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Changes in the academy system benefit Arsenal and our young players

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The Christmas gift for the fan with (almost) everything

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By Tony Attwood

For years and years talented children and teenagers in England have been hindered if their talent is in the world of football.  While talented youngsters who express their genius in terms of music, mathematics, the theatre, dance, visual art, literature or any other of the more academic areas where talent may be revealed, have been able to travel anywhere in the country to find the best support and tuition, football has had to do it differently.

So while the 13 year old mathematical genius from Sheffield could move to Cambridge to take a B.Sc in maths in one year, before moving on to a doctorate under the guidance of some of the greatest mathematical brains in the world, in football, no, it has not been deemed right.

The rule has been that a club cannot sign an under-16 who lives more than 90 minutes’ travelling distance away.  For an under 12 the journey time is one hour.   (If such rules had applied to the cinema we wouldn’t have had the Harry Potter films).

Put another way if Jack Wilshere’s great genius had been an ability to write poetry that went beyond the world of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Eliot he could have moved anywhere to get help from the best tutors.  But being one of the greatest football talents England has ever seen he was restricted.  OK this time it meant that we got him because we were in the area, but it doesn’t always work like this.  And with Arsenal pitching for boys in the same area as Chelsea and Tottenham, the competition has been tough – and it has meant that Liverpool and Man U have had the pick of the northern kids.

The reason for this most insane dividing line between one area of supreme talent and all the rest is to be found in the way football coaching (or what has passed for it) has developed in England.  For years and years it has been the province of the schools, who wanted to keep their best footballing talent so that the school would win the local competitions (irrespective of what it did to the emerging talent of the youngsters).  Such self-centred selfishness has rarely existed in other areas where talent might emerge.

But now there is a change, and as part of the new system there is a formula to establish compensation fees, when a player moves on.  This means that when a youngster is transferred from one club to another the selling club gets £3,000 a year for each year of development between the ages of 9 and 11, and between £12,500 and £40,000 for each year between 12 and 16.

What’s more English clubs are no longer hamstrung when it comes to the amount of time they can work with young players.  At the moment, they get about 5 hours a week.   In much of Europe 10 hours of more is the norm.   Interestingly the daughter of friends of mine who was an excellent swimmer was doing 15 hours a week with a top coach by the age of 13.  When I worked as a musician in the theatre many years back I came across youngsters who were showing sublime talent in dance working much longer than that.

Clearly what Arsenal need to do as a result of this rule change, is set up a boarding school which will continue the education of youngsters in the traditional school subjects and allow proper tuition in footballing skills

Arsenal’s academy is one of the elite group with a large staff and huge investment both in its annual costs and its infrastructure, and we are of course renowned for the players we bring through year after year.  So such an extension to accommodate youngsters from across the country should not be difficult.   Let us not forget that the Frimpong/Wilshere pairing (from the same Academy year) is just the latest in a long, long production line.
And of course it is the brilliance of our Academy that encourages youngsters to come from other parts of the EU to Arsenal to make the most of their talent.  Compare and contrast with Chelsea, who as I have noted before, haven’t seen much progress with English players from the youth set up to first team for quite a few years.
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Footnote: just got my admission ticket for the Arsenal AGM next week so there will be a real on-the-spot Untold report from the meeting in a week’s time.

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Untold Arsenal – the (fairly) complete index

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11 comments to Changes in the academy system benefit Arsenal and our young players

  • Whilst in a way it is good for us, the compensation agreements aren’t that generous when you factor in what it costs to bring through a young player from an early age.
    Then again, most academies seem to produce athletes who can play football, rather than footballers who are athletic.
    My worry is that we would be deprived of the opportunity to acquire talents like Gibbs, the Ox and Jenkinson for a fair price as less well-funded academies simply wouldn’t bother to have more than a handful of players on their books if at all, if all they are going to get is an eighth of what they would previously have received.

  • Long Island Gunner

    Very informative and helpful to understand academy dynamics in the coming years.

    I, for one, would welcome an article / reference piece (if it already exists – apologies) of the production of PFA / Euro pro players that have come through AFC Academy since about 3 – 5 years after Wenger arrived and, presumably, put his stamp on the Academy construct.

    If I say Pretty Please, would it help???

  • Domhuaille

    Spain and France have got it right. Barca’s Academy is a residential affair and the only thing hindering their absolute dominance is the ridiculous Spanish national Law that says a player under 16 cannot sign a professional contract. AFC have taken full advantage of this idiotic regulation to encourage talents like Cesc,Miguel etc. to come to us.The Germans and Dutch have the same setup with their Sportsverein (local sports clubs supported by their municipal and state bodies). They produce significant talent and the kids get to learn great Football from the start with first class coaches and managers and facilities.
    The French Fontainbleu national academy has produced countless stars like Henry,Anelka, Ribery and so on.The UK needs a similar structure to compete internationally. The real question is; what’s in it for the small Clubs developing these talents in Britain? How much would AOC have cost us if this new rule was in place?

