only reassembled for national teams.