Are Academies Helping Us or Others?

January 8, 2006

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So now it has happened to both Bristol City and us.

Promising young players brought through the youth ranks by both clubs have now disappeared for pastures new and a pop at making it in the top echelons of the game.

Good luck to Scott Goldbourne and also Scott Sinclair of course and to any other youngster who is given an opportunity to make it at the top. I hope they make it for their own sakes, and in the case of Sinclair so I can point at Sky and say with a small bit of pride that we discovered him!

It is not just here in the West Country that emerging youngsters are being poached from their struggling lower leagues clubs by the nations richest and most successful. The January transfer window has just opened and already Manchester City have taken an interest in 18-year-old Shrewsbury goalkeeper Joe Hart, who only made his debut last season.

There have been other young players though who have been sucked away from their home town clubs recently. 16-year-old Jack Hobbs left Lincoln City to join Liverpool last summer in a deal that could earn Lincoln £750,000. Hobbs incidentally made his debut against Rovers as a substitute at Sincil Bank in the 1-1 last season, his one and only appearance for them.

While 16 year-old Harry Worley from Stockport County left them to join Chelsea with the fee only sorted out after a tribunal, Worley interestingly enough given a 3-year professional contract straight away by Chelsea. Meanwhile there is Ryan Bertrand who was snapped up by Chelsea again, this time from Gillingham. Another tribunal was needed to sort this one out with the financial settlements being very similar to one agreed on for Scott Sinclair- a small transfer fee followed by a sell on clause and various smaller payments based on appearances.

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Chelsea seem to have a set policy for this, offer a derisory amount for the player and then let a tribunal decide. It seems Lincoln were fortunate in having Liverpool come in for one of their players who acted with a bit more dignity!

It seems to me that a smaller club with a productive youth set-up can’t really win can it? As soon as a brilliant youngster comes through the ranks he is leapt upon before he has even set foot in the first team. When he leaves there is only modest financial reward for the club that has nurtured the player and spent their money developing without being able to profit from their future success, at least not profiting enough.

Perhaps times have changed since Jermaine Pennant’s £2 million move from Notts County years ago, the football transfer market has changed since then, perhaps it has changed again though and the above examples are showing us a new market has developed. Perhaps now clubs will have to face the fact that they going to lose promising players sooner rather than later with sharks like Chelsea about.

Why should Chelsea invest so heavily in their own youth set-up when the have more money than they know what to do with? Why not just send scouts out and pick up the best young talent in the country for a few hundred grand? Dog eat dog really.

I’m sure the money coming our way from the Scott Sinclair deal will the gratefully received while Gillingham and Stockport will welcome is also. Though Kevin Spencer wasn’t impressed when the tribunal announced it’s decision claiming it left the door open for large clubs to do what they want.

Gillingham Chairman Paul Scally labelled Ryan Bertrands move to Chelsea like this: “Chelsea offered £50,000 – £25,000 down and another £25,000 in six months time. If he plays 40 games then we will get another £400,000. “But frankly if he plays 40 games then we should be getting £32m.”

You sense that this coming summer there will be another handful transfers involving young players heading for bright lights of the Premiership while lower league Chairman cry into their balance sheets. Part of me wonders if it is all worth it. How likely are the three players that joined Chelsea, Sinclair, Bertrand and Worley, to ever be first team regulars for the Champions?

It probably doesn’t really matter as they’ll get sold on if they’re deemed not good enough by Mourinho to a Championship or fellow Premiership club for a couple of million pounds, or even if they do get released why should Chelsea worry, there plenty more players out there!

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The most important issue is what do clubs like Bristol Rovers, Gillingham and Stockport do the next time a big talent comes emerging from their youth set-ups? A few years ago when the Manchester United team was like a school classroom with Beckham and friends we were told one of the best ways to achieve success would be by investing in youth, can the same really be said now?

I hope so. Obviously clubs are not happen at losing good prospects for low prices but how else do you build a side and become successful if you have very limited funds? Probably the only way to do that is too hang on to your best young players long enough to get promoted hoping no one spots how good they before you’ve got anywhere.

Chelsea and Manchester United are currently keeping an eye on 7-year-old Panos Armenakas, an Australian boy who has already trained at Barcelona’s junior academy and was invited to train at Bolton, this is not a joke either, just stick his name into Google! FIFA regulations say he can’t join any teams academy until he is at least 8, now how is that for talent spotting! If the search for the stars of future goes to these lengths then the rest of us may as well give up! Mind you who needs youth players when you have Richard Walker?

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