“Anyone who tells you they can spot a professional player at five years old is basically lying,” says former talent ID manager Nick Levett, an expert in the eight to 11-year-old age group.
Scouting football players as young as five, persuading an 11-year-old to sign a contract with private school education or offering a teenager’s parents a house.
These are some of the things English clubs are doing to secure the country’s best youngsters in an increasingly desperate fight to beat rivals to sign potential stars.
But are they doing this to develop the player or to stop other teams gaining the player. Academies have came under extensive criticism due to the lack of first team players coming through the system and the cheque book approach adopted as first option over developing youth in the search for instant success.
There are approximately 12,500 players at present in the English academy system, however only 0.5% of under-nines at top clubs are likely to make it to the first team. Why?
The drop-out rate in football between the ages of 13 and 16 is alarmingly high with anecdotal evidence to support a similar number to Rugby union which can be as high as 76%.
The reason is football has changed from a farming industry to a fast food industry, clubs for over 100 years would be connected with the community and work with the community sowing seeds in there local areas growing the players of the future and youth teams where a genuine ladder to the first teams was visible. The clubs were the heart and soul of the communities they represented.
Now the clubs are disconnected from the communities where they stand owned by people with no connection to the area and only interested in instant success or Fast Food. Players are bought from anywhere for instant success with no thought for long term planning, academy’s are filled with players capable who simply don’t get the opportunities due to the Fast Food culture of there owners.
This agenda shift from clubs has had a major impact on our Grassroots and the next generation of players.
So have clubs got it right or is it in a compete state of disrepair? And with the number of foreign players in English football already making it harder for academy players to reach the top, is a different approach required at the bottom end to ensure talent doesn’t slip through the net?
With players such as Jamie Vardy developing late in his career into an international star. It is clear that the thousands and thousands of kids spat out the academy factory line that change is needed, what and how would any change look like?
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