It is an area of intense debate and scrutiny among those in the game, entertaining even those that dine at the FA’s top table. Youth development and all that it represents is no doubt a key issue for those that run our game, but are we approaching things in the wrong way?
Liverpool historically have been one of the English clubs famed for having an integrated system of youth recruitment and development, and it comes as no surprise that they are leading the youthful revolution in the modern era. The Premier League club are not the first to embark on a drastic overhaul of their youth system, but for me they are simply papering over the cracks.
According to reports today in the Guardian, Liverpool have seen fit to sack both of their highly rated academy directors as part of radical changes at Melwood. Indeed the sacking of both Frank McParland and Rodolfo Borrell will come as quite a shock to many; the pair having been instrumental in discovering an array of prospects for the club including talented youngster Raheem Sterling in recent years.
Both were recruited to the academy back in 2009 by Rafa Benitez, with Borrell coming with particular pedigree after spending time at la Mesia overseeing youth development for Barcelona. Now naturally I don’t oversee how these individuals behave on a day-to-day basis, but it is clear both of them carry immense reputations within the footballing world and to see them leave Liverpool is a significant shock.
A lot has been made of coaching standards in this country in comparison to our continental rivals, and this has of course prompted major scrutiny. I don’t dispute that coaching standards are an issue, but a simple revolving door approach just isn’t the answer. It easy to say that academies don’t produce good enough players in England, but for this an extremely short-sighted way of looking at things.
Of course at the age of 18/19 you occasionally get a Lionel Messi coming along who already exudes a certain amount of class at such a young age, but for most development is slow requiring a lot more patience. In England though horizons are short and those in charge fail to ever really look towards the long-term future. Rather than to nurture someone into their prime, they too often favour the easy ready-made purchase from abroad; and this is the inherent problem for me.
How can you judge how successful a youth team is without ever giving players a chance? I accept that one or two get a chance, but their persistent stay in the first team is down more to luck than judgement. Passing the blame to academy bosses is a bit of a cop out if you ask me, they could be doing the kind of job to rival any club in Europe and you simply wouldn’t know because almost none ever get the first team exposure required.
Liverpool are far from the worst offenders, but it still makes for an excellent example. Aside from Gerrard and Carragher, the modern crop of academy prospects breaking through is minimal. The likes of Sterling, Wisdom and Kelly are simply brought in as cover when necessary but never really given the opportunity on merit.
There seems to be some false conception that if you buy someone from abroad they are naturally going to be better, I don’t know if it is a sense of the exotic or what but surely a 21 year old wonderkid from Spain should match up to the best out youth academies can offer? The reality is that in many cases we will never know, the trust in our youth system just doesn’t seem to be there and instead we would rather take what we can get from abroad.
I don’t for one minute believe facilities, staff or even players themselves are that much better abroad; the difference is that even the top clubs in Spain or Germany place a significant emphasis on developing their own. Barcelona who are arguably one of the best teams in the world have for years now relied on their own; the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets are all home grown. Add to that the emerging crop of new talents that include Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya and Marc Bartra and you can begin to understand where the actually problem lies in English football.
It just isn’t as simple as recycling academy staff, the problem is a deeply engrained attitude deficiency that sees us complacently relying on what other can offer us.
Is it time to give youth a chance?
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