THE GLASS CEILING OF YOUTH FOOTBALL

By in Governance, Health & Fitness, People & Places

Saturday 7th October

There is clearly some kind of “glass ceiling” when it comes to Youth Football in England and I believe the FA Youth Cup is an obvious representation of this.

Let Me Explain.

The FA Youth Cup is arguably the most prestigious Youth competition England has to offer. With a rich history of winners going on to be legends of the game such as the famed “Class of 92” of Manchester United featuring the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. The competition has been seen as a preview of which players in the academy system are potentially future first team players.

Every team wants to win it to;

1) Prove their academy is the best in the nation and

2) Use it as a stepping stone for the young gems in the system who excel in this competitive environment.

Unfortunately, I believe the last decade has seen the “development” aspect of the competition be diminished.

It seems as though the “business” of football at first team level has now filtered down to the Academy level with clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City dominating the tournament in recent years by acquiring the best of youth talent from abroad and domestically, poaching players from surrounding academies in order to create “Super Teams”.

From an outside perspective, it looks like the objective is just to secure the trophy and not further the development of young prospects. Since 2008, there have only been a few players to win the competition and become a regular in their parent clubs 1st team. The first of those was Jack Wilshere, he was the standout player of the final vs Liverpool and was duly rewarded with his first team debut at just 16 years of age, Arsenal’s youngest ever debutant. He went on to make a further 7 appearances that season including in the Champions League before even signing his professional contract.

For me, I believe that was the last time a player had shown promise within the tournament and been duly rewarded with a step up to the first team.

In that time period, there have been a number of players who have won the tournament and proven that they are good enough to play at the highest level – just not by their parent club. My case in point would be Manchester United’s 2011 team who stormed their way to a record 10th win in the competition. A vastly talented side containing the likes of Michael Keane, Ravel Morrison, Jesse Lingard and of course Paul Pogba. 6 years removed from that win, on paper those names being on the books of Manchester United would look like the next generation of starlets at the Theatre Of Dreams. But it wasn’t to be.

Let’s take a closer look at it, I want to analyse 2 out of the 4 aforementioned players.

The first player being Michael Keane, a lack of first team opportunities led Keane to move to Burnley on a permanent basis in 2014 and has since become one of the Premier League’s best defenders, ever present in the Burnley back 4 and more recently an England international. With United’s constant defensive problems when it comes to both injuries and consistency Keane would have been a very valuable asset for them.

The second being Paul Pogba, although he is now a Manchester United player after United paid Juventus a record-breaking £89million for his services he had to go to Italy to show them what they were missing out on. Some would say the move to Juventus made him a more cultured player, honing his talents under Conte and Allegri but as someone who was at that Youth Cup final he stood out as a player who possessed that “IT” factor that could make him a star. Unfortunately for whatever reason Alex Ferguson didn’t see it that way, opting to play Right Back Raphael in midfield ahead of him which in turn caused him to leave feeling hard done by and unappreciated. Whilst United had been struggling, in his time away he became a serial winner, dominating Serie A and even making the FIFA Team Of The Year alongside Messi and Ronaldo.

United missed out on the opportunity to bring up potentially the best young midfielder in the world and instead had to dig deep into their financial pit in order to reclaim a player they could’ve had for free at this point.

Funny how the game of football can be.

Another example is Chelsea. They recently let Dominic Solanke, a key component to their Youth success go to Liverpool for what can’t be more than chicken change to them but if he turns out to be a prolific scorer at first team as he had been at all Youth levels then the egg is on Chelsea’s face. After winning best player at the U-20 World Cup this summer – an award won by Maradonna and Messi, his stock is already rising. If he reaches the level that he is projected in his career having not being given a chance at Chelsea, it is almost a criminal offence – not only on a footballing level but also on a business level if one day his price tag is multi-million.

I say all of that to say this.

As we’re in this period of clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City dominating the FA Youth Cup, showcasing the best young talent the country has to offer I urge them to consider one thing. If there’s a player that stands out, give them a chance as they could become a valuable asset. I understand that it’s in a lot of these clubs business model to bring in young players, build them up and sell them on for a decent amount but how much more valuable would they be if they turned out to be good components within the squad.

There are player’s within the academy’s competing in the Youth Cup showing they could be the next star within their club and that’s beneficial for both the fan base and the board room as the fans have a home-grown player they can latch onto and the board can save millions not buying a foreign player who is just as much an unknown quantity to the Premier League as an Academy player.

I want to see the youngsters get an opportunity to play, not just cameos but a real run of games. They deserve to be given a chance.

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