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ENGLISH TALENT POOL SHRINKING?


1
Occasionally it makes waves and a Micah Richards or a Wayne Rooney, will come bursting to the fore. But these are the exceptions.
 
An investigation by The Times shows that this is not simply a bad phase, or a case of a weak generation on the horizon and soon to be passing through. Success in sport is planned for and managed, yet the social and sporting structure in England mitigates against it.
 
That is why, as revealed in these pages, those holding the purse strings in football clubs are considering whether or not to keep investing in academies and some have discussed closing them.
 
About £40 million is invested every year into the 40 club academies in England. State-of-the-art facilities are commonplace; Arsenal’s alone cost £2.5 million. In the decade since Howard Wilkinson’s “Charter for Quality” was launched with the intention of mapping out the path to success, investment in the nation’s youth structure has been about £300 m illion.
 
And yet, if you looked at the 220 players starting in the Barclays Premiership on an average weekend, you will see only 25-30 Englishmen of 23 or less. Everton did not start with a single one on New Year’s Day. Chelsea do not have one in their squad. This is the paucity of the return that has made English clubs start to reconsider.
 
And it is, for instance, why, when Eric Kinder took over recently as head of youth at Carlisle United, he told his players that they were better off learning their trade there than at Blackburn Rovers, from where he had come.
 
“There have been a lot of questions asked as to whether academies are producing more players than they did when they were Centres of Excellence (the old pre-Wilkinson youth development system) and the answer is probably no,” Kinder said.
 
Kinder put Blackburn backs up with these comments, but he was only expressing what many others in the development side of the game know about and battle against daily. To quote Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager: “The academies are not working and that is worrying. You can see that young people don’t progress here.”
 
Some like Kinder may suggest that the clubs are at fault. The clubs, in turn, would point to the noticeboard in Manchester City’s Platt Lane academy training complex, where there hangs a framed picture of the most recent home-grown boy to break into the first team. The face in the frame at present is Michael Johnson, who made his City debut against Wigan Athletic in October.
 
A youngster coming through the system all the way to the top is a statement of success, which is why there is a frame next to Johnson’s picture that remains forever empty, except for the words: “Who’s next?” Every day at training, the City boys are asking themselves: “Am I next?” So far, 20 faces have been in that frame, an astonishing record and a sign that the development of local boys is not a flawed concept.
 
Jim Cassell, the City academy director, concluded as much on a visit to the Waterford Crystal factory in Ireland some six years ago. There he saw the finest technicians in their industry — glass-blowers, engravers, sculptors, cutters — who came from the local area. “I thought to myself that if they could do that using local talent, why couldn’t our industry, too,” he said.
 
So, yes, there can be good news in this game. Last month, a delegation from Helsingborgs, the Swedish club, visited three Premiership academies and, according to Bo Nielsen, the head of youth, “were really impressed by the facilities. We think you are going in the right direction.”
 
And this is the view of Georges Prost, the former Marseilles coach who works in the highly rated Southampton academy: “You have everything here in England — the conditions for working are exceptional, the training grounds are exceptional. The lads are motivated and disciplined, which is not the case in France. It’s a real pleasure to work here. In France, boys can be a little bit lazy, a bit arrogant. I think motivation and discipline are in your national character here.”
 
But when Prost said “everything”, he does not mean it. He and Nielsen pinpointed crucial weaknesses in English structures that are way beyond the powers of the likes of Southampton to overcome and serve only to highlight the odds over which Cassell has had such success at City.
 
The Times has identified four keys areas that so stunt the development of the most talented youngsters in the land and will discuss them in these pages over the next two days. Some of them are social, some are linked to ineffective coaching and some to the foreign invasion. Put together, they tell us this: that it is not that English youngsters are not good enough, it is that so many are not being given the chance.
 
This is what Peter Varney, the Charlton Athletic chief executive, was referring to in his programme notes recently — the uphill battle being lost at youth level. “If you look into the crystal ball to ten years ahead you might find we’re saying, ‘England cannot any longer win World Cup competitions,’ ” he told The Times. “And we’ll be asking, ‘Why did that happen? Why the dearth of talent?’ And we will then find ourselves looking back at the way English talent is developed today.”
 
 PART 2>                                                                                                                                                                                  Source: TheTimesonline.co.uk
Throwing money at youth development is not enough as stars of tomorrow slip through the net
 
 As another dark year of disappointment on the international stage is finally closed, the depressing news from the junior end of the tunnel is that there is barely a ray of light to be seen up ahead. Talent in English football is drying up.
 
This may sound sensationalist, but it is a view widely held in academy football. “The pool is shrinking before our very eyes,” is the opinion of Liam Brady, who, in his role as Arsenal academy director, is forever studying it for signs of life.