The FA Youth Cup seems to have become the sole preserve of Chelsea FC.
There’s some irony in there I reckon. A club that hasn’t appeared to give the proverbial two hoots for the young players it has coming through the ranks dominating the competition with players that will, ultimately, become part of the flotsam and jetsam of football; previously owned and immaculate young men looking for another club and opportunity or even, in some cases, another career.
Chelsea have contested every final since 2012 and have won four of them; that sole exception being in 2013 when, against all the odds, their equivalents from Norwich, as immaculate but maybe not quite as pampered, saw them off to the tune of 4-2 in the two-legged final.
Given the domination of the elite clubs in the tournament over the last two decades or so that achievement by Neil Adams, his coaching staff and the players who they led to glory is on a par with Leicester City’s triumph in the Premier League last season.
Logically, the Foxes had no chance, no right to even assume they could win it. But they did.
The same applied to us, albeit at that far lower and less high profile level in 2013.
A win that can be attributed to, amongst other things, coaching excellence, team work and togetherness, plus a real belief in both themselves and their teammates.
A win, I guess, for the core principles of football.
A shame, therefore, that Adams has been shuffled off into a non-role as ‘loans manager’, whatever that means. I’m sure the club can wheel out some spin to make it sound a viable and important one but, even if it is, I can’t, for the life of me see why someone who is clearly an excellent coach at that level – one of the very best even – is not being utilised in a similar role.
It sounds more a role for a footballing bureaucrat; a man in a business suit rather than a tracksuit.
Sooner or later, another club will come calling for Adams with their own academy in mind. That or the FA.
In fact I’d go as far to say as I’ll be very surprised if he is still with us by the end of next season.
But back to that competition he and his side won…
Since 2000, victory in the tournament has gone to one of the ‘big clubs’ on twelve different occasions. That’s Chelsea (5), Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United (2 each) and Manchester City.
Even when they haven’t won it, one of those clubs has been runner-up a total of seven times.
So big academies and big budgets equals lots of success in the tournament. It isn’t rocket science. Except when we broke the monopoly. The club that managed to do that prior to ourselves was Ipswich Town back in 2005.
In the modern era, Chelsea first won the competition back in 2010.
So you’d be right to think that the core of those players, all aged between 16-18 at the time, would now be reaching their peak in the professional game. Mid-twenties and all to play for; the sort of aspirations and ambitions that hold no bounds.
Amongst the players who played and starred for Chelsea on that night are Conor and Billy Clifford, both of who are presently playing non-league football for Boreham Wood, and Aziz Deen-Conteh who is currently with Zaria Balti in Moldova.
Not forgetting goalkeeper Sam Walker, now at Colchester United who has also had spells with Barnet, Northampton, Yeovil and Bristol Rovers.
Oh the glamour!!
But at least they’re still playing. More to the point, at least they still want to play and will go anywhere they are given an opportunity to do so. My respect for Deen-Conteh is immense. Born in Sierra Leone, he joined Chelsea when he was just seventeen, had a spell playing on loan in Greece after Chelsea released him, spent less than a year at Port Vale without making a first-team appearance before a quick stop at Boston United, prior to heading off to play in a country that most of us couldn’t place on a map to play for a team no-one will have heard of.
For his own potent mix of self belief, character and determination, he deserves to make it in the game.
Sadly for him, all the self belief, character and determination in the world won’t get him that if he isn’t good enough.
And it doesn’t look as if he is.
A salutary tale. But what of our own class of 2013?
With next season seeing us return to Championship level football again, a lot of hope and expectation is being pinned on some of the leading lights of our FA Youth Cup winning side, not least the Murphy twins and Harry Toffolo.
In fact that is pretty much where our hopes and expectations from that winning team begin and end, as most of the others from that side have either already left the club or are, at best, struggling to make an impression in the first-team squad.
Goalkeeper Will Britt was on loan from Southampton where, at the time of writing, he remains, an up and coming, but, nonetheless, now 21 year old prospect who faces little to no chance of ousting Fraser Forster out of first team contention anytime soon.
Cameron Norman has been on loan at Woking whilst Ben Wyatt – someone of whom there were very high hopes – was released by the club, joined Ipswich, suffered the same fate and dropped into non-league. He is currently with Colchester United and, still only twenty, you’d have to say he has a chance.
Could he be another Jamie Vardy?
Kyle McFadden is playing in the US with Orlando City whilst Harry Randall, for all my efforts, seems to be untraceable and, at the present time, out of the game.
That leaves us with Carlton Morris who spent most of last season with Hamilton, who have made no secret of their hopes to have him back with them next season, and Cameron King who, at the time of writing, is still at the club.
Therefore a vital 12 months approaching for both the Camerons but will it involve either of them spending time in the Norwich City first-team?
Then there is Cameron McGeehan.
He has just had an excellent season at Luton Town, winning their Young Player of the Season award, scoring 14 goals from 45 league and cup appearances. It seems likely that he will continue to prosper and move forward in the game and his career and, quite likely, eventually end up back at Carrow Road as a member of the opposition, quite possibly in a league match. Time will tell. But I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if that turns out to be the case.
If that happens, there will be dissenting voices who ask why he was sold, why did we let him go to Luton, why didn’t he have a chance at Norwich?
All very reasonable questions as well. Isn’t the point of our academy to produce footballers for our first-team, not for someone else?
Well no, as it happens – it isn’t. And never was. Not ours, not Chelsea’s, Manchester City’s, Arsenal’s or any clubs.
Their remit is to produce footballers. In short, to turn out a product that can, in time, make money for its parent club.
Whether that is through becoming part of the first team or, more likely, moving on and, in doing so, eliciting a transfer fee from an interested club, then it’s job done.
Cameron McGeehan is an academy success for Norwich City for that very reason. Luton paid a considerable price (for them) for his services and there will likely be a sell-on clause if and when he moves on from the Hatters as well.
We’re now all hoping that the Murphy twins and Harry Toffolo will be a success for the club as well; ideally by playing in our first team and establishing themselves into it so that they are as much a first name on the team sheet as Jonny Howson or Russell Martin.
But the time is now. For them it has, surely, to be next season that they take their chance at Norwich City and as senior players and members of the first team squad.
I hope they do. But whatever happens, they are already proving to be the exception to the rule in that they have all made at least one senior appearance for the side already.
Which is more than Cameron McGeehan was able to do whilst he was here. Or, for that matter, a (then) teenage Dion Dublin.
Let’s wish them well.