Liverpool and Chelsea’s transfer pursuit provides refreshing change
Given the sort of players that both Chelsea and Liverpool have been linked with in recent weeks, non-league side Dulwich Hamlet isn’t the first place you’d expect a tug-of-war between the two Premier League giants to emerge.
But with the news this morning that the men from Stamford Bridge are trying to hijack Liverpool’s move for 18-year-old striker Daniel Carr, both teams seem set to partake in one of the more refreshing off-the-cuff transfer battles in recent times.
Indeed, should Carr – who’s currently set to play for Liverpool’s U21 side against West Ham in a trial game next Monday – eventually make the step up from the non-league side to the top flight, he won’t be the first player to play for The Hamlet to make it within the big time. Both Ian Wright and more recently Peter Crouch, spent time at the South London club when they were making their first steps into the game.
But where as Wright might be one of the most famous examples of a player to make it from non-league to the Premier League, he also represents the figurehead of a generation of players whose journey into top-flight football is now unfortunately in decline.
Where as the likes of Les Ferdinand, Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce all once made the transition from non-league to full England internationals, such unorthodox routes to the top have become increasingly rare in recent times.
But while it is of course far too early to deem Carr as a banker for success at either Anfield or Stamford Bridge, the fact that the youngster has been given the chance to show what he’s made of at one of the biggest clubs in the country, is both as refreshing as it is encouraging. Even if the young Dulwich striker doesn’t cut the mustard on trial, his opportunity is enough to suggest that one of the great-untapped resources of English football hasn’t quite been consigned to the scrapheap just yet.
It’s easy to get caught up in the bleary eyes nostalgia and Hollywood like narrative of the non-league underdog-come-good and while it seems strange that English football decreasingly digs up these diamonds in the rough, the landscape of the game in this country has changed immeasurably over the past two decades.
Improvements in everything from the way we scout in this country to simply increased ease of communication means that it’s become increasingly difficult for talent to slip through the net of the English footballing pyramid.
Even within the case of Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, he was hardly some unknown quantity when he was playing for non-league Maidstone United, with clubs keeping tabs on him following his brief stint in the Millwall set-up.
When he went to Fulham, it was ultimately a brave decision by both then manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Les Reed. But Smalling didn’t attract interest from the Cottagers, Reading and Middlesbrough by accident – his time with England Schoolboys while playing for Maidstone United was what won him the move to Craven Cottage that set him on his way to United. Talent will always slip through, but the realms of non-league football isn’t quite the transparent figure many believe the Premier League view it as.
Yet this ultimately doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement and in recent times, there simply haven’t been enough chances handed out to the Daniel Carrs of this world. One trial doesn’t herald a seismic shift in Premier League scouting policy, but after seeing two of the biggest clubs in the land willing to fight it out for an 18-year-old Dulwich Hamlet striker, hopefully it will encourage some of their peers within the higher echelons of English football to follow suit.
As much as the changes that have recently been regimented in regards to youth development in this country, no system will ever be perfect and talented players are always going to slip through the net. Whether someone like Ian Wright may have necessarily have had to wait as long for his chance in the top-flight had he been playing today, no one will ever know.
But should Carr be successful in his trial at Liverpool or indeed wherever his future may lie, after being released from the Reading academy several years ago, his tale should act as a gentle reminder to clubs that every player is deserving of a second chance – no matter what league they play in.