Tony Carr, Academy Director on Soccer in America
West Ham United Academy Director, Tony Carr came to America looking to help grow the global game of soccer and to give elite youth players a chance to discover the West Ham Way.
For nearly four decades Tony Carr has been a solid fixture in the West Ham United Academy system. Beginning as a youth in the club’s system in the 1960s, Carr worked his way up to a short stint on the youth team before an injury ended his playing career. In 1973 he began coaching with the club, eventually becoming the Academy Director and putting his own indelible stamp on the system. Since then Carr has become acknowledged as one of the most influential men in English football, with seven members of the 2010 FIFA World Cup team having come under his tutelage.
During the 2009/10 English Premier League season, West Ham United honored Carr with a testimonial year that included an all-star match on May 5, 2010, featuring such former students as Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. On June 12, 2010, Carr was further recognized when he was named an MBE as part of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honors list.
Over the years, Carr has helped to develop such English standouts as Glen Johnson, John Terry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe, as well as Lampard and Ferdinand. Former England U21 midfielder Mark Noble is a product of the West Ham system, as are senior team stars James Tomkins and Jack Collison. All have benefitted from Carr’s dedication to good technique, which he has called “the foundation of all the work we do at West Ham United Academy.”
In addition to his work with the Academy in England, Carr spends considerable time traveling around the globe to share the “secrets” that have made the system so successful. Outside of soccer/football, Carr is active with numerous charities, particularly for youngsters with diabetes. Three years ago Carr was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and works to show that the disease is no barrier to an active and successful life. Tony Carr has proven himself to be a leader both on the pitch and off and deserves the title of a “legend of football.”
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the goal of the West Ham National camp? Why come over from England to Rome, Georgia, for a youth soccer program? After all, you are the Director of the West Ham Academy in England and have been recognized by the Queen of England for your devotion and dedication to youth soccer.
Tony Carr: I like coming to America and seeing the young soccer players here. I want to grow the name of the club globally. One reason I am here is to spread the word of West Ham United – to get more people interested in the club – and the other is to see what diamonds in the rough, so to speak, are here.
It was quite obvious that the game of soccer was going global and it would be foolish of us to say the only players that can play for West Ham can come from the east side of London where our traditional hunting grounds for talent were, so to speak.
With the success of soccer growing in the U.S. – the National Team qualifying for World Cups, the U.S. Women’s team winning the Olympic Gold Medal, the USA U20 team winning the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup – we felt that it was an opportunity, maybe a small one, but definitely an opportunity to discover talent here in America.
I feel that Americans are embracing soccer. Soccer here is beginning to change.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you say “youth embracing soccer,” how do you define that? By a child watching the EPL at home, by a soccer ball always at their feet? How do you define “embracing soccer”?
Tony Carr: I believe all forms of participation define ‘embracing soccer’.
The participation of American youth in soccer now is massive – the numbers are frighteningly big. Youth soccer here has evolved in America and some clubs are trying to grow true European or English style Academies.
The MLS clubs are now trying to grow their own base of youth players similar to a European model, in the hopes they might start to produce players. It is great to see this happen.
Tony Carr: We always keep our eyes open for amazing players.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is it easy to find players here?
Tony Carr: No, and unlike here in the States, the big difference for a boy in England is that he can leave school at 16 and go full time to the soccer Academy.
Diane Scavuzzo: The American road in youth soccer is Club to College to Pro. How do you feel this impacts America’s ability to compete on a world stage?
Tony Carr: I think the U.S. has a system that can work. I don’t think they need to go to a European-style system to make it in terms of producing players for the National Team or for U.S. soccer down the line.
Diane Scavuzzo: But do you think that the U.S. National Team can ever compete against an English National Team?
Tony Carr: I think they could. (Wink, wink.)
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think we could win?
Tony Carr: Maybe you could. If you’re talking in a one-off game or a two, certainly the U.S. could hold their own.
I think in a one-off game in any given year the U.S. would give England a run for their money in terms of that game, as they showed in the World Cup prior to South Africa.
But if we’re talking about getting the U.S. up the FIFA rankings into maybe a top-20 position, I think that would be difficult because of the soccer they play. Also because of their location – they’re not going to be playing the top nations. It’s more difficult to develop the game and develop the player.
And the MLS is not the greatest league in the world. It wouldn’t stand up to any of the top European leagues or maybe even South America leagues.
It’s controversial, but it’s fact.
But there are American players that have been successful in the Premier League. I think the MLS is developing the game in the U.S. finally.
Diane Scavuzzo: So soccer is improving in America?
Tony Carr: Yes, soccer has come a long way from its beginning in America.
