The future of youth development in the Football League

by Daniel Pratt

The recent new rules on youth development that were pushed through by the Premier League onto the football league (via a threat of the loss of money) will surely come to change the way talent is developed in England for the generation to come. Although 22 league clubs rejected the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) 46 voted in favour, if the Football League rejected the plan they would have lost £4 million in funding from the Premier League for youth development.

Of course there is no doubt that the old system needs changing, as shown at the recent World Cup, England are falling far behind the other nations of Europe in youth development. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the new youth rules allows a club like Manchester United to sign a youngster under the age of 16 from anywhere in the UK; previously they had to live within an hour an half away from the club or move nearer to it. But what will this mean for lower league clubs, some of which like Crewe Alexandra who survive off the production and selling of youngster through their youth system?

Well there are two ways to look at this new proposal, one that it will free up the movement of youngsters to go to bigger clubs where they will have the best chance of development and therefore playing for England, or the other view that Premier League clubs will act like a giant hoover, sucking up all the talent in the country and providing them with little or no chance of getting into the first team. There might be so little reward for Football League clubs in developing youngsters that when the new rules come in, they might just pack in their youth development at all, therefore losing a valuable link to the community.

It is interesting to note, that two current England internationals, Joe Hart and Chris Smalling have both started their careers in the lower leagues and in Smalling’s Case the non-league. Would of both developed to be the same footballers today if they had gone to a big club in their early teens? It is difficult to say, however there are examples to suggest no. Leigh Mills, ever heard of him? Well he is the same age as Smalling, and was England under 16’s captain whilst playing for Swindon Town youth side when Spurs signed him in 2004 as a sixteen year old for an undisclosed fee. He went on to play a grand total of zero games for spurs before being released in 2009, he now plays for non-league Winchester City. Of-course every person is unique and every person will act differently under the pressures of signing for a big club even at youth level, but there are no end of examples of youngsters who have signed for bigger clubs and have never appeared near the first team. As I sit here I can’t honestly think of a name of one top Premier League footballer who was signed by a Premier League club out of a lower league’s youth side (e.g before they played for the 1st team). Ok, one in Tom Cleverley (Bradford City) any other examples are welcome!

Overall I cannot say that this will be a good thing for the development of England’s future, the big clubs will now take less time and effort to research and scout each youngster to sign up because the financial penalties of not doing so have been taken away. More youngsters will get the chance to sign for big clubs however more will simply become lost in the sea of the premier league’s youth academies, a position that might ultimately see more talent fall out of the game.

Dan is a guest writer from Wish.co.uk you can learn more here about their football stadium tours.

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