I don’t approve of a rapid turnover of footballs managers and felt doubtful about the appointment of Garry Monk. But he won me over when he talked about giving young players a chance and providing a pathway from the Academy to the first team.
I’ve been thinking about football academies recently, since going to watch the under 18s in their cup game on Wednesday evening. Birmingham lost 0-3 to Chelsea’s youth team, which some think is the best youth team in the world. However, their young players rarely make it into the first team. I came across a quote on a Chelsea blog that said,
“We are concurrently spending an inordinate amount of money on the academy each season, while offering the players who emerge no opportunities within the first team. In a world where Chelsea are happy to buy Romelu Lukaku for £17m and then send him on loan (with no guarantees he will return a Chelsea player despite his goal scoring record), what chance does a home-grown kid have?”
David Conn also mentions this in an article about the potential dangers of English football’s youth development system. “Despite the huge numbers housed in this system, currently 12,000 boys, the chinks of first-team opportunities have diminished every year since 1997. In each transfer window, most Premier League clubs overlook their young graduates and instead spend multimillions of pounds on fully formed overseas stars.” Conn goes on to discuss the lack of support for the young players who are released from Academies as the club keep just the best ones. That means that hundreds of young players have their dreams smashed and some “have hard landings back into their disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and fall into crime and drug dealing.”
I’m glad that Birmingham City’s Academy produces some good footballers. I hope that it is also preparing them for life and that it is beneficial for those who don’t end up as footballers. Learning how to work hard, be part of a team and cope with failure should be good preparation for any job, not just for football. I’ve looked at the Academy website and was pleased to read that “the education programs have an important part to play in producing well-rounded, well-educated and respectful individuals capable of pursuing a successful non-playing career whether within or outside of the football industry”. It can’t be easy to help youngsters with stars in their eyes keep their feet on the ground but I hope the staff can do it.