Football: Grassroots focus wins applause from Ajax duo, Football News & Top Stories

Despite being a mere 14 months old, the ActiveSG Football Academy has already won praise for its grassroots system.

“If you want to grow elite players, the first thing you need is numbers, so therefore I think this is a great programme,” said Ajax Amsterdam Youth Academy coordinating coach Corne Groenendijk, 45.

“It’s very valuable to do this. If you wait at the national team for players to arrive, it’s never going to happen. You need to start at the grassroots.”

Groenendijk and fellow Ajax coach Casimir Westerveld were in town yesterday to share Ajax’s coaching philosophies with the ActiveSG Football Academy.

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The Ajax youth academy is famous for its alumni, boasting graduates across the generations such as the late Johan Cruyff, Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp, former Ajax, AC Milan and Barcelona star Patrick Kluivert and more recently Christian Eriksen, who plays for English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Four-time European champions Ajax notably fielded the youngest team to ever feature in a major European final against Manchester United during last week’s Europa League final which they lost 0-2 to the English giants. Academy graduate Matthijs de Ligt, 17, was in their starting XI, which had an average of 22 years and 282 days.

Groenendijk, who was also the Netherlands youth team coach from 1998 to 2011, explained that a strong coaching tradition helps the country churn out talent constantly.

“There is good coaching quality where a lot of coaches have played before (Bergkamp is coaching at Ajax now), so history tends to repeat itself, and a combination of these factors makes it (churning out talent) strong.”

While praising the ActiveSG set-up, he noted that the Singapore academy had a huge challenge on its hands because of the country’s short footballing history and the coaches’ relative inexperience, which could prove a potential stumbling block.

“It’s very difficult here to find facilities to play,”…

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