I see that popular theme of the moment was raised again – the number of players in the England squad who started in the premier league games was 9? Perhaps they should be forced to put Gibbs in the squad to get the quota up?
I am not sure if the new commission have thought it through, with this idea that at least 3 homegrown players should start every EPL game. Do they not realise that the big money clubs will simply buy up all the best young talent, so instead of the talent being spread around, it will be concentrated in fewer clubs, and although 3 may play, you can guarantee that at least 3 or 4 others will be sitting on the sidelines?
Where will that leave the game in 5 years time?
Not only that, can you imagine the divisions and rifts it will cause if a club has its best homegrown players injured and has to use a 3rd tier player to fill in, at the expense of one of their really talented imports? In reality what is more likely to happen is the bigger clubs will simply lose a substitute or two and haul off anybody who is not there on merit?
That is the real point. We want homegrown players to be in our top sides on merit
So, perhaps the size of these academies should be looked at?. Then look at the period after the young players who sign their first schoolboy, then by the time they are 16, govern more closely where they move on to at 18 or 19. If these academies were given a rating for their development skills, and getting players into their first team for a minimum number of matches, then they were have their quota raised for their junior entrants, and more important, clubs that fail to upgrade their juniors into their first team, have their their opportunities to cream off the best also cut.
So, you begin by setting up a limit of how many players academies can have in the first place. Arsenal for instance, have around 80+ under 18’s.. This may well be a reflection of what the club can afford, but does it give all those the same opportunity than if they were in smaller units spread around? Then you have the ratio of those juniors which have been selected from their immediate area from the age of 9 through to age 16 and their first contracts, against those that are imported aged 16-18+?
This to me is the first stage of the imbalance that worries football chiefs. Do the locals really get squeezed out, or are the foreign player simply better coached at an early stage, and thus show more potential by the time they reach the time to sign professional forms? If it is the former then they can negate that by quotas. If, as seems evident in most cases, it is the latter, then we lose talent that could strengthen the premier league status to other country’s leagues, and without addressing the fundamental problem of coaching skills?
My proposal would be to do a full background check on clubs throughout the league, not just the premier division. See how is it, that a smaller income club like Southampton can be so successful, it appears, in all respects, than say some clubs who have bigger resources, who do relatively little in terms of progressing youngsters? May be like Arsenal, they can distort the final figure of successfully trained juniors into first team players by the huge numbers they process? It is not that simple of course. A club like Arsenal will attract a large number of aspiring youngsters that simply do not have the required talent, and may not be good enough to break into even a lower league side?
But how, if at all, are these clubs assessed?
I quoted the figure from Coventry’s academy recently, that 11 of the 18 players in the squad that beat Wimbledon AFC in the FA Cup game were homegrown, most had been there since the age of 9. If it were not for their 10 point penalty, they would be 4th in Division 1. They must be doing something right, and others less so?
Moving on to more general assessment. It should be able to get a figure from all the clubs of what %age of the clubs income is spent on development of young players, and from that how many players each club will then coach from all divisions. You then can have a better idea who is doing it right with regards to getting players to first contract level?
With all that in place you can also have from the basic quota of the numbers of players that are in the system from the %age of income, and can adjust that according to success rates. Up and Down!
Remember this is throughout the league, and at the bottom end clubs do not have the finances to run large academies, or even the successful ones being able to expand if they are given an increased quota if they are not one of the mega rich clubs.
This is where I feel the massive income from TV sources should be used. So a successful but not a club but not with a large fan base or income, could be allocated X millions to fund another 10 places for quality players to get the best coaching right through until they are able to sign professional contracts age 18. The lower league clubs could get similar assistance so every local club has the facilities in place to coach youngsters no matter where they live. But they will be assessed on the quality of their coaching. Indeed, if this money is spent wisely, using techniques that are implemented at the best clubs, by paying these ‘best clubs’ to train and educate new coaches. Particularly the lower league clubs who run really good academies, would have openings for these newly trained coaches who have working experience as well as their merit badges? Many of these people will be ex-footballers, who going through a properly funded system where they learn from the best, will then be our future skilled managers?
That brings us to ‘Best Practice’
What determines best practice? Each club, and it’s manager, will have a favoured style of play which they want to instil into players that go on to have a future at their club. But before that, the basics that are worked, over and above precocious early talent. Techniques of ball control, passing and team work, are the fundamentals that good coaches should be able to get right, long before formations and style of play come into it?
The clubs that take in huge numbers of youngsters, and turn the average 8 or 9 year old into a good footballers, and the very talented into top class ones, are the models the commission should be looking at. Rather than the clubs who simply scout their adjacent clubs and cream off the best ones. This will simply distort their performance of improving techniques, by just adding a bit to the most talented? This does not mean all big clubs are not models for best practice. However, if thoroughly skilled coaches were spread over more clubs, even if not directly funded by the clubs themselves, it could open up diversity where the kids could see where they are best suited, before they get into club allegiance? There could be teams of coaches who visit clubs on a regular basis to do coaching sessions, which the clubs can back up themselves. I thinking here at very grass root level of non-league clubs, who with the best will in the world cannot employ highly qualified coaches. But the aim is to have as many clubs assist their local children in giving them the best football education, without having to travel miles and miles, before they know if they want to pursue it further?
Monitoring young players.
It is important to know if what is being done, is working the way it is intended. By the time players reach 14 or 15 their natural talent beyond technique should have revealed itself. They are now on schoolboy forms which makes the follow up easier. However, players that leave the system should also have an input in case it is something that can be corrected, and they can continue their interest in playing. There may be a shortage of local clubs, referees, or even pitches to play on, which another area where centralised funding could help?
The breakthrough years between 16-21 are where the pressures and disappointments start to surface. But if these players are monitored and assessed, and the players have had an input, the quality players with an abundance of natural talent, and years of the best coaching practice behind them, should be able to find clubs to employ them professionally.
Only then, when all this is in place, can you say to clubs who they should or shouldn’t play. In the meantime, perhaps those clubs that horde quality youngsters could be given a push with a ‘use them or lose them’ ultimatum? So 16 year old not getting a minimum number of games appropriate to their talent or age should be made available to other clubs who can claim a shortage of top young talent, if they meet the criteria of being models of best practice.
Opportunity, not money, should be the guiding principle?
Written by: Gerry.