  • Notoverthehill

    Tony, off topic but relevant?

    The chance of your askng a question at the Arsenal Holdings AGM, is perhaps non-existent.

    Note 3 Turnover details a minimal increase in the Retail and Commercial sides of the business. Note 6 shows an increase in the monthly number of Administrative employees of 28. If Mr Wenger is not present then the football side of the business will be skated over. Mr Ivan Gazidis cannot deny responsibility for an increase in personnel that is not justified by the reduced overall turnover!

    Try for it, Tony. Go for it Tony and put Mr Gazidis in the spotlight!

  • Charlie

    I know this might be against the grain but could we get a detailed explanation for why shareholders where pressurised into selling their shares to Kroenke rather than Usminov. Believe me, i have heard this first-hand but cannot reveal my source. There is a clear hostility by the board towards allowing a billionaire to take control and contribute his own money towards purchasing players but i would like to break through the propoganda and force the likes of Gazidis and Hill-Wood to admit that the real reason is their desperation to cling on to their own power at the club. I used to think it was terrible to be at the whim of one man and be subject to a precarious financial situation should that man get bored but now i’m starting to think that it’s all a smokescreen. You can at least ask for a clause which requires said billionaire to give 2 years notice before pulling the plug to pay off remaining years of big-money contracts. Having said that we haven’t actually seen anyone looking to invest their own money in a club suddenly pull the plug so why do we fear that eventuality so much.

  • On the Ox issue, I think that under the new rules Southampton would be able to hold onto him if they wanted to, bring him through their academy and then sell him as a player with some first team experience, as they have done. I don’t see why they couldn’t do a transfer deal as this time.

    I rather see the new rules as a set of rules for evaluating young untried players who are still in the youth system.

    Perhaps the most likely outcome is that the Ox could have been signed by Arsenal at the age of 9, and we would have had him all the way through. That would be to our benefit.

  • Concerning the AGM, this is the first Arsenal AGM I will be able to attend so I am extremely cautious about how I behave there.

    But I can offer a bit of insight.

    Mr Gazidis addressed the AISA meeting a couple of months back (if you were there you will remember my performance as a stand in, in front of the assembled membership, as we waited for Mr Gazidis to arrive).

    He answered the question about our marketing department and said that we had the bigger staff and they are making progress, but everything is being geared around the end of the existing contracts that were signed as part of the move to the Emirates. He noted that Man U now have a London marketing office, and made it clear that Arsenal’s team knew exactly what they were up against.

    I can’t judge how valid any of this is, I can only pass it on. But I can say that at a private meeting 3 of us had with Mr Gazidis on another occasion he identified one part of the world that Arsenal is working on 100%. It was a confidential meeting and I am not going further than that, but I believe that a sizeable chunk of the club’s marketing work is in securing this overseas market as Arsenal home territory.

  • I have no inside info on the takeover of the club, and why one buyer was preferred to another. But as a person who has been a director of a few limited companies, I think there is always a question of preferring one person to another.

    You ask: “Can I work with this man?”

    I think also David Dein had become personna non grata when he was thrown off the board. I have only been involved in ejecting a fellow director once in a company (and obviously a much smaller company than Arsenal) but basically my feeling and those of my fellow directors, was that we did not trust the man we threw out.

    Of course I have no idea exactly what led to Mr Dein’s removal, but there were newspaper rumours that he was going behind the board’s back to try and push the club in one direction while the board had voted to go a different route.

    So given that Mr Dein is associated with Mr Usmanov, perhaps the feeling on the rest of the board is that they would prefer to work with Mr Kronke, who does after all have a track record of being successful in large sporting ventures.

    But, really I have no insight into this, and I am just saying how the world seems to me on a friday afternoon.

    I’m still jolly pleased that I have my entry ticket though.

  • Notoverthehill

    Tony thank you!

    BTW according to the Chairman who first sold part of his shareholding to Dein Senior and was instrumental in having Dein senior, invited to the Board of Directors – I will never trust that man agains!

  • Arun Mor

    I agree that it will help big clubs but what about the smaller ones ??????
    They won’t be able to make big money through their academies which helps them stay afloat and compete with the bigger ones.The gap between smaller and bigger clubs is going to increase more after this decision.

  • Gooner Gal

    @ Tony, thanks for this article as it is exactly the kind of thing I hoped you would post. I think doing away with the 90 minute rule is really great news for our UK scouting network. Also as you rightly say, I think at the development stage of players we have a real competitive advantage over other clubs which should mean that we will be a big draw for young players and parents all over England.