Academy Conveyor Belt: Are clubs doing enough to develop talent?

Academy Conveyor Belt

By Andy Jones

  • Nicky Butt named Manchester United Academy Director in recent weeks

Manchester United have finally found a replacement for the Academy Director role, vacated by Brian McClair over a year ago.

After scouring the world for a suitable replacement, for arguably one of the biggest roles within the club, they gave it to…..Nicky Butt, somebody who has been at the club since, well forever. Butt is a member of the now infamous class of 92, having come through United youth system led by Eric Harrison.

Gorton born Butt, broke into the team following on from Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and the Neville brothers.

That year, the team which is now famous for its “class of 92” brand, won the FA youth cup, and also included the likes of Robbie Savage, Ben Thornley, Keith Gillespie and Terry Cooke, the vast majority from Greater Manchester, and a shining light for the work done by the clubs Academy and its staff.

Fast forward 24 years, and the Academy once famous for producing one of the finest football teams of a generation, is now a mere after thought. Would any of the players involved in recent games against FC Midtjylland and Shrewsbury Town have got their chance if it wasn’t for injuries?

Louis van Gaal has given youth a chance under his reign at the club, but one suspects that his hand has been forced by both a mounting injury list, and a thin squad of first team regulars. Following the cull of so called squad players and those deemed “past it” in the summer.

The current team has no affiliation with the local community, who are the players the young kids of today look at for inspiration? the last home grown player to make any sort of impact in the team was Danny Welbeck, by all accounts a lovely lad from Longsight, who still lived at home with his parents during his 7 years at United.

Spotted aged 8 playing for his local team Fletcher Moss, he went on to play 92 times for his boyhood club, before a transfer to Arsenal for a fee in the region of £16million.

It is unrealistic to suggest that in the modern climate, the team will be filled with home-grown players, when the game is now so heavily reliant on money and the rewards for success are so high, but when the clubs Academy is way down the list of priorities, behind finding new far eastern noodle sponsors, its hardly going to change anytime soon.

The clubs youth programme is a conveyor belt, churning out players as young as five. Go to any grassroots football tournament for kids aged five and six and their are scouts there from every club in the North West, United, City, Everton, Liverpool, they are there.

But look beyond age seven or eight and the interest seems to wane, giving the impression that if a child is not good enough aged six then that’s it, they are never going to develop into a professional footballer!

Given that children grow and develop and vastly different rates, this seems a strange philosophy, but one which all the top clubs seem guilty of. There must be scores of young players in Salford, who have had a brief taste of playing at a professional clubs academy set up, spending 8 to 10 weeks at a satellite centre, before ultimately being told that at the end of it, they didn’t quite make the grade.

What happens to them then? does the club offer them any guidance or advice, they don’t, its just a thank you and goodbye, and for many kids, this is the end of their football dream, on the scrapheap at 6 years old, as ridiculous as it sounds.

Thankfully there is a glimmer of hope for the youth of today, playing their football with their friends for the junior clubs across the country, a player who bucks the trend for big money foreign signings, especially in the striker position which he plays.

A career which seemed over when released by Sheffield Wednesday aged 16, and a glamourous club history of Stockbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town, hardly Barcelona, AC Milan and PSG!

The current top goalscorer in the Premier League, costing Leicester City a mere £1 million in 2012, penny for the thoughts now of the guy at Sheffield Wednesday who thought Jamie Vardy wasn’t quite good enough!

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