This is one of the reasons we are here. We’re trying to give American players the West Ham experience. We brought over several of our top coaches, including our Academy’s Technical Director, and provided authentic, top-level academy training for this National Camp. The 300 kids who attended this National Camp received the best possible experience and had the chance to be selected to the elite experience in London.
Diane Scavuzzo: Have you found your diamond in the rough?
Tony Carr: We’ll be lucky if there is one player in the U16/U17 age range who we felt would be good enough to play top Academy soccer and handle the EPL.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are you looking only at that age range?
Tony Carr: No, whatever age. We have a U12 team, we have a U9 team, a U18 team. We have teams from Under 9 to Under 18. We even have U21s now.
So whatever boy we see, whatever age, we’re going to look at that age and evaluate that player. If he’s a 10-year-old player, could he hold his own with the same age kids at the Academy? The same if he’s a U14, could he hold his own in our Under 14s. How would he fare in the UK?
The players who were invited to attend the West Ham National Camp were selected from regional camps that were held all across the States. Those who are invited to travel to West Ham in England to train are the best of the best. West Ham is also selecting kids for our trip to England where three American teams – Under 12s, Under 14s and Under 16s – will challenge our Academy players.
Each player who attends this program receives a written evaluation. The top players will also receive an invitation to the next level, which is traveling to England.
Diane Scavuzzo: If a player is not selected this year, can they work on improving their performance? Do you encourage people to come back and maybe they’ll look better and you’ll see more potential in them?
Tony Carr: The coaches always give the players guidance: ‘you’re a bit short in that department and could improve in this.’
We have had boys who repeat the camps, and usually some of them have improved. And because they have had the experience of the first camp, they look better, in my opinion.
The four players that came again from last year were much better.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you look for most in a youth soccer player?
Tony Carr: We call it vision and awareness.
It’s getting the picture of what is happening and the potential before you get the ball – knowing where you’re going to move, where you’re going to pass, if can you play with one touch, etc. These are the base criteria in the Premier League. All players should know what to do with one touch of the ball before they receive the ball.
I asked the players yesterday, in 90 minutes of a top Premier League game how many minutes would the best player on the pitch have on the ball? I asked each player!
Diane Scavuzzo: And what was the answer?
Tony Carr: Some said 40 minutes, some said 20 minutes. The answer is, the top player in the EPL, in 90 minutes, has three minutes on the ball.
Diane Scavuzzo: I was going to say seven minutes. You have to make those three minutes count.
Tony Carr: So lots of his plays are one- and two-touch. Lots of his plays are movement off the ball – where to run, the position to take up. He has to have great vision. It’s not only technical ability we look at but their general awareness and understanding of the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think that Americans have less technical awareness of the game because they don’t spend as much time immersed in soccer?Tony Carr: It is quality not quantity. I think sometimes parents in America look at the amount of time spent training, the quantity of hours, and think it was a good camp because they were on the pitch for six hours – rather than the quality of the session in that time.
I think in America, the parents pay their money and they want to see lots of time for their kid on the pitch. But the quality should be the focus. As the player progresses through the week at camp, they get very tired, so the quality drops.
So that is the American way, whereas we’re usually looking for an hour and a half of top-level training where we can get enough into each player and get their brain working, and then tomorrow we’ll go again.
For this program, we have a happy medium. For the first summer camps we tried the typical American style. We did two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening, and we saw that didn’t work.
By the next day those boys were so tired. Now we’ve cut it down to four hours, which is a lot more than we would put a 12-year-old through in England during the heat of summer.
Diane Scavuzzo: This is because of the American desire to get their nickel’s worth.
Tony Carr: Exactly. We understand it and we adjust to it. But there should be more quality than quantity.
Diane Scavuzzo: So if you were to say something to the American audience about why that’s foolish and not advantageous, what would it be?
Tony Carr: You want to train players at their optimum level – when they are still able to function with enough energy to play the game. The game only lasts for 90 minutes, so why would you train for four hours in 90-degree heat because eventually you won’t have that quality.
Players become a little bit tired and then their brain stops working.
One of the things I’ve said to the boys over here that we say back in England all the time is, “Where is football played?” And usually they say either “with my feet,” or “on the pitch.” But it isn’t – it’s played in the brain.
If you don’t play football with your head you won’t know what you’re going to do.
So when you play with your brain, and your brain’s frazzled because you’ve been in the heat for four hours, the whole tactical version of the game is gone because you’re so tired.
You have to have mental freshness. In a 90-minute game you see lots of mental mistakes in the last minutes. And we’re now working back in England on being as fit after 90 minutes as we are at the start.
Diane Scavuzzo: Americans are well known for being very physical fit. I’ve heard ‘What American’s lack in brains they make up for in muscles’.
