For every Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley or Wayne Rooney, there are tens of players that don’t make it through from the academies to the first teams of the top clubs. The FA are doing their bit to ensure the development of young players, the quota for home-grown players in English clubs ensure that at least eight players per squad are developed at the club. Yet, with the influx of foreign money, and subsequently foreign players, in to our top teams is there really enough of an incentive for young players at top clubs?
Whatever you do in life, you need to be able to believe that your goals are achievable if you work hard enough, but at some clubs that sentiment just doesn’t ring true. People might suggest that one or two players every five or so years might break through to the first team squad but that hardly counts as success. I’m not talking about a possibility of making it in the sense of there being a possibility of winning the lottery, I’m talking about a realistic possibility; the sort of possibilities that have been proven by a continuous string of players taking the path from academy to first team all at the same club. In some clubs clearly this scenario can be a reality, take Arsenal for example, or even Man Utd. Yet this is not necessarily the case across the board. You might ask why it matters, well it matters because the same clubs that insist on spending over the odds on domestically based players as well as those from abroad are also the clubs that buy up a lot of young talent from academies across the country. If these clubs are buying academy players without any real intent to develop and use them then they are wasting British football’s brightest talents. The other problem is that these top clubs employ some of the best youth coaches our country has to offer without necessarily making the best use of them.
People will say that academy players will make it if they are good enough, and if they aren’t then they won’t, but this isn’t even necessarily true. Many young players who are good enough but not nurtured in the right way fail to make it at their clubs. Take someone like Andy Cole for example, he failed to make it at Arsenal when he was young and it was not until three clubs later when he moved to Newcastle that he really progressed. If the top clubs in this country want to ignore youth development and spend big every summer then that’s fine, but they can’t have it both ways. If they insist on buying young players they must use them.
Players such as Paul Pogba are prime examples of this problem. Touted as the next big thing in French football the talented midfielder cannot get a game for love nor money. Even within a squad ravaged by injuries in his position Alex Ferguson would rather bring the 37-year-old Paul Scholes out of retirement than give Pogba a chance. I’m not trying to pick on individual clubs; it happens at all the top teams. Luke Freeman for example was just sold to Middlesbrough after three years at Arsenal without making any impact on the first team, similarly despite the constant praise of Josh McEachran at Chelsea he is yet to receive any real game time and that is despite the fact that Villas-Boas lacks options in central midfield. The problem is endemic. We talk about our lack of quality coaches in this country, we talk about poor academies but perhaps with so much foreign money in our league there is a lack of incentives for young players. Yes, there will always be a monetary incentive, but that isn’t enough. A youngster like Ravel Morrison is a prime example of a player who doesn’t crave more money, he craves more game time; and at this moment in time his career is going nowhere fast as a result.
I’m not saying that anyone in particular is to blame, nor am I saying that there is a clear solution to the problem. What I am saying is that whilst the quota for home grown players in squads is a good start it needs to be taken to the next level. Perhaps clubs could have their youth development subsidised by the FA depending on how many former academy players they fielded per season. This way it would be worth their while for the clubs and there would be increased opportunities for the younger players. People might think that there is a lot of youth development in this country, and to a certain extent that is true. We are improving as a nation, however when you look at the programmes for youth development on the continent you can see that the horizons for our prospects need to be broadened if we ever hope to churn out a golden generation the likes of Spain are currently enjoying.
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