Terrace chanting has always been a big part of football. Its humour and sharp wit can be legendary. At other times it’s more a case of, “something not to repeat at the dinner table” on a Saturday evening!
The simple ones are usually the best, which is why there’s something deeply satisfying, a warm tingling feeling, when the Snakepit, comes out with one of my favourites; “he’s one of our own.”
Recent renditions of this particular ode have been fairly limited; reserved for when the likes of Josh Murphy, or Jamar Loza, are going through their warm up routine on the touchline.
When it does happen, which seems rather too infrequently these days, I think to myself, “there you go, that’s what your ten pounds a month academy donation gets you.”
I jest, in part, of course.
Yet, when Cameron McGeehan suggested recently, following his transfer from Norwich to Luton, that under-21 football is a “graveyard for players”, questions inevitably have to be asked.
For those who may have missed it, Cameron also added, “it’s not a good standard of football, it’s slow and there’s not much to it. The game is not the same; it’s completely different to playing in the League where it’s real.”
Harsh words? Yes, perhaps. Yet it’s worth reflecting that these words come from someone who’s been at the sharp end of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
For those who need reminding, the EPPP is the Premier League’s ‘long term strategy designed to take Premier League youth development to the next level’.
It was, if you believe what they say, the result of consultation between the Premier League and its clubs, representatives of the Football League, the Football Association and other key football stakeholders.
Sounds great doesn’t it? All parties within the game “singing from the same hymn sheet” for the good of the game and, more importantly, supposedly, the national team.
But, let’s park the politics behind the reasons for EPPP being set up – which could be another article itself – and concentrate purely on the footballing issues.
The EPPP was intended to establish a structured and fully financed programme for youth development, with strict guidelines on coaching and the education of players. Academies were then graded according to established criteria.
Its focus is on youth player development, with the aim of seeking to bridge the gap – no, not that gap – between the youth team (which previously ended at eighteen) and first team football.
Surely, that’s a commendable objective?
Well, not all think so. I recently heard one ex-Norwich footballer, who came through the pre academy youth ranks as a trainee, suggest that all the current set up does is defer the release of players, who are never likely to make the grade, another three years, from 18 to 21.
The right age to release players is, perhaps, a moot point. Player development clearly varies from player to player and, whilst the very best may be ready for first team football at 18, for many it’s probably a year or two later.
There’s also the thorny issue opportunity to consider. Most managers will try to develop their squad on the basis of two experienced players per position. An academy player will probably have at least two senior players already competing for their position.
Football is naturally a competitive game and, when your club is completing at the highest level, whether in the Championship or the Premier League, it’s understandable why very few managers are brave enough to risk an inexperienced, academy player, rather than a seasoned old pro.
So, if the odds are stacked so much against the academy player, is the whole EPPP programme worth continuing?
Category One status may give the club the opportunity to source players beyond the original 90 minute travel distance rule, but, it comes at a huge price tag, suggested to be in excess of £2 million a year.
That’s a relatively modest sum if you’re an established Premier League team with an annual turnover in the region of £100 million each year as it’s about two percent of your annual turnover. However, it’s a totally different matter if you’re a regular Championship team, struggling with annual losses and a much reduced turnover in the region of £12 to £15 million each year.
It strikes me that the price tag of Category One status is just too huge for many Championship clubs to contemplate. And that’s before you even consider the current, relatively modest, compensation rates payable, should one of the bigger clubs want to acquire an academy player from another club for less than £200,000.
My fear is, in a few years time, the current number of Category One will reduce, probably to in the region of 12 to 15 clubs. Many Football League clubs are, seemingly, currently being forced to rethink their approach to academy football.
If that happens, with the top resources focused on fewer clubs, the whole ethos behind youth team player development will take a huge step backwards.
Irrespective of who you support, that surely can’t be for the overall good of the game, whether at national or club level.