The short term decisions at clubs like Chelsea, Man U and Man City are killing the long term aspirations of talented young players.
For all the FA, Premier League and English clubs promise of investing and valuing youth development there has been a constant issue and concern when it comes to the goal of youth development. For some clubs it appears that success at youth level means winning trophies, yet surely it should be about how many players become professional? As this article will discuss, it is integrating them into the first team which matters most.
When Roman Abramovich arrived at Chelsea he created a new superpower in England and across Europe. He sought to buy the best talent around and his goal was clear; to win every trophy possible. Now with this kind of mentality it is often very hard to seek to integrate young players into a team with such lofty ambitions. Especially when your manager is Jose Mourinho who often shows a distrust of youth because they are often liable to errors. Chelsea’s problem appears simply to be an inability or lack of will to provide young players with opportunities for the first team.
It is not like the talent is not there yet the lack of stability with the management means that unlike Alex Ferguson, it is very hard to show patience and allow time to integrate and progress. Expectations at Chelsea are viewed in the short term which results in young talent being neglected.
As the NextGen series showed Chelsea do have talent in their youth system. And many of those are English. It’s pleasing to see that players like Davey, Pappoe, Kevin Wright, Lewis Baker and Ruben Loftus have been at the club since they were between 9-12 years old. This certainly shows that Chelsea are doing something well in regards to their development of youth. Even players like Adam Nditi and Jeremie Boga who are not of English nationality have been at the club since 2008.
However, although Chelsea’s academy can be regarded as one of Europe’s best and in terms of facilities and coaching it is, what is the point of having a youth academy if you do not attempt to produce players for your first team? If Chelsea’s youth development is so impressive then it begs the question as to why there are so few youth academy prospects breaking into the first team.
Chelsea’s Second Tier
In recent years there have been a couple of English players such as Josh Mceachran and Ryan Bertrand who have come through the academy. Bertrand actually was at Gillingham till 16 so cannot be said to really be a ‘product’ of Chelsea unlike Mceachran who has been at Chelsea since he was seven.
The concern of Chelsea’s integration policy can be seen best by Mceachran. When he first came on to the scene the attention he received was high. Lampard spoke highly of his intelligence and creativity and it appeared that Chelsea had produced a player who would be given a chance in the first team. Yet four years later and he is now on loan at MIddlesborough after experiencing a poor time in Swansea with Brendan Rodgers.
For all his potential he has not been given the opportunity these past few years to continue his development and because of this he has not progressed. The truth is that between the ages of 16-21 these players will not progress to the levels they have shown to reach if they are not given the opportunity and experience to do so. The most important aspect of becoming a player at this age is to play.
Dermot Drummy guided Chelsea Under-19s to the final of the NextGen Series and has demanded that British kids are finally given a proper chance at Stamford Bridge. He has seen young stars such as Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah sent out on loan, and Drummy claims his youngsters cannot keep being blocked by expensive foreign signings. “It’s difficult because Chelsea will buy ready-made players,” said Drummy. “But the bottom line is you’ve got to produce a player. There is a second tier now, where the lads like Nathaniel and Josh tend to go out on loan. But there has to be a pathway and opportunities, in my opinion, for the young British players to get a chance.”
The problem at Chelsea is that because they have an owner who demands immediate success and who is unwilling to be patient and give his managers time to develop and plan for the future. And there is a Director of Football who has a large chest of money which he is happy to spend on some of Europe’s brightest young talent in players such as; Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Oscar and David Luiz. These are exceptional players yet it appears Chelsea have no vision or plan in terms of their transfer policy, it looks like they are simply hoarding players.
Therefore if you are a young Chelsea academy player and you see players like Lukaku (bought for £20m) going out on loan then you to ask how likely it is that they will become a Chelsea player. Players like Lewis Baker who is clearly a talented player will be wasted by staying at Chelsea.
And this is what makes the news of Kasey Palmer being signed by Chelsea this week from Charlton all the more worrying. Chelsea have purchased Palmer for £200k which could rise to £800k based on appearances. However does Palmer have any chance of making it at Chelsea. The odds are very slim and so surely it would have been better for him to stay at Chalrton, where opportunity would be more forthcoming?
The Bright Lights Ruin Careers
In 2006 Chelsea bought Leeds academy players Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods for a total of £5m when they were both 16 years old. The issue involved allegations of over 'tapping up' from Chelsea that led to a court case and Chelsea agreed to pay Leeds £5million to settle the matter. However £5m does not guarantee success, especially when moving to Chelsea. Both players found opportunities limited and they quite simply stopped progressing.
As Taiwo says; ‘You see boys who weren't rated at 16 who at 23 are playing for England. Chris Smalling, he was playing non-League. Now he's a top player with Manchester United and England. It makes a mockery of the academy system, shows it is not the be-all and end-all. Boys like myself have been right through the system and now I'm nowhere near his standard. That's the worry.'
They also found the situation difficult in terms of being away from their families. These players are still kids and yet I think when our academy players turn 15 too much is expected of them too early. If youth development was thought of more up to 21 years then I am positive that we could develop more players.
