Josh and Jacob Murphy have been dominating the early season headlines as far as all things Norwich City are concerned.
And rightly so.
We’ve all been hoping that some of the players from the side that won the 2013 FA Youth Cup would eventually begin to make their mark on the first-team in a significant and sustained manner.
It’s still early days but the Murphy lads are beginning to do that.
I still think that the club’s achievement in winning the trophy that year has been somewhat unheralded outside of the confines of Carrow Road.
It was, for me, a feat not far short of that achieved by Leicester City with their triumph in the Premier League last season.
Not, lest I be accused of hyperbole, on the same seismic scale. Yet, in its own modest way, equally impressive and unexpected. And, like that of the Foxes, a win that came against all odds and expectations.
English football clubs takes the FA Youth Cup very seriously. With the size and financial commitment some have given to their respective academies, they have to.
Liverpool won the trophy in 2006. In the ten seasons in which the contest has been played since then, the FA Youth Cup – the symbol of English football’s elite youth – has been won by Chelsea on five separate occasions plus a second success for Liverpool and one each for Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Plus Norwich City.
See what I mean by it being an unexpected success – one that, perhaps, deserved a little more praise and recognition from the wider footballing world than it ultimately got?
Yet, of course, all of that comes to nought unless some of the players who were involved in winning the trophy go on to bigger and better things in the game. And, ideally, with the same club they first experienced that intoxicating first taste of victory with.
But it doesn’t always happen like that. In fact it’s the exception rather than the rule.
The two most well known names from the Liverpool side that won the competition a decade ago are possibly Jay Spearing and Jack Hobbs.
Spearing made 30 appearances for the Reds but is now playing in League One with Bolton Wanderers. Hobbs, a player once spoken about in the same revered tones now reserved for John Stones, made just two senior appearances for Liverpool and is now with Nottingham Forest. He isn’t even a product of the Liverpool Academy however, having been ‘poached’ from Lincoln City’s when he was sixteen.
Liverpool won the trophy again a year later, beating a Manchester United team that included Danny Drinkwater in their ranks. Spearing was now the captain, someone who was expected to have a long and glittering Anfield future ahead of him.
And yes, 30 senior appearances for Liverpool is respectable. But it isn’t going to earn him a place in any future mural that might surround Anfield. Spearing could go on to have a good career in the game, he might even re-emerge as a Premier League player one day. But it won’t be at Liverpool.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have now been tipped to make a bid in excess of £20million in order to prise Drinkwater ‘home’ from Leicester in January.
No wonder the top clubs are as reluctant to let their best young players go on the cheap as they are to play them in the first place. Drinkwater’s emergence as an England international and Premier League title winner has embarrassed them. Or at least whoever it was who sanctioned his move to Leicester, then a Championship side, back in 2012.
Maybe that’s why Chelsea held on to Ryan Bertrand for so long? They knew he was good; they must have as they sanctioned nine different loan moves for him from 2006 to 2015, hoping, no doubt, he’d eventually either prove himself worthy of a starting place or be sold for a eight figure sum rather than, in the case of Drinkwater, end up virtually being given away.
As it was, the Blues eventually got £10million for him. Yet he’d needed to be called up to the full England side as well as play in, and win, a Champions League final to earn that value and end up, eventually, being a success as far as their academy was concerned.
That same academy which, of course, couldn’t raise its game enough to beat Norwich in that 2013 FA Youth Cup final.
Reuben Loftus-Cheek is the one player from the Chelsea teams that played against us in that final who looks as if he has a more than decent chance of having a very good career at the top level. Yet he’s now 20 and has, in just over two seasons, still only made 16 senior appearances for them. Is he going to be another Bertrand; someone who does the rounds and impresses enough, eventually, with other clubs to eventually earn Chelsea a semi decent transfer fee for his services?
If that happens, then their academy will, again, have deemed to have done its job. Because, as I have written before, their academy, our academy and all of the others across the country, will not be judged on the players they produce for their own first teams but the number of players they produce who go on to have a career in the professional game as a whole.
With the benefits to the parent club not being the number of appearances they make at first-team level but the money they ultimately make them in terms of transfer fees coming into the club.
Cameron McGeehan, the captain of the Norwich City side that beat Chelsea in that final three years ago, is a perfect example of that. Luton paid Norwich a very decent sum for his services last year and, with McGeehan now attracting more than serious attention from a number of Championship sides, Norwich will, when he does move on again (and don’t bet against him lining up against us in a league game before the end of the season) benefit again by the sell-on fee that will almost certainly have been included as part of the original deal.
If all of this makes the top clubs’ academies seem nothing more than factories dedicated to churning out footballers then that is because that is exactly what they are. And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter who they end up playing for.
Providing, that is, they make their parent club a nice little profit when they leave.
Which is why the emergence of the Josh and Jacob Murphy as serious and clearly very talented first-team players for Norwich City this season should be celebrated.
Because they are not only bucking the trend, they are putting it through the shredder. And, even at this relatively early stage in their careers, being seen as proof positive that our academy can do exactly what the clubs’ supporters want to see it doing – producing first-team footballers for Norwich City.
With their obvious delight at having done so making the whole story so much more of an enjoyable one for everyone concerned.
And yet, and yet…
… if they continue to progress in the game at the rate they have imposed themselves on it so far, it is inevitable that, one day, we will end up having to fight off some very big financial offers for them from bigger and wealthier clubs.
And if, somewhere down the theoretical line, that interest becomes a bid and that bid ends up being accepted, then the club’s academy will really and truly have done its job properly.
Even if that is something few of us will welcome or celebrate.