So much is said nowadays about the development of youth in world football.
The money that goes into grassroots systems varies from country to country and year to year. I ask the question, with regards to the top professional clubs, “is there a right way to develop a footballer?”
Some clubs throughout England and Europe are renowned for their academy products.
While some of the figures may look skewed with players having come from a certain academy playing now in their twilight for another club, the initial success can be noted. I’ll come back to that point.
There are numerous ways that clubs have developed players from their academies, some of which we will note now.
By Conor Carroll – @mrstability
First and foremost is the passage to the first team.
We can draw an example of a direct route to first team football with Southhampton. Although some of the players have moved on as of summer 2014, the club has produced players all over the park. The summer departures of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw saw two of their best and brightest needing to be replaced. James Ward-Prowse has made a step up, while Harrison Reed has played in the midfield also, and Matt Targett, despite the arrival of Ryan Bertrand, has made six impressive appearances so far at left-back.
This drafting of youth players into the first team from the academy is an admirable feat for a club who made a surprising start to the 2014/15 season.
Another notable method, commonly used by Tottenham Hotspur, is the utilisation of the loan window.
Danny Rose, Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend and Harry Kane received their call ups to the England squad recently, and all benefited from numerous loan moves before establishing themselves in their club squad. It’s worth noting, however, that Spurs may find their recent academy successes to dwindle unless they can find someone as ambitious and talented to run the academy as Alex Inglethorpe (who left for Liverpool, managed the under 21 side, and now runs and has massive future plans for the entirety of the academy).
Inglethorpe is utilising the same method of promotion to the first team and making the decision with the first team manager about if they (the players in question) are prepared for the first team. For those who didn’t notice, Liverpool sent a large number of academy products on loan, and called back Jordon Ibe, since January.
The utilisation of loans allows young players to play competitive football at first team level, if just in a weaker league. It does allow for the all needed game time, which obviously people like Harry Kane have benefitted from massively.
The third method I feel is probably the weakest of the three, and risks stagnating the players’ development in a club, is relying solely on the development through the youth leagues at under 19 and under 21 level.
While not many clubs utilise this style, there seems to be a growing reluctance to give youth a chance as the season develops. Some teams don’t seem to use any academy players in the Premiership, which is worrying for the overall sustainability of some of the clubs vying their trade in the top flight of English football.
If not for the massive television deals that have come recently some clubs would struggle to survive in the ever inflating market that is football. The reliance on the youth leagues is seen throughout the league, with those fighting at the bottom relying on experience, and those at the top spending big each transfer window and using stars.
The issue of how to develop a young player varies from club to club, but also player to player. A youngster on the verge of a transfer needs to pick the right club for their career.
There’s no point going to a club if you have virtually no chance of getting into that team. That chance may be given by an injury, but if a club has too many player in that position then that chance will be extremely unlikely. It makes one wonder why a player so coveted like Martin Odegaard would pick a club like Real Madrid over the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal in England, Ajax, and Madrid’s rivals Barcelona.
Money does talk, however.
I don’t think there is a correct way of developing a youth player, as not every player is the same. Some players will need game time sooner, longer rest periods to avoid injuries, more coaching to tame natural ability, whereas some players just might develop until they reach their early twenties and spring into life.
A footballer’s career is so short-lived, but yet the idea of youth development, despite the massive developments in sports science and psychology not all clubs can get it right.
Players make a wrong move and end up transferring to another club because their initial choice wasn’t as it seemed (Denis Suarez from Manchester City to Barcelona). A football federation might invest in other projects instead of youth programmes (Wembley being built whilst the Germans poured a similar amount of money into grassroots football).
There are so many ways a player’s career can develop, but this writer can say with confidence that there is little more exciting in football than watching a young player make their debut and rise to be a star.
What do you think?
Is there a way players should be developed?
Do you like the methods used by your club? Let us know.