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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 15:55 GMT

By David Ornstein

Les Reed
Reed coached in Ghana before the 1992 Cup of nations
England can learn important lessons from African countries' approach to international youth football says Fulham's director of football Les Reed.

Since 1985 African sides have earned top three finishes at 14 of the 27 Fifa youth tournaments, while England have been represented just eight times.

"The Africans have stepped forward big time in the Under-17 and Under-20 world youth championships," said Reed.

"I think that's a message for us in here in England."

Nigeria have won two Under-16 as well as one Under-17 world title and have twice come second.

African nations have learned the lessons why Brazi have been able to dominate World Cup football for so long

Les Reed
Ghana have claimed two Under-17 titles and have twice been runners-up, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso have also made the top three, while Guinea came fourth in 1985.

No African nation has won the Under-20 World Championships but they have been runners-up on four occasions and have twice been third.

Reed, who was the Football Association's technical director between 2002 and 2004, first visited Africa when he went to watch the Africa Cup of Nations in 1992.

He has also worked with the Ghana national team and has coached in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa

Diomansy Kamara
Kamara is the only Fulham player in Ghana for the tournament

England have appeared just once at the Under-17 World Cup - in 2007 - when they reached the quarter-finals.

Their record at Under-20 level is better having competed in that tournament seven times, finishing third in 1993.

But it is a record that will give England coach Fabio Capello pause for thought, given five-time World Cup winners Brazil have competed in all bar two of those 27 youth tournaments, winning six of them and finishing runners-up four times.

"African nations have learned the lessons about why Brazil, and countries like Brazil, have been able to dominate World Cup football for so long," said Reed.

"It's because they take those other competitions very seriously.

2007 Under-17 World Championship: Nigeria (1st), Ghana (4th)
2005 Under-20 World Championship: Nigeria (2nd)
2001 Under-17 World Championship: Nigeria (2nd), Burkina Faso (3rd)
2001 Under-20 World Championship: Ghana (2nd), Egypt (3rd)
1999 Under-17 World Championship: Ghana (3rd)
1999 Under-20 World Championship: Mali (3rd)
1997 Under-17 World Championship: Ghana (2nd)
1997 Under-20 World Championship: Ghana (4th)
1995 Under-17 World Championship: Ghana (1st)
1993 Under-17 World Championship: Nigeria (1st), Ghana (2nd)
1993 Under-20 World Championship: Ghana (2nd)
1991 Under-17 World Championship: Ghana (1st)
1989 Under-20 World Championship: Nigeria (2nd)
1987 World Under-16 Championship: Nigeria (2nd), Ivory Coast (3rd)
1985 World Under-16 Championship: Nigeria (1st), Guinea (4th)
1985 Under-20 World Championship: Nigeria (3rd)

"Their players improve and learn about World Cup competition and tournament football.

"The Brazilians have learned to travel and be able to win competitions on other continents; nobody else has done that yet.

"I think the African nations are learning those lessons.

"They do very well in youth competitions and as a direct result their players are more than capable of competing in World Cups and the Africa Cup of Nations."

When Reed first visited Africa in the 1990s he encountered derision from British coaches and managers when he told them of how impressed he had been by the standard of football on offer.

How times have changed, with 35 Premier League players in Ghana for the 26th Nations Cup.

And their absence for up to a month could go some way to determining the title, European places and relegation.

"If I look down the Ghana team, you've got players from Birmingham, West Ham, Mechelen in Belgium, Rennes, PSV, Chelsea, Hearts, Portsmouth, Marseille, Roma, Udinese and Celta Vigo," says Reed.

"Ten years ago they would have all been playing domestically, with maybe one or two in France, and that just shows how high the bar has been raised and that's why we all take it so seriously."


Neither Reed or Fulham chief scout Andy Thorn have travelled to the tournament but they are working with two scouting companies who will spend time in Ghana.

Despite the knowledge that most of these players, should they be recruited, would be missing while the Nations Cup was going on, Reed remains convinced of their worth.

"Would we not sign Drogba, Essien or John Mikel Obi because of that reason? I don't think so," he said.

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