I’ve said this elsewhere, but the issue for England isn’t the failure of the top clubs to make available the young players they nurture for every England game from the under-19s to the senior squad; nor is it primarily the appointment of old-school managers like Eastick and Pearce whose sole qualification is that they can’t find employment at club level, having been revealed to be useless when they were given the chance.
The real problem – or one of them – is the way football is played here in the majority of clubs below the Premiership. This summer Arsenal released 15 kids from its academy, most of whom are reasonably accomplished having been nurtured since they were nine in Spanish-style technical skills. Many of those kids have had loan spells in the Championship and below where, because they aren’t quite of the quality of Wilshere, they were barely given a game. The reason? Winning is what matters to clubs, and the Arsenal kids’ silky skills weren’t of much use. If those kids want careers as footballers in England they’ll have to reeducate themselves sharpish in combative hoof-ball.
No academy, not even Barca’s, will produce ten Iniestas a year. But several in England are producing players of the technical quality of Lansbury or McEachran. What happens to them? Not quite good enough to make the first team at Chelsea or Arsenal, they sink without a trace into the hoof-ball leagues where they’ve forced to abandon the skills they learnt as young kids.
This is where England differs from Spain. Swansea can buy a player in his mid-twenties from the Spanish lower leagues, or Arsenal from the French ones, because that player’s skill and creativity hasn’t been lost. Can you imagine a top Spanish or French club picking a Michu or Koscielny equivalent out of the English League 1?
Many academies here are doing excellent work. Three of the semi-finalists in this year’s NextGen were English Premiership clubs. The problem is that most of the young English players representing those clubs – and the majority were English – aren’t going to progress in their skills: quite the opposite once they become professionals. This isn’t the fault of the clubs’ academies or even of the under-21 manager; the problem lies in the standard of football that’s played by all but a dozen or so of the top Premiership clubs.
Bloody well said!