JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Talent Identification and Development in Male Football: A Systematic Review

Hugo Sarmento, M Teresa Anguera, Antonino Pereira, Duarte Araújo
Sports Medicine 2018, 48 (4): 907-931
29299878

BACKGROUND: Expertise has been extensively studied in several sports over recent years. The specificities of how excellence is achieved in Association Football, a sport practiced worldwide, are being repeatedly investigated by many researchers through a variety of approaches and scientific disciplines.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this review was to identify and synthesise the most significant literature addressing talent identification and development in football. We identified the most frequently researched topics and characterised their methodologies.

METHODS: A systematic review of Web of Science™ Core Collection and Scopus databases was performed according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) guidelines. The following keywords were used: "football" and "soccer". Each word was associated with the terms "talent", "expert*", "elite", "elite athlete", "identification", "career transition" or "career progression". The selection was for the original articles in English containing relevant data about talent development/identification on male footballers.

RESULTS: The search returned 2944 records. After screening against set criteria, a total of 70 manuscripts were fully reviewed. The quality of the evidence reviewed was generally excellent. The most common topics of analysis were (1) task constraints: (a) specificity and volume of practice; (2) performers' constraints: (a) psychological factors; (b) technical and tactical skills; (c) anthropometric and physiological factors; (3) environmental constraints: (a) relative age effect; (b) socio-cultural influences; and (4) multidimensional analysis. Results indicate that the most successful players present technical, tactical, anthropometric, physiological and psychological advantages that change non-linearly with age, maturational status and playing positions. These findings should be carefully considered by those involved in the identification and development of football players.

CONCLUSION: This review highlights the need for coaches and scouts to consider the players' technical and tactical skills combined with their anthropometric and physiological characteristics scaled to age. Moreover, research addressing the psychological and environmental aspects that influence talent identification and development in football is currently lacking. The limitations detected in the reviewed studies suggest that future research should include the best performers and adopt a longitudinal and multidimensional perspective.

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