Caracas Chronicles recently went over the impact of El Sistema and its cost to Venezuelans in general. It seems only fair to put our latest footballing wonder under the same kind of scrutiny.
You might’ve heard that Venezuela is close to sealing qualification to the Under 20 FIFA World Cup, after a topsy-turvy qualifying round against the rest of South America. But, should you cheer?
Youth development tournaments like this are supposed to pave the way for success at the senior level. Otherwise, it’s just hype.
And Venezuela hasn’t done great at turning U20 success into senior level success.
Venezuela qualified for the last Under 20 World Cup. We even did quite well, becoming the first vinotinto side other than the major national squad to reach a second round of an international tournament. Quality among 20 year olds nowadays is basically the same you’d find in the best European leagues. After all, the most progressive tournaments relish in youth development as a cornerstone of their success. Look at Germany’s Bundesliga’s youth programs for a proper example.
The Venezuelan football federation foots the bill for this whole thing, meaning public money is invested in the preparation of this squad.
Yet in spite of this historic achievement for our men in burgundy, Venezuela is all but ruled out as a contender for a spot in the upcoming 2018 big boys’ World Cup. So, if that’s the final outcome of los refuerzos, the younger delegation meant to strengthen the national squad, is it worth putting in money or developing some emotional attachment for this youth delegation?
I don’t really think so.
The Venezuelan football federation foots the bill for this whole thing, meaning public money is invested in the preparation of this squad. How much? Experts figure around three million dollars — not a huge sum, but not peanuts for cash-strapped nation.
I emphasize the term “squad”, because this isn’t money being poured into the development of potential starlets of our football. It’s more like money being put into polishing these already scouted diamonds-in-the-rough.
Is it worth it? Economists tell us we’re supposed to think of this in terms of the opportunity cost. Even within fútbol, this is iffy: these kids have already been identified. Fancy European teams will already want to develop the better ones even without a dime in public money. Meanwhile, facilities to coach younger kids are starved of cash.
Spending at this level isn’t really a smart use of limited resources for an ailing federation.
The Federation, unfortunately, only understands two things: money and power.
In times of scarcity, it seems unviable to invest in development squads. I can think of a zillion better investments for those hypothetical three million, even within the sports world: ways of translating the development expense into the balance sheet of their clubs, programs that cost a fraction of the amount and could work with thousands of young players, better facilities, more scouts and trainers, which Venezuela lags considerably behind in, you name it.
The Federation, unfortunately, only understands two things: money and power. So winning a berth in the next development tournament is more important than financial prudence. Beggars can’t be choosers, por más que lo quieran. But then again, leave it to newly rich Chavistas to think otherwise.
So, yes. Next time you cheer for fulano-de-tal, that 19 year old that’s shining in an international tournament, think twice. It isn’t for free, and it isn’t sure you’ll hear that name after this qualifying round is over. Don’t let that crush run away with you just yet. We cannot afford your latest football fling.