Watching pre-season games is fast becoming the bane of my life given the not so sociable kick-off times, yet one thing that has given me immense pride thus far is seeing players from the Castilla – the youth academy come through and play well amongst stars like Ronaldo, and not look out of place. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have two of the finest academies in football, producing breakout star after star, yet how many youth team players have you seen your club utilise in the Premier League?
The answer is very few, with some youth set ups being quite frankly one up from pointless. Top clubs seem to be more focused on poaching what they feel is the next big thing from lower league or foreign clubs, only to have them play in the reserves before being sold to someone else lower down the food chain – Chelsea and Kakuta spring to mind here.
Yet take a look at a few of the lower league clubs, and Crewe in particular. Run by highly respected former manager Dario Gradi, the set-up has been highly successful in producing quality youth players who have been sold and allowed the club to keep going with the aid of this money, not to mention having highly successful careers themselves.
In the past we have seen Dean Ashton, Danny Murphy and Nicky Maynard to name but a few who have been sold and in the case of the older two gone on to represent England at International level. The latest of these starlets is Nick Powell, who has been sold to Manchester United after catching the eye of Fergie and having a superb season, winning all five of the end of year awards on offer at Crewe.
Likewise Reading have recently become ones to watch in relation to their youth set up, with Nas Bashir – now running his own academy – due a huge deal of credit here. Sigurdsson will be the most notable name from this set up to have gone on to a big move, yet plenty more are expected to flourish, all due to the nurturing they received when at the academy.
Why is this so rarely the case for the big boys? It begs the question if what is really needed is a man with a vision and the ability to get the very best out of the set-up, like Gradi and Bashir clearly have – is it their approach that is missing in the premier league or is it simply the fact that clubs are not prepared to develop players and allow them the time in the first team to come good in the world of top flight football which has now become so cut throat?
Bashir believes that not all kids will develop at the same rate, and Gradi puts in an eye watering amount of work with the young players to nurture them, focusing on the individual and teaching them to utilise both feet giving them experience they would be pressed to get at most other clubs – playing near enough 100 games by 23 is no easy task, yet Westwood and Murphy achieved this.
Of course, clubs such as Crewe have to develop players and sell them on, ones like United do not, and with the FPP now making it easier than ever to poach players outside of the former catchment area, it doesn’t look like the big boys will have the incentive to develop a set up like Gradi’s anytime soon.