By Andy Jones
- Should professional clubs support junior teams from where their academy products are spotted?
After Marcus Rashford’s meteoric rise to stardom, with 4 goals in his first 2 appearances for United, his first club, Fletcher Moss Rangers allegedly wrote to united asking for £2million as a fee for the players development.
A spokesperson for Fletcher Moss, who have a long history of developing players at United has since come out to deny this claim, however is does pose the question, do Professional clubs, with all the money in the game, have a moral obligation to support the grass roots clubs from which these players emerge?
The way the academies and clubs work today is a million miles away from the times which saw the likes of Beckham, Carrick, Scholes and Giggs break into the first team.
Carrick played for local team Wallsend Boys, until he joined West Ham at the age of 16, Ryan Giggs played for Deans FC in Swinton and represented Salford Boys before signing for the Red Devils at 14. Scholes was spotted aged 14 playing for his local school, similarly David Beckham at 14 playing for Ridgeway Rovers; even as recently Wayne Rooney was still playing for local team Copplehouse Boys until Everton signed him aged 9.
All these clubs could lay claim to these superstars of the English game, how much would that bunch be worth if clubs were to put a price on their development, given that between them they have cost over £98m in transfer fees.
Today kids can barely walk before scouts are watching them like hawks in U6 tournaments, the clamour to find the next big star is massive. Even though in reality only a tiny percentage of the young players in academies and satellite centres actually make it into the professional game.
Of the recent crop of youngsters, Danny Welbeck was signed by United aged 6, Tyler Blackett was 8 and the most recent Marcus Rashford was 7 years of age.
In reality, how much contact did these Junior clubs have with these players with a 1 hour weekly training session, which would consist of every player having a football at their feet for basic skills or small sided matches. Compare this to a player at an Academy, with players of a similar ability for 3 or 4 hours a week.
You could argue that the Junior clubs are simply in the right place at the right time, and with Fletcher Moss’s argument, as the biggest club in the area, players will naturally be drawn there.
Deans FC currently have a young player aged 6 at Everton’s Finch farm Academy and also Manchester City, can the coach who does basic tuition with him for 1 hour a week really have any claim to have aided his development if he becomes the next big thing? Perhaps a sense of pride for giving him a bit of help on the way, but nothing in terms of hard cash.
There is a bigger debate as to whether kids are being subjected to undue pressure too early in their development, ask any young player on a Saturday morning, and they are not too bothered who they are playing against. Whether the game is on grass or 3G.
Their main objective is to have fun with their friends, ask any player at an Academy aged 8 or upwards, and you’d get a different response, as the clubs prohibit them for playing for their club sides, and in many cases the school as well.
As more and more demands are put on the grassroots community, cuts to local government budgets mean pitches aren’t well maintained, investment is put into 3G training facilities, but these come at a premium, and the winter weather has decimated the fixture programme in many Northern areas.
Does the professional game have a responsibility to support the grassroots? yes there is the Football Foundation, but how many clubs have the 50% match funding required to pay for a £700k 3G facility, not many would be my guess.
Whether Fletcher Moss genuinely did claim £2million from Manchester United, only those on the club committee really know.
It did raise the clubs profile, and now it is not only those in M20 who have heard of the club and the great work they do with the young players in the area, and you cant really put a price on hard work and commitment of what in reality are volunteers with a love for football.