In Sports, Academies are considered as schools where a talent is converted into a polished finished products. When a parent takes a call to send their kids to an academy the hope and expectation is that the coaches are professionals and they will give you an honest opinion about your kid and will let you know if he can make it or not. Once you are past that phase, you leave it the professional coaches to mould them into a professional player.
From a club’s perspective, an academy is a catchment zone where you recruit talented kids and turn them into professional player who can serve your first team and save you millions in the market. You will always have majority of players who will not make it but earn the club compensation to keep the cycle going on. You expect the academy to not only know these players sporting capability, but also their character to make the call to either retain or sell them.
I have started to question this entire process last season with respect to Arsenal Academy. The one player who has thrown this logic out of window has been Joe Willock. Joe has been in Arsenal academy since he was 6 I think. He has been through many years across all age groups with multiple professional coaches. They would have seen his abilities and you would think moulded his play and earmarked him as a player in a particular position. These professional coaches would have built the bridge with the first team coach on a regular basis and know the style of footballers that are needed for the first team. Yet we have a situation where Joe needs a team like Newcastle and coach like Steve Bruce to get the best out of him. 8 goals in 15 Pl games from midfield when our own midfield had 5 goals across all competition. How can a new team get the best out our player who has been with us for ages while we couldn’t? What’s worrying is that even now there is confusion about Joe’s first team position, our midfield setup and whether to move him on or not. We have essentially devalued our own asset with our inability.
What exasperates this issue further is the inability to asses a player who has been with Arsenal since the age of 6 and unable to find a place in the first team. You would have thought the academy coaches and first team managers are in constant touch to evaluate which players fit in which position. This is not an isolated case and you can draw a parallel with what is happening to AMN, Eddie and Nelson. The inability to identify these players best position, mould them and being able to utilize them in the first team is a serious indictment on the Academy and First team manager.
I think it’s time to start critically looking at Arsenal Academy, the methods used to identify, coach a young players best position, communication channels with First team’s playing needs, being able to course correct the Academy coaching and finally to move them on early if they are deemed not up to standards.
Let me know your opinion fellow Gooners.