Guest blog time again and the familiar tones of Alex Bain, who looks at all things youth and how difficult it is for young players to make the step from the academy to a professional contract. He also has a swipe at ex-players turned terrible pundits…
During our game at Burnley a few weeks ago, a pundit, in a failed attempt at humour, commented that City’s crosses were too close to Pope and “like all good popes he handles crosses with no problem”.
Nick Pope is from Cambridgeshire, a little place called Soham, and slipped through City’s scouting network. It got me thinking…
I would like to think that as well as attracting young players from Ireland, Germany and Spain – as we have done successfully in the Webber/Farke era – we will also improve the setup for local players. Yes, we have done well of late in that regard, but it would be great if a few more from near ‘home’ came in.
We take the credit for Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey but they started their careers at other clubs – Luton and York – and other players that are mentioned as breakthrough possibilities have been purchased from other clubs.
In the last decade, only a few players have really taken the bull by the horns since Rob Green – namely the Murphy twins and Todd Cantwell. Others have been sold before they have a chance to prove themselves at the club:
- Joe Lewis – sold to Peterborough, now at Aberdeen
- Jed Steer – Aston Villa
- Remi Mathews – Bolton Wanderers
- Conor McGrandles – MK Dons
- Cameron McGeehan – sold to Luton, now at Barnsley
- Tristan Abrahams – free to Newport
- Harry Toffolo – free to Lincoln City
- Sam Kelly – free to Kings Lynn
Of course, there are many more and many left prior to the commencement of the current set-up; some of the above went out on loan more times that they had the chance to play for City, other were just let go, and others were released after prolonged injuries without ever getting their chance.
It’s a fact of footballing life though that all clubs will let youth players go who initially fail to make the grade but who then return to bite you in the backside. I can’t recall too many from City’s released players doing that, but Dion Dublin and John Fashanu certainly went on to have good careers.
But things are different now. Academies now extend their responsibilities far beyond the old-style apprenticeships, with a duty of care that doesn’t focus solely on boot-cleaning and changing-room sweeping. These days, released players will have been offered…
- Financial advice
- Educational qualifications
- Working Skills
- Computer skills
- Life skills
- Interview techniques
Clubs have a responsibility to these young people who have been in their care possibly from the age of 8/9-years-old and know nothing other than the cosseted lifestyle within a football club.
When young players are released it’s tough, not just on them but on their families, who themselves will have invested time and effort and made numerous sacrifices along the way
But there are numerous released players who have gone into non-league football and then found their way back into the professional game. Many have gone on to have great careers including Monday night’s England debutant, Tyrone Mings.
Others who made it via the non-league route include Jamie Vardy, Grahame Roberts, Jimmy Bullard, Michail Antonio, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand to name but a few.
The flip side is those who took a completely different road after rejection and have done time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, while others ended up turning to drink and drugs. Being released either inspires them to try harder or, without the right help, some hit self-destruct.
So being released isn’t the end of their dreams and with the right motivation it can be turned around but those dreams can be a long hard slog and it is only a short but lucrative career at the top end of the game. How they are prepared in their early academy years can affect their life during and after football.
In recent years too many ex-players have been let down by the so-called system, wrongly advised by either their clubs or advisers on how to look after their income. Others struggle to adapt to the loss of ‘celebrity’ status.
And, of course, there are those who, when their playing days reach a natural conclusion, decide to offer us pearls of football wisdom in the name of punditry.
Often it’s those that don’t have the courage to try to be a coach/manager – or have tried and failed – but are still happy to tell all those who listen…
- Where their club has gone or is going wrong
- Where they should spend their money
- What players they should go for
- Who the next manager is going to get the sack
- Who the replacement should be
The tactical analysis is another area they seem to have mastered better than the coaches themselves, always knowing what has gone wrong during a game and how it should have been put right. Hindsight truly is a wonderful gift.
If we all listened to the pundits then Liverpool have already won the title and the Champions League, Man City the Carabao Cup and FA Cups, Spurs with no cups but a top-four finish and Arsenal/Chelsea with no cups but possibly a top 4/5 finish. Sorted.
And… the Law of Danny Murphy tells us Man United, Leicester, Wolves, Everton and West Ham will be fighting for the last position in the top six.
It’s sad when these so-called experts have decided the season’s outcome after just eight games, with clubs in third to eighth already being told that they can’t win the title. Whatever they tell us, it’s still not a given – I can remember Man Ut being 11 points adrift at Xmas and winning it, and even last season Liverpool were seven points clear but managed to lose the title by one point.
So really, what do any of us know? It’s in the laps of the footballing gods. And amen to that.