In late November Art of Football won a competition called Kickstart which was for new businesses and start-ups where the proprietors were between the ages of 19 and 24. We were elated to win it and very grateful to all our customers and supporters – without your help and belief in us we couldn’t have done it. A big thank you to the organisers Baldwins Accountants as well, part of the prize is mentoring and consultancy support from them to see us through the next stage of our development.
It did get us thinking, though, where is the young, emerging talent in our beloved game? I read somewhere that there are more Academy places in the UK than in any other country in the world. It is not just the Premiership clubs which such youth facilities, it goes right down through the professional leagues and into the private sector. Ex-professionals like Lee Hendrie have started their own Academies to help impart knowledge, develop talent and technique, pass on best practice and improve life skills.
But with all this development and support going on, questions have been asked over the last few seasons as to where are the young players coming through? In the Premiership, English players accounted for less than 33% of the playing time last season. We accept that a number of foreigners will have come through the Academy system for that club as teams like Man City, Arsenal and so on recruit from all over the world – but it is only a small minority. Even in the Championship, most teams had less than 65% English players in the squad and an incredible 67 countries were represented (season 2011-12). So where and when are all these young players going to get their chance.
Of course there are exceptions. There is rightly a lot of talk about Southampton’s conveyor belt of talent that has and continues to come through their youth system. From Le Tissier and Shearer to Lallana, Shaw and Ward-Prowse, they not only develop young players but then give them the opportunity and responsibility of playing in the first team. At a lower level, Crewe Alexander have a reputation as a nursery for growing young talent. In the final game of the 2013 season their starting 11 were all academy graduates. I heard a passionate Millwall supporter on 606 recently arguing that established, experienced players were not getting results so why wasn’t the manager using some of the younger players? After all many were local and this was their team so the commitment would be so much greater than the journeymen who had no passion for the club (or words to that effect). The counter argument would probably be that you don’t want to ruin the confidence of a young player by throwing them into a relegation battle. But what confidence is it giving them if they can’t even get into a struggling side?
We all know that after the England World Cup debacle, Roy Hodgson has little option but to turn to the youngsters if we are to stand any chance of seriously competing in Euro 2016. And are we starting to see the tide turn elsewhere. Kane and Mason at Spurs, Ibe and Sterling at Liverpool, McNair and Wilson at Man Utd, Berahino at West Brom have all been given their chance and have grabbed it. So let’s see more of it at club level otherwise what is all the money spent at the Academies for? After all, Alan Hansen’s now infamous quote “You can’t win anything with kids” was proved totally wrong.
We would really love to hear about emerging young players at your club. Let us know who you think will be a future star.