The background revolution: young players are regaining control of their lives

by Tony Attwood

Many Arsenal fans, including myself, have always had a pride in the number of players who come up through the ranks to play for the club.

By this I don’t mean that they necessarily join as a nine year old, but rather that they come along not in terms of a big money transfer once they have proven themselves elsewhere, but instead join at some earlier stage.  Thus I include Hector Bellerin in this along with Wilshere, Mavrapanos, Ramsey, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide, Willock, Nelson, Nketiah…   Five of our regular first team squad can be counted as Arsenal youth.

Of course we don’t have the multitude of young players signed up as Chelsea does, but we do seem to bring many more through than many other clubs.

However I have been worried about the buying power of the City Group and their ability to move players around the world to their franchised clubs, and I have wondered if this might make it ever harder for Arsenal to attract and retain talented youngsters.

And yet things might be moving a little in our direction, and for once I don’t just mean through the attempts of Fifa to get a grip on the activities of Manchester City and Chelsea with their multiple moving around of players, or Liverpool with their dumping of a player leaving the parents with massive school fees to pay.  The banning of Liverpool and Man City for one season from signing any new youth players was certainly a signal that the regulations might be catching up with some of the more outrageous elements of club behaviour.

No, there is something else: the recognition by young players that with the way certain clubs are running they might just sit there forever, being loaned out to lower league teams across the continent but never getting the break through they wanted, simply because the big boys didn’t want anyone else to have the player.

This was highlighted by the case of Jadon Sancho who walked out of Manchester City (and apparently an offer of a salary of £1.5m a year) and went to Borussia Dortmund simply to get first team football in a top league.  And he wasn’t the only one.  Dan‑Axel Zagadou also went to Dortmund from PSG.   In fact PSG have had other instances like this with Kingsley Coman leaving the club and going to Juventus.

So it seems money and a promise of being a member of the first team squad doesn’t always satisfy young talent.  They want to play, and they want to play at a meaningful level.  And it seems Chelsea’s favourite dumping ground of Vitesse Arnhem, currently 29 points off top place in the Netherlands and an average crowd of 15,000, doesn’t cut it.

Of course it is not just English clubs and PSG who are suffering from their hoarding tendencies.  Barcelona have long since had this problem, as Arsenal have found to their benefit with Hector Bellerin and Cesc Fabregas.   They also lost Jordi Mboula to Monaco.

But to be fair, English clubs have suffered this new empowerment too, with Chris Willock going to Benfica last year and Everton’s Ademola Lookman who was in the England under 20 world cup squad who demanded that he should go on loan to Leipzig and not Derby County (which is what Everton preferred).

What the youngsters are looking for are managers and clubs that will give talent a chance and not issue vague promises, loans to lower league clubs and an endless stream of multi-million pound transfers that keep the kiddies out of the first team.  Dortmund offered an alternative, and to a degree so does Arsenal, as Maitland-Niles in particular has shown (although not enough to keep Chris Willock).

So now, suddenly, the promising young players won’t hang around for ever doing loan deals to clubs they don’t want to go to, and not always getting the games they want.  Instead they go for two and three year deals with clubs that will play them, and they move on at a big signing on fee for themselves and a big profit for their temporary host.

Chelsea have been trying to get around this by loaning their youth players out while hoping they develop enough to be sold on like promising race horses for a profit.  But whereas the horses have no choice which stable they are sold to, the players do.

In fact what the young players are trying to do is establish their own personal brand outside of the clubs, and undermine the brand names of the big clubs.  Potentially it is quite a revolution in the making.

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4 Replies to “The background revolution: young players are regaining control of their lives”

  1. Good to hear (and see). Though seems to still only apply to the thoroughbreds– right now. That said, these outcomes can have an effect on the masses of players who may never be first-team material as well. The concept of developing even more players at younger ages — with conscience — can change the way the system is currently ‘engineered’. With the upper-tier players moving abroad for better opportunities, more spots open for later-developing prospects domestically.

    Depending on how closely this is regulated– meaning the buying clubs stay in check? There’s ‘win-win potential’.

    Also like to say that where Man City’s global association of transfer options obviously benefit them first? The idea that a young player who might not ever have the opportunity to travel abroad– or globally– could reap real-world benefit personally that could extend beyond an athletic career.


  2. Tony, I believe the issue for Barca (with Bellerin etc etc)and all Spanish clubs is that the clubs there can’t make the youngster a ‘professional’ until their slightly older than we can. It’s an odd difference between the rules there and here.
    Barca have their ‘B’ team which is supposed to blood their youngsters in a technical and competitive environment, but their 2nd div is pretty poor, being technically much better than our Div1 but much less competitive. On top of that, although they do have youngsters playing, it’s much less than you’d expect from a set-up which is supposedly so youth orientated.

  3. Tony, the site is getting difficult to use again due to the adverts and long running scripts…

  4. When you go back to the numbers, they are stacked against the young players.

    Let’s say a club like Arsenal have one team in each age group, 15 players. So that means you have 3 or 4 teams at least ‘under’ the first team.
    That is 60 players competing for what ? 5 or 6 spots in the first team. And these spots do not open up each year, as in the first team, players will stay longer then the 2 years of youth teams.

    And each club will have that kind of numbers, be it Arsenal or a Championship team. So a young player has 2 things to look out for :

    – a club where the really teach you basic skills and the right tactics, making him ‘graduate’ with a better ‘reputation’ as far as the learning club is concerned
    – a club that does have a stable football identity and philosophy so that during their curriculum there the ‘learning’ is done right.

    The thing is, that a club that has a good reputation will attract young players more easily. But, the places in the first team will be harder to reach if this team is in the top of the league and has the means of competing, as pressure to ‘buy’ will be intense. And thus, the great majority of the young players will leave on loan or definitely, this again depending on club policy and reputation.

    The way I see it, footballer is not a trade that is easy and a lottery effect is needed to become a great one.

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