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.
The very grass roots of our football is struggling poor grounds, inadequate parking, lack of officials. These young lads aspire to being picked as an academy player to mainly have their dreams quashed, there are very few that make the grade. However at our PL top flight the business of money is grand, wages, transfer fees surely a balance has to be found money needs to drip quicker into our youth they are our footballing future and who knows there could be another Gerrard or Bale waiting to break into the great game.
Forgetting about foreign players for a moment there is an obvious question that springs to my mind, if all the u21 things are a waste of time and totally rubbish where do English players come from? Other than Leeds.
Perhaps the old model of players breaking into lower ranked teams getting established and then moving to a big club and going into their first team works? The present model of teams having huge numbers of players loaned out endlessly certainly seems less than ideal. Not great for player development, especially bad for smaller clubs and to an extent football itself.
Quite what should be done is something we know is being discussed by the powers that be, I won’t hold my breath for them to come up with anything constructive.
In the mean time lets hope Norwich can stay at the top table and enjoy the ride!
Isn’t this the time for wealthier clubs to have partner or feeder clubs in the lower leagues where developing players can play competitive football?
Should we adopt the La Liga model and encourage all teams to play the same style of football?
I thought the Academy was promoting the ‘Norwich way’. The comments from Cameron suggests that isn’t the case here. Why does it work at Arsenal or Man Utd?
The PL and FL needs a new scheme or table where each club receives points for youth development where the players might leave but if they make 10 or more 1st team appearances for a club the club they learned their trade gets points and money at the end of a season.
Gary Field says
Some interesting replies and thoughts.
@1 Anita – facilities are generally poor throughout much of the game. Personally, i think this something that County FA’s should be addressing in conjunction with Local Authority’s across the country.
@2 Paul – there’s little doubt in my mind that the English players are out there. However, it’s the combinations of poor coaching throughout the game (not at academy level) and lack of opportunities generally for players to develop at the highest levels that contribute to our current dire situation within the professional game.
@3 Andy – great idea, but can you really see League One and Two teams buying into that one? I can’t.
@4 Leighton – Whatever scheme you come up with, I think the issue would funding and I just can’t see the Premier League teams agreeing to it.
Colin Mason says
There’s some truth in most of the opinions/ideas suggested. However, should we not look at Acadamies as a ‘breeding’ ground for the whole of football? How many of our ex youngsters have gone on to make good careers elsewhere, many very successfully. Of course very few from all clubs make it to the very top, most players grow in to premiership players, we have a squad full who have done just that. At a game in 2010 in Div 1 away at Orient we had Chris Martin, Korey Smith, Darrel Russell and Ryan Jarvis played for Orient. Certainly league 1 offers greater opportunity but reality is we can buy in from the wider market so only rarely will home grown option suit our manager’s requirements. May be next season League cup: Rudd, Tofollo, Loza, Morris, Murphy twins will get a chance, trouble is we all want to go back to Wembley for a yellow & green Cup Final, now I see the dilemma!
Neil N. Pray says
The £200,000 figure is probably the most relevant. Why would lower league clubs spent huge amounts of time, money and effort making the best of their local talent even better, if they can just be snatched from under their noses for peanuts by a bigger club. It’s a joke, and that’s why the Premier League had to bully the smaller clubs into signing up to it.
It’s nothing to do with nurturing English talent. It’s about the elite protecting their position. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the big fish eat the little ones. It’s morally corrupt, and future of the national game is at stake. I’m far from xenophopic, but I can guarantee I’d care much less about Norwich City if we had a whole team of overseas players. That’s the future of English football if things don’t change.
Gary Field says
@7 Neil – the £200,000 figure (which only applies to Category One status academies) is supposed to represent compensation for the actual costs of the individual player development.
On the one hand it may seem a significant figure for a player who may not have made a single first team appearance. On the other hand, it’s a drop in the ocean for the top clubs, who can hoover up the best talent at Football League clubs for a fairly modest sum.
As you say, it may result in some football league clubs not bothering with running an academy