You must learn to crawl before you try to walk, a famous proverb that accurately summarises the current state of the modern game. Blinded by pound signs, swayed by insatiable agents and conned by false promises, many of England’s brightest stars have faded from the limelight.
Crystal Palace boast a long-standing tradition of consistently producing exciting players from their highly regarded academy. Over the past decade the team’s nucleus has been built from local talent, helping to create a real sense of community and pride from within the club.
Sadly though, the rapidly inflated wage packets currently being offered by Premier League outfits are causing young players to abandon their parent clubs. You need look no further than John Bostock as an example of how the young can be lead astray.
I was fortunate enough to be at Selhurst Park on the 29th of October 2007 when at the tender age of 15, John Bostock became the youngest ever player to represent Palace. It was a crisp Monday evening, the team were two nil down against high-flying Watford and seemed resigned to defeat. As the groans of discontent echoed round the ground, the crowd were suddenly buoyed to see the youngster warming up on the touchline.
Although he was only on the pitch for a few minutes, every successful pass and surging run was greeted with a deafening cheer. The introduction of Bostock helped inject a real buzz of excitement amongst the supporters and masked an otherwise uninspired performance.
As with many fairytales, this one wouldn’t have a happy ending. After making three further appearances for the club Bostock announced he would be joining Tottenham at the end of the season, with the fee going to a tribunal. The club were awarded an initial fee of £700,000, described at the time by owner Simon Jordan as the equivalent of ‘a packet of crisps’, which would rise by a further £1.5m depending on his future number of appearances.
Since then Bostock has endured a torrid time at Spurs and has only made one competitive appearance for the club this season. He’s shown brief glimpses of his potential during loan spells at both Brentford and Hull but it remains increasingly obvious that he would have been better served continuing his development at Palace.
Bostock is not the only player to suffer disappointment since his departure from the Eagles. Wayne Routledge is only just finding his feet at Premier League newcomers Swansea having become somewhat of ‘journeyman’ over recent years. His time on the football club merry-go-round has been long and arduous, having been initially seduced by the bright lights of White Hart Lane back in 2005.
Lets not forget Tom Soares, who has recently been dumped on loan at SPL strugglers Hibernian after failing to impress Tony Pulis at Stoke. Ben Watson and Victor Moses are arguably the exception to the rule but despite their growing number of first team appearances for Wigan, it looks like they too will be playing for a Championship side next season. Are you reading Wilfried Zaha?
There is a strong sense that this ugly trend will continue to be a focal point in the sport, with the introduction of the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
The idea behind the scheme is that the best players are developed by the finest coaches at clubs using state-of-the-art facilities. This will in turn allow a greater number of youngsters to realise their potential and ultimately benefit the national side. Whilst on paper this scheme seems beneficial, it stems from deluded logic that will have a significant impact on clubs outside the Premier League.
If you ask any teacher, they will inform you that the best learning environments are intimate and structured to engage with the varying personalities of each student. Herding the cream of the crop into one giant pen will not aid their development. Clubs will be bursting at the seams with handpicked players, who will slowly drip feed them back down the leagues as they inevitably fail to excel in such a chaotic atmosphere.
There seems to be very few incentives for clubs who fall shy of the financial requirements in order to be a ‘category one’ club. Palace chairman Steve Parish has recently slammed the scheme in the media suggesting that:
“As far as the Premier League is concerned, we’re here for their benefit. Are we meant to spend all our time and money finding talent and educating kids, only to give them to Chelsea?” (The Sun)
It’s easy to understand his reasons for complaint. Under these new regulations Palace would have received a poultry £130,000 for the services of John Bostock and whilst at present that figure looks like an over-valuation of the player, it offers a terrifying glimpse into the future.
It appears that the FA are hell bent on moulding top English sides to match the achievements of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona. But do we really want to see Premier League mutate into La Liga? With the same clubs trading blows at the top in an all too predictable and dull affair.
As a fan of a Premier League club, do you currently value your own academy? Do the ends justify the means if it brings success on the international stage?
If you’re a fan of a club outside the top flight, do you feel bullied by financially superior clubs? Do you fear these new rules will impact on the very existence of your club?
Leave your comments below and join in the debate on Twitter @theunusedsub
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