It would take a bold man to bet against Lewis Dunk leaving Brighton in the January transfer window if the reported interest of Chelsea, Arsenal and Fulham results in a firm offer being made to the Seagulls. Gus Poyet will face an uphill battle trying to convince his young star that staying at the Amex Stadium is in his best interests – even though, of course, it most probably is in Dunk’s best interests to ignore the bright lights and big cheques, at least for now.
Assuming an offer is made, Brighton will be obliged to accept it. The average Championship club is run on rather tighter budgets than those in the bright lights of the Premier League, and even if they do feel they can afford to turn down the bid, Brighton will acknowledge that they cannot stand between Dunk and the opportunity of a lifetime.
The problem is that a move to a Premier League club might not be the dream that Dunk, or most Championship youngsters, probably imagine it to be. Yes, they are exposed to a whole new celebrity life, have the opportunity to train with some of football’s biggest names, and take a much-improved salary. But these perks can often come at a pretty high cost – namely the loss of playing time in competitive football.
In fairness, this is a decreasing problem in the English football system as Premier League clubs become ever-more accustomed to loaning out their emerging young players to gain more experience at another club, be that at the Premier League, Championship or lower-league level. A quick glance over the Manchester United or Arsenal websites will show how many teenage prodigies they have sent out to ply their trade at another club, either for the year, or just a couple of months.
Dunk may want to consider some players who haven’t received that chance, though, and lose the momentum of their development by stagnating on the bench or on the fringe of the first team. John Bostock is probably regretting jumping from Crystal Palace, where he was emerging as one of the Championship’s brightest young stars, to Tottenham, where he is struggling to break into the youth and reserve teams ahead of the likes of Jake Livermore and Ryan Fredericks.
Then there’s England u-19 star Connor Wickham, who couldn’t resist an £8 million move to Sunderland this summer, forsaking regular football at Ipswich Town in the process. David Wheater and Adam Johnson have both left Middlesbrough since they lost Premier League status, although playing in a first-team might be a better option in the long-term than warming the benches for Bolton or Manchester City. Danny Wilson, having been seduced into a £5 million move to Liverpool, is buried behind a bunch of other youngsters in the pecking order. The list could be a lot longer, but that might get rather tedious.
If there is one thing we can take solace in, however, it’s that this mistake isn’t limited to British youngsters. Teenagers from across the globe are coming to the Premier League only to not make the grade and end up slinking off to Europe without a trace. Diego Arismendi was one of South America’s hottest prospects three years ago, but since his 2009 move to Stoke the Uruguayan is still yet to play in the Premier League. Federico Macheda appears doomed to never fulfil his potential in the red of Manchester United, although his two fine goals in the tail end of the 2008/09 season, which earned the Old Trafford side vital points on their way to the title, are a substantial legacy for such a brief time in the spotlight.
A word of optimism for Dunk, though – it can be done. It’s just down to which club you choose. Michael Kightly and George Elokobi just two of several lower-league players to transformed into Premier League players by Mick McCarthy; Bostock’s former Palace teammate Victor Moses continues his emergence under Roberto Martinez at Wigan. So perhaps it’s all about which club and manager the teenager ends up which will decide his fate. In that case, Lewis: choose Arsenal. Mr Wenger has an eye for talented teens – and they could use a centre-back…
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