Tony Carr: Americans all very good at running on the field – they’ll run all day. It’s when they have the ball that they have the problem.
We’ve constantly preached we prefer quality over quantity. It’s not the amount of time you spend out on the field, it’s what you do out on the field and the quality of the work out on the field that’s the key.
You have to remember in England, when a boy comes to West Ham United Academy the parent doesn’t pay; West Ham United pays everything. So we can then dictate the terms, we can dictate what parents can say and what they can’t say, the code of conduct, etc.
Whereas over here, the parent, in effect, wants to get his dollar’s worth, and that’s the ball we’re trying to juggle. Yes, giving them value for money but also a giving them a camp of quality. Because we don’t want to come over here and just be babysitters and play father-son and just watch and blow a whistle. We’re trying to give them information.
Diane Scavuzzo: Everyone is extraordinarily impressed that you came here personally. Many camps use a big name of a club, but the actual programs have no one from the club identifying players or training.
Tony Carr: I think they don’t come over because they probably don’t feel the value or the need. They don’t think that maybe there will be a player here. But we as a club, not just me personally, but we as a club – if we’re putting our name to a camp, West Ham United, I want to make sure and Paul (Heffer) wants to make sure – Paul has been my assistant for 20 years or so and we’re a team in that respect – we want to make sure that camp represents what our club represents.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you define the West Ham style?
Tony Carr: This is a tough question, but everyone asks. The West Ham way, I suppose, is an open, attractive attacking style.
That’s the style of soccer we like to play, where we try to give the individual player the freedom to express himself and not tie himself down too much too early, in terms of age, to a position.
Some of the best players who have come through our Academy, who started at eight years of age and are now playing for the National Team in certain positions, were not playing those positions when they came to us.
We have a program where we’re constantly looking as these players develop to see ‘would he be better there, would he play better here, would his talents best suit him in this position?’
A lot of the games we play here at the National Camp are small-sided, and I would go on the pitch and say: ‘you’ve got eight-a-side – you’re not defenders, you’re not midfield, you’re just playing. If you all go forward, you’re not using your brain.’ So again, the brain comes into it. ‘If you all go forward you might score a goal, but you’re going to let six in if no one wants to defend.’ So they take ownership of that game and they start communicating.
We always say, let the boys, the players, make the decisions. Don’t keep telling them what to do. Our coaches would let a boy make a mistake perhaps once or twice. If he corrects it himself, he’s done it. If he hasn’t you might step in and say, ‘Johnny, you should have played it to the right where you got caught on the ball,’ and see if he catches it then. But let him see if he can do it himself because the person who knows he’s made a mistake more than anyone else is the person who made it. He doesn’t need a coach shouting, ‘Johnny, what did you just do? Get it right.’ Don’t worry about that.
Diane Scavuzzo: What age players do you coach at the National Camp?
Tony Carr: I coach the U12/U13 boys.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is that the ‘sweet spot’? The best age range to pick talent for West Ham?
Tony Carr: That is an optimum time, but it’s what stands out regardless of the age of the player. If there was a 17-year-old boy and we went, ‘wow,’ we would be interested. Age is no barrier, unless he was 24, of course, but age isn’t a barrier.
The good point is that we try not to coach the player with the ball, if that makes sense from a technical end. We don’t coach the player with the ball because we want that player to make his own decision. You get too many coaches on the touch line – a young lad gets the ball and the coach is screaming at the player telling him what to do with it, ‘play to the right, play to the left’ – so that players isn’t making the decision.
Diane Scavuzzo: So how is the player going to get any better?
Tony Carr: Exactly. If he makes a mistake you might pull him and then say, ‘Look, you did that but what else could you have done?’ And he says, ‘I should have played left.’ ‘Yes. Now all you have to do is make sure your vision and awareness are broad and your head’s up before you get the ball, and maybe you make a better decision next time.’ So you’re coaching after the event. You don’t tell him what to do, or how is the player ever going to learn to be a great pro?
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you like best about being a soccer coach?
Tony Carr: (Laughing) It’s been so many years now. My pro playing days were cut short by injury, and eventually I started coaching. It is important to give back and I like watching the kids develop. I am pretty good at it!
The West Ham International Academy National Camps are managed by Global Image Sports (GIS), a sports management company that provides opportunities and experiences in partnership with such clubs as West Ham United, Wolverhampton FC and Chievo Verona. In addition to camps such as those for West Ham, GIS also organizes tours for youth teams and assists clubs with direct access to coaching education and player opportunities with partner clubs. For more information on what GIS can provide to clubs, email Mike Kelleher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Soccer Nation News would like to thank Ana Klebau for her photography. Selected images published in this article are credited to Klebau.
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