Both Taiwo and Woods are now playing for Hibernian and Harrogate, which would highlight a serious problem of moving to one of the‘rich’ clubs. A lack of opportunity, the pressure to justify a big price tag and a failure to understand that these young lads are still developing and still require support. Chelsea therefore appear an ‘academy’ which promotes career suicide. My advice for a player at Chelsea would be to move to a club like Palace or Watford and develop there, because at least these clubs need and want to develop youth.
Nick Powell, now at Man Utd is a perfect example of why staying at a lower league is the best option. Powell joined Crewe as young lad and at 16 he made his debut for the first team in August 2010 becoming the second youngest player to play for Crewe. Between 2010 and 2012 he was given opportunity to play and develop and in total played 55 games for the club. His performances in 2011/12 particuarly alerted many to his potential, enough so that Man Utd bought him for £4m in the summer of 2012. Imagine if Powell had left Crewe at 16, would he have got the opportunity to play and develop with a Premier League side like he did at Crewe? Not a chance. Therefore it appears near essential that young players should be given opportunities in a comfortable environment between 15-18 at least in order to keep developing.
Buying Up The Best Talent Yet Any First Team Action?
The same problem can be seen at Man City. Vast wealth and unlimited resources has allowed them to go around Europe and pick up the brightest talent around. Nationality has become irrelevant and as their first team shows, being English is not relevant.
City have been scouring the world for young talent as they seek to build a squad for the future. Karim Rekik signed for Manchester City from Feyenoord in the summer of and set a club record when he turned out for the last 12 minutes of the Carling Cup win over Birmingham, aged 16 years 294 days. Marcos Lopez, a Brasil born attacking midfielder cost the Blues around £790,000. Lopez is a Portugal under-16 and under-17 international and was snapped up from the Benfica youth ranks as a 15-year-old. Jules Olivier Ntcham was one of the most promising youngsters in France and was the captain of France's U-16 squad.
Perhaps the two biggest signings that City have made have been the Spanish players Denis Suarez and Jose Angel Pozo. Suárez signed for Manchester City on 23 May 2011. Manchester City beat off interest from Barcelona, Chelsea and rivals Manchester United signing him from Celta Vigo for an initial fee of £850,000 that could rise by £2.75 million depending on appearances and performances. And in Pozo Manchester City showed their financial clout by paying Real Madrid £3.5m for the 15-year-old starlet. The deal could eventually be worth £5million. Yet can you see City really integrating young academy players into the first team? Even Suarez has struggled to break through.
Perhaps the case of John Guidetti highlights the problems with big teams integrating young players. In April 2008, at the age of sixteen, he signed a three-year deal with City. Although he showed his quality in the youth ranks, he was not given a chance in the first team. A loan move to Feynoord last season proved his talents scoring 20 goals in 23 games for the Dutch club and many City fans have shown a desire to have him become a part of City’s senior team. Yet there is not a chance he will be given a go at City. If these players do not play then what chance do they really have? As Twente chairman Joop Munsterman said regarding Guidetti “The most important thing for a young player like Guidetti is that he plays a lot of games”.
Bridging The Gap – A Need for Experience And Opportunity
Personally I think players should seek a move to sides to the Championship in order to further their development and receive the opportunities of playing. Tom Ince is a great example of a player who moved to the Championship and whose career has excelled and blossomed because of it. His time at Liverpool surely gave him a good foundation yet playing continually at Blackpool between the ages of 19 and 21 (he has played 85 games for Blackpool) has certainly aided his development.
Would he have got this at Liverpool? Not to this level. At Chelsea or Man City, never.
Moving ‘down’ actually made Ince a better player and my advice to players at Chelsea and City would be to ask for two or three year loans or simply to be transferred to sides like Palace, Blackpool or Charlton in order to develop and fulfil their potential.
The truth is that outside of the Premier League the majority of clubs across Europe are reliant on producing their own players. Unlike the top English sides they simply can’t buy players, which means they have to work hard to make sure they develop good players.
We have seen already that sides like Southampton, Crystal Palace and Crewe have had to develop players these past few years in order to keep competitive in the league and to make profit from them when sold on. Youth development therefore is not a ‘bit of fun’ like Chelsea and Man City appear to treat it yet a key and fundamental aspect to secure the long term future of the club.
The top clubs in the Premier League are doing a disservice to the English game by not creating more opportunities for players to develop. Through selfish gain the owners and business men have marketed the Premier League to be the best and many have benefitted from the TV deals and high wages. These big clubs appear to be selfishly ruining players careers.
I have no idea why clubs like City and Chelsea feel the need to ‘hoard’ players. Perhaps they want to show off their impressive youth teams or they don’t want others to get these players. Yet why take in youth players if there is no intention of playing them in the senior team? It is a disservice to the players and English football that genuine talent is being wasted. Although these players may be financially secure, how many of these players are being wasting because they are being denied the opportunity to develop?
This article was taken from “The Failure of Youth Development in the Premier League” from The Whitehouse Address blog. For the full article click here.
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