The shift in how young footballers are developed means they are now required to engage in a ‘footballing education’ before being considered for senior football.
Jacob and Josh Murphy are examples of how, in more recent years, Norwich’s academy and youth development system have produced. I would argue however that the development of young players in football (not just Norwich) has fundamentally failed.
Previously, I have been on the books of Cambridge United and Wroxham and seen first-hand the intensity and pressure put on young players from the age of nine upwards. That said, the footballing education I received made me more football intelligent and enhanced my social skills. Both experiences were dazzling as a child and wonderful experiences.
The thing that perplexes me is the lack of young, home-grown talents we witness gracing the Carrow Road turf; a damning indictment on a youth program that, from the outside, appears to be becoming increasingly irrelevant.
The majority of football supporters would rather see an embedment of young, home grown players nurtured by their club they support – but there are a few factors that, I believe, reduce the chances of academy prospects representing the senior team.
Towards the conclusion of Alex Neil’s era in charge, many supporters were praying for James Maddison, both Murphy’s and other young players be given a chance. Neil never showed faith due to the pressure and the ever rising axe being held above his head. In times of crisis he invariably looked to tried and tested footballers.
And in all honesty, who can blame him?
Manager pressure has a huge impact on youth development. Unless they are given assurances and have a desire to build a club, young players won’t ever be gambled upon.
Also, the age in which players are introduced into the senior team is increasing. A decade ago, players like Wayne Rooney were introduced at 17 – albeit Rooney was an exceptional example – but on the whole between 18-21 was the threshold for young players to be deployed in the first team.
Now that age has risen to between 20-23 and suddenly players are being educated with numerous loan moves. Football has become a harsher business. If a player is in that age bracket and is representing the under-23 side regularly, he won’t make it at Norwich City. That’s a sad reality.
Even when players are given an opportunity it’s still a long journey to regular senior football for Norwich City – as Jamar Loza, the Jarvis brothers and Joe Lewis discovered,.
If you’re technically brilliant, the bigger fish drown out the smaller fish with irresistible offers for exceptionally gifted players – Norwich included (Maddison, Godfrey, Adams…).
For Norwich, the season approaching see’s Harry Toffolo and Declan Rudd drinking in the last chance saloon, however, but what realistic chance do they have? The club is almost certain to invest in a more experienced left back and on that basis Toffolo, for me, epitomises what has been an incredibly poor decade for City’s youth development.
A local lad with an Italian heritage, Toffolo was a member of the under-18 side who beat Chelsea to lift the FA Youth Cup at Stamford Bridge but, since this achievement, is still to make a start for the Canaries in the league.
Toffolo, at 21, is at an age in which he needs to further his education by playing regular games for City, and has played 64 games on loan for four different clubs. For me he needs to be embedded into this City side, not least because he ticks the young, hungry and passionate box Stuart Webber strives to tick.
For Rudd, at 26, his Norwich career is hanging by a thread and he needs to impress Farke to be the number one goalkeeper.
Despite the club’s constant efforts to retain the Category One Academy status, the players aren’t coming through to the first-team. The finances to maintain the academy are crucial, but to ensure that is translated to home-grown talent being played, more players must be embedded as they reach the conclusion of the footballing education period – which means being placed on loan.
For a young player to represent a professional football club is a huge source of pride. To play for any club is special, to play for Norwich as a Norfolk born young person is the dream that I, and so many supporters, share.
Norwich, though, continuously overlook Norfolk and have casted a much wider net to attract top talent. In my opinion, whatever the necessity, this is desperately sad but it has served to strengthen Norfolk and north Suffolk’s non-league sides, which are inundated with former City youth players.
This is why it’s crucial to bridge the gap. To ensure players get a fair crack at what is already a very harsh profession.
Players treat the club with devotion and hard work and now it’s time for the football club to share that and look to embrace young talent into this regime, which, under Daniel Farke, seems inevitable.
Norwich once had a conveyer belt of talent players such as Craig Bellamy, Robert Green and Darren Eadie. Young players and academy prospects still deserve a chance in the first-team.
Let’s introduce them once more.