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October 2016
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Why it is so vital for a club not to take its youth programme for granted.

By Tony Attwood

It appears that Manchester United have either abandoned or put on hold any plans it might have had to build a small stadium for the club’s youth and academy teams.

Apparently the top brass at Man U have reviewed whether to build a stadium now that Man C have at their City Football Academy Stadium, despite the fact that Man U youth teams do not have a dedicated home in which to play. They currently play at Old Trafford and the Leigh Sports Centre and behind closed doors.  In the past they’ve used Altrincham’s ground, the rugby league ground in Salford, Northwich Victoria’s stadium and Hyde United’s ground.

This is interesting to me, as an Arsenal fan and occasional watcher of our youth teams, because the issue of where to play is one that affects Arsenal as well.   I’ll come back to that in a moment.

But back to Man U.  Man U under 18s league has now finished part one of its season, and that league looked upon completion like this

1 Man City U18 22 14 6 2 53 23 30 48
2 Everton U18 22 15 3 4 57 33 24 48
3 Liverpool U18 22 13 4 5 45 28 17 43
4 Blackburn U18 22 11 4 7 45 31 14 37
5 Sunderland U18 22 11 3 8 44 40 4 36
6 Middlesbrough U18 22 10 4 8 43 38 5 34
7 Wolves U18 22 8 4 10 42 40 2 28
8 West Brom U18 22 7 4 11 29 44 -15 25
9 Newcastle U18 22 6 2 14 27 59 -32 20
10 Derby U18 22 3 9 10 39 51 -12 18
11 Man Utd U18 22 5 3 14 29 44 -15 18
12 Stoke U18 22 4 4 14 23 45 -22 16

Now of course one has to take these league tables with caution, especially if a club is drawing forwards under 18 players into the under 21 side, and under 21 players into the league side, and certainly Man U has done this a lot in the past year.

Man U beat QPR in the third round of the FA Youth Cup (a competition we always keep an eye on, on Untold), but then in the fourth round went out to Chelsea 1-5 at home.  Arsenal beat WBA in the third round, Swansea in the 4th, Coventry in the 5th, Liverpool in the 6th, and face Man City in the semi-finals.

Which brings up Man U’s local rivals (in terms of the club’s physical location if not in terms of support).   Manchester City, as noted above now have a stadium for their youth team.  Untold suggested in September last year that Arsenal were looking to build a new stadium for both their women’s team and the men’s youth teams.  It could be used for the Champions League under 19 matches and the like.

But also the word around the north west seems to be that there is a fear that Manchester parents are now looking towards Man C as the preferred location for their children, because of the facilities.

Of course the Man City facilities were paid for by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and as such expenditure is not limited when Champions League FFP is considered, and so there is no limit to how much can be poured into such a scheme.  Every litre of petrol helps them along a bit.

Moving on to London, in March last year Arsenal unveiled plans for its own an extensive building programme completely to upgrade the London Colney training ground and further develop the Hale End youth academy.   Planning permission was granted by Hertsmere Borough Council and work is scheduled to be complete by the beginning of the 2017/18 season.

Apart from the work on the main buildings that house the first team squad there will also be a new player performance centre for the first team and first and second year professionals in the academy.

The plans show a new gym, a 40-metre running track, ice baths, a spa, a cryotherapy chamber (which uses very low temperatures to help repair tissue damage) plus data analysis and scouting suites etc.

Hale End will see the the installation of three new pitches, changing rooms, education areas, etc. New gym facilities and offices have already been built or are under construction.

Alongside these developments the club is engaged in (in the words of Ivan Gazidis) areas and equipment that centre on “player preparation, injury prevention and recovery, analytics, coaching and scouting.  We will ensure we stay at the forefront of the latest thinking within the game and are an important part of our ambition to keep improving and developing on and off the pitch.”  The project is supported by the Sport England.

Which leaves the issue of a stadium.  There is no mention of a new youth stadium in Arsenal’s current documentation, and I understand a final decision will be taken on this when the rest of the work comes to a conclusion in about a year’s time.

Certainly over the last 20 years Arsenal has become known as the club for youth player development in the London area, because of the way young players have been consistently introduced to the first team by Arsene Wenger.  This has been in strong contrast with the approach of Chelsea who, as oft noted, have brought hardly anyone through, despite having a record number of players out on loan and being regularly high up in the under 18s league.

The progression of players such as Coquelin, Bellerin, Gibbs, Wilshere, Jenkinson, Iwobi, Campbell etc, and the more recent developments of Zelalem and Reine Adelaide has given parents a strong feeling for Arsenal, which is why it is vital to keep the development programme continuing – especially at a time when Chelsea and Tottenham will be focussed on their work to build a complete new first team stadium.

Personally I really do hope that the new stadium is built as it will give a huge impetus both to the youth teams and the women’s team, allowing them both to play on quality surfaces rather than the more bumpy non-league surfaces.


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The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon.   Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.

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10 comments to Why it is so vital for a club not to take its youth programme for granted.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Tony, I’ve just done a preview for the U18 FA Youth cup semi final where we play Man City. Should be an interesting home and away fixture. I expect us to play a proper rather than development team so a clear chance to measure ourselves against one of the best at this age in the country. In the southern half of the table Chelsea were clear winners over the first half of the season.

    The improved facilities we have in place will make a big difference to both our youth and ladies teams but I would love us to put in a new dedicated stadium as well. We lose games every year to waterlogged pitches at Manor Park and the surface is offer not so good. Facilities for players, spectators and officials aren’t too clever either so a new 5000 or so stadium would be a great idea. My only concern is that it would have to be readily accessible by public transport, which isn’t the case at Colney.

  • Saadman

    Where do you guys get all this information?

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Over the next few years I would expect a number of ‘squad’ players to emerge from our academy, given time and a fair wind I am hopeful that they will rise to star status (or at least some of them). Our available transfer funds can then be spent on the ‘special’ or ‘world class’ players that many supporters crave.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Thanks for the updates , Tony and Andrew . Do hope that there are some unpolished gems in our youth squads .

    @ mojola March 15, 2016 at 11:30 pm – Nice link .

  • WalterBroeckx

    Second that about the link Mojola.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    For our youth and all that are young at heart –

    You fall, you rise,
    you make mistakes,
    you live and learn.
    You’re human, not perfect.
    You’ve been hurt but, you’re alive – to breathe to think, to enjoy,
    and chase the things you love.
    Sometimes, there is sadness in our journey but, there is also lots of joy.
    We must keep putting one foot in front of the other even when we hurt.
    For we will never know what is waiting for us around the bend .
    – unknown

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A lovely short film – The other pair

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Yes we have a number of gems in the making. Keto in goal, Pleguezuelo at CB, Bielik CB/DM, McGuane DM, Zelalem Bennacer, Mavididi, and Malen are all names that we should look out for in a couple of years time.

    For next year, Macey in goal will be pushing for the third slot, Isaac Hayden and Jon Toral in midfield have both had good season long loans with Championship clubs and may well be ready for first team action.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Andrew Crawshaw March 16, 2016 at 11:12 am – Thanks , I have managed to watch a few CL games featuring our youngsters and have been suitable impressed . Will be on the look out for those you’ve named. Thanks.