Making the grade — The importance of developing youth in Football

A source of pride for many clubs around the world. An element within a club in which youth team coaches really earn their money, and football clubs can make a name and develop a reputation as being some of the best nurturers in young talent.

Youth academies are an integral part of the footballing landscape. As some of the game’s greatest stars get on, new talent emerges. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Three of the five pictured (central) graduated from Southampton’s esteemed youth academy

Producing young players also ensures clubs comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, as well as help gain expenditure in order to address other areas within the club or even remain financially competitive.

There are many different strategies in which teams can build their youth teams up, however. For example, FC Barcelona uses its famed La Masia academy in which to develop local scouted youngsters and nurture them all the way up towards the club’s first team. Clubs like FC Porto and AS Monaco, on the other hand, develop young players — some local but most foreign — and give them chances in the first team from an early age in order to showcase these players to the rest of the footballing world. Subsequently, many of Europe’s bigger sides take interest yet are forced to pay over the odds in order to acquire these young talents. It just goes to highlight that utlising youth academies is not only a much cheaper alternative to purchasing a ready-made player for the first-team, but can often be more advantageous.

Ultimately, the Porto’s and Monaco’s of the world, despite being constantly raided for young talent, are the winners in these instances, as new youngsters are immediately inaugurated into the former’s place. Again, it’s a never-ending cycle, and it ensures these types of clubs make a profit.

Anthony Martial was purchased by Monaco from Lyon for €5 million, with Manchester United later paying £36 million to acquire the 19-year-old

Another important factor to consider, in terms of giving youth a chance, is the international team. Every English Premier League follower will easily recount Harry Kane’s rise from obscurity to Tottenham Hotspur sharp-shooter and ‘England’s golden boy.’ At this stage last year, the Spurs striker had only just begun his Premier League career — now, though, he has made six appearances for his country, having also scored three goals at international level and is expected to be a key figure in England’s Euro 2016 campaign in France. What began as a gamble by Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, in putting the youngster in the first-team picture, has now seen England procure a bright young star who could catapult both club and country to great prosperity.

Harry Kane is expected to play a prominent role for his country in the upcoming Euro 2016 in France

As well as this, the Spanish national side’s dominance that ranged from 2008 to 2012 (winning two Euros and a World Cup in the process) resulted from an insistence on developing youth at club level — with Barcelona, namely, producing the vast array of players for which the national team coach could call upon.

Six of the starting 11 in Spain’s 2010 World Cup Final winning side came through La Masia’s ranks at Barcelona

Nowadays, however, there appears to be a lack of trust in youth and giving youngsters first-team opportunities, especially amongst Premier League clubs. Such is the nature of the lack of long-term planning by clubs in England’s top tier that youth is now being harmed, and chances are at a premium for academy graduates, with clubs preferring to spend vast sums of money on ready-made players than developing homegrown talent.

Premier League spending hit the billion mark in 2015
Very few teams in the top 5 leagues give youth a chance

With the new TV rights deal set to kick in next season for Premier League clubs comes an increased fear of failure, with mid-table clubs spending lavishly rather than shrewdly in the hope of not being relegated come the season’s end. This, in turn, has a domino effect on all other mid-table clubs as well as relegation candidates, who have gone all out in the past two seasons in the transfer market, in the hope that they will be around by the 2016/17 season.

This, however, is only a short-term, quick-fix solution. With the colossal amounts in the coffers at EPL clubs nowadays, building from the bottom up — with the first-team comprised almost completely of academy graduates — is not such a prominent feature of the game anymore, with Southampton being the most recent example upon their promotion to England’s top flight.

Much like Porto, though, Southampton — due to not being a club as big in stature and not boasting a similar level of success as Europe’s elite — have been poached of most of their stock. The difference between the South Coast club and Porto, however, is the fact that the Premier League side has invested in ready-made talent to replace the sold players rather than promote from within.

Southampton, like Porto, are now seen as a feeder club

So how long will it be until the world sees another successful group of academy graduates make the grade and achieve a sustained period of success with their club, much like the famed ‘Class of 92’ at Manchester United did? Will the Premier League see more homegrown stars of the ilk of Harry Kane and Jack Grealish grace its shores in the near future, or will English clubs continue the worrying trend that has been accumulating over the past few seasons?

Whilst it is understandable that instant success is a priority at the elite level of the game, there is no denying that a strong club structure that allows the fans to connect with the side through seeing local boys make it into the first-team fold, stability and a sufficient long-term plan, and the potential for international success and increase in prestige is a far greater reward.

With the development of youth in Football having so many benefits at both club and international level, it is imperative that clubs not only invest in youth facilities, academies and at grassroots level, but also give youngsters a chance.