Are the Professional clubs getting scouting wrong with kids?

“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.

The figures;

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?

We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject matter, please feel free to comment.


16 thoughts on “Are the Professional clubs getting scouting wrong with kids?

  1. Yes academies are getting it so so wrong! They fill their squads with the biggest strongest 7 year olds so that they win tournaments & leagues to justify the funding from the clubs. I coached from U8’s to U13’s & watched each player develop at their own pace. Some of the bigger lads were great in the early days as pure strength won football matches but as we moved through the age groups the smaller, often more skilful players came to the fore. Their pace along with lower centres of gravity won us so many games & the bigger tougher lads found roles further back as defenders or holding midfielders. So many smaller lads get overlooked at the early stage of their careers (one lad scored 112 goals in 117 games & never got looked at, only by every opposition manager in envy!) I know that if they’re good enough they’ll make it to the top one day but how many have slipped through the net & walked away from football? Vardy is a great example to any youngster who thinks because some narrow minded numpty seeking immediate success over actual development doesn’t give them a chance, no one will. We need to nurture more David Silvas, Sergio Agueros & Luis Suarezs in this country if we are to become a threat at international level again.

    1. ‘Fill their squads with the biggest strongest 7 year olds to win tournaments’ ??
      In know way does a club gets its funding or Category status from how many games or Tournaments they win.

    2. I can relate to this – My son got spotted by a coach from a top club at the age of 5 earlier this year, playing in a u7 game. (he is youngest in his year, so was a u7 player but was still just 5 at the time of this) he ran rings around every other player on that pitch (and still does in most games). The coach asked to take some details so he can invite him down to train with them. When I confirmed he was at u7 age group, he wasn’t interested. He said he thought he was u6, and sadly he was ‘too small’ for u7 and wont cope with the bigger/stronger lads. Despite the fact he’d just watched him play in an u7 game and no one could even get the ball off him. My lad is in fact very small for his age and sadly after hearing this guys comments I can only think he will get overlooked as you have pointed out. Sad really.

  2. I would urge all parents to politely say not interested to any approach from scouts if your kid is between 7-12. Anything younger than that is just wrong on so many levels. Even 7-10 is still too young. Kids need to learn and develop but do it at boys club level or at the park with friends. If your kid is a good player he will still be a good player after 12 yrs old. Give kids the time and patience to learn. My boy is 7 and he a good wee player but hell his boys club team dont even take throwins, play offside, penalties or freekicks. In time they will learn these things and they will be better for it. Patience is key.

    1. So if an academy asked for your son to sign for them at age 10 you’d say no??? Hurt your boys feelings? Doubt it! He maybe wouldn’t get that chance again. They maybe wouldn’t come back to watch him when he was 12/13/14…. Let them go I say, if they get released then so be it, at least they tried! My son plays for an academy now at 11 years old. He knows the ins and outs and knows he has to be at the top of his game at all times and yes it is hard and can be harsh. But that’s what he wants to do and has done since he was 5yrs old, so who am I to say no and crush his dream. Who knows, it may only last a short while and a better kid may come along but at least he has a smile on his face for now and is doing something he loves. And that’s all that matters in my opinion!

      1. Completely agree, my son had just signed age 8 for academy u9’s, he’s been doing some training with them for the last year which got him recognised! He’s so proud of himself and loves pulling on the shirt! He was a great player at grassroots level but I’ve watched him progress and learn much more about the game. We’ve taught him that at the moment it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a higher level of training and games. If it doesn’t go anywhere then at least he’s had that experience! Who am I to stand in his way? I think people are very bitter, and most that say they wouldn’t put their children through that, haven’t been in that position because realistically it isn’t your choice it’s the child’s

        1. ‘We’ve taught him that at the moment it doesn’t mean anything’?? You actually teach a kid that progressing from grassroots to proyouth doesnt mean anything lol god help the poor boy. Let me tell you what it means. It means the boy has earned and deserved a place at a higher level team which means he will know he can cut it which in turn breeds confidence. Football is ability, attitude, hard work and CONFIDENCE. Mix these things together and a kid can go a long way. Hope you dont tell the boy ‘if it doesn’t go anywhere atleast youve had the experience’. Wrong wrong wrong attitude to have

      2. ‘He maybe wouldnt get the chance again’?? Seriously?? If a kid is good enough at 7 he will certainly be good enough at 12, if not then the kid hasnt the right attitude. In my opinