The Swedish FA’s head of training and development Per Widen has hit back at Dejan Kulusevski after the Tottenham winger criticised the nation’s youth development programs.
Sweden were thrashed 4-1 by Serbia last week, with the result confirming their relegation to League C of the UEFA Nations League.
After the loss, the Tottenham winger had some harsh words to say about his nation’s inability to produce as many top talents as the likes of Denmark and Belgium, and insisted that the youth development system in the country was to blame.
Kulusevski was quoted as saying on Seden.Postsen: “I think we have a big problem in Sweden. We have to improve on the youth side. It feels like Denmark started maybe seven years ago, Belgium started a long time ago. And Serbia. It’s no wonder they produce such good players. It can’t be a coincidence. That is where we have to improve.”
The Spurs winger further opined that the main difference between the youth program in Sweden and other nations was the will to win being drilled into young players from a young age.
The 22-year-old insisted that the coaches in his country is too kind on the youngsters.
He added: “The young people must get harder training and better coaches. That’s what makes the difference. Where I have played, it is not okay to lose. That is the big difference. It is life and death.
“In Sweden, we have to get better at it and I think we train too little, we are too kind and there is too much patting on the back. We must move forward. We train too little in this country.”
Kulusevski’s comments have not sat down well with Widen, who has now remarked that winning should not be the be-all and end-all for kids.
Responding to the former Juventus star’s comments, the head of FA’s training and development told Fotbollskanalen (as relayed by Tribal Football): “We also changed the game forms in 2019, and unfortunately in the middle of the pandemic, so it may not have worked fully until now. There I stick my chin out and say that the rest of Europe and the rest of the world have started to look at us, but no one is paying attention.
“We try to be a little proud and talk about it, but if Sweden does it, it’s not good, while if Germany does it, it’s great. We have adapted them (the forms of play) more based on the maturity of the players, that there are smaller surfaces and more touches of the ball and increased decision-making, so there will be more games and so on. It is more adapted based on children’s conditions, and not trying to imitate senior football too much directly.
“He (Kulusevski) uses strong words that it is life and death. Maybe that’s not how we really want to express ourselves in Swedish football. It shouldn’t be life and death in children’s football. Then something is wrong. Then we mustn’t forget that there are different cultures in Europe and in the world.”
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Among the Scandinavian nations, Sweden used to be the strongest, by far, until about a decade ago but Denmark now produces more talented footballers, which would hurt the Swedes, given the rivalry involved between the two nations.
It is unclear if the change is down to the way development programs are structured in the two countries or simply down to the Danes having a golden generation at the moment.
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