By Tony Attwood
If you are a regular reader you will know that about once every couple of weeks I point out that the reason England don’t win tournaments is nothing to do with quotas and the number of youngsters in the Premier League, but instead to do with the coaching.
Then, because modesty is not my most obvious characteristic, I add that I first provided the detailed analysis that proves this case on 9 June 2010 in an article on Untold.
Then I point out that the Daily Telegraph ran a version of this piece in August 2013, without acknowledging my work. Since then others have jumped on the bandwagon, and today the Guardian are there too – although to be fair, they are not taking the same route as me, so no allegation about work nicking.
The piece is question is “England’s pain healed with better coaches, not the quotas of Greg Dyke” and is written by Paul Wilson the football correspondent of the Observer newspaper.
Now I go through all this again, not because I like pointing out how clever I am (although actually I do) but rather because Paul Wilson comes out with a very interesting opening paragraph:
Manuel Pellegrini has just admitted Manchester City’s lavishly funded football academy is unlikely to produce a first-team player during his time at the club. José Mourinho has made similar comments in the past, with John Terry remaining Chelsea’s last home-grown player despite a huge financial commitment to youth facilities.
It raises an interesting point: what players do we count as academy players? I mean, how old or young do you have to be to be counted as academy.
Jack Wilshere is an academy player. He joined aged nine. That’s easy.
But what of Aaron Ramsey? He came to us aged 17. So did Coquelin. Is that too old? What of Zelalem? He came at 16. So did Bellerin. Are these the people we are thinking about when we talk of academies?
My point is that such 16 and 17 year olds still have it all to do, to reach the very top level, and they need the very best training and development – which is what Arsenal gives them.
But still many fall by the wayside, and each year we say farewell to players who look like they might have made it, but didn’t.
Arsenal does a lot to develop young players even if they don’t come through to be great Arsenal players. Look at Benik Afobe. He joined Arsenal reserves when he was six, never played for Arsenal, but was nurtured through his early years, and eventually sold to Wolverhampton where he appears to have played 17 games and scored 11 goals. Not bad for a 22 year old.
The Guardian article says
The challenge to anyone who believes otherwise is to answer the question of why the academies are not producing first-team players. They are not short of funding or facilities, they have been in situ long enough, there are plenty of hopeful aspirants. So where are the players? How come when Gerrard leaves none of the Liverpool first team will speak with a scouse accent? What happened to Manchester United’s youth development programme after the class of ’92?
The answer is that we are producing first class players in the academies, but many of the youngsters move around at 16 not six years of age, in order to find the right place to go and get development. And we are part of the EU so they are free to come here.
And therefore those places they choose – like Arsenal – are multinational places, quite rightly.
The reality is that the notion of internationals is outmoded and outdated, based on a model of nationalism that has moved on and been by-passed. As we’ve said here before, the fact that a player can play for England without being born in England, or indeed without actually having been to England, is all a bit daft.
This season, Arsenal has produced two brilliant youngsters for our team: Coquelin and Bellerin. Next season we’ll probably see another one – if we are lucky two more. Whether any of them are English or not is irrelevant, not least because as I’ve so often said, you don’t have to be English to play for England. Zelalem for example had a choice of various countries he could play for – and could have added England to that list if he had wanted to. Many other young men are in the same position.
The only question worth asking is who those two new top players emerging from the academy are going to be. Gnabry was superb before his injury that took him out of this season. Zelalem looks to be wonderful – but one never knows until he steps up.
And maybe there are others there to surprise us.
The academy system is working. It just isn’t producing young men who can play for England that’s all. And that’s not our problem. Arsenal is doing its bit to bring through wonderful players who entertain us. It would be unreasonable to ask for anything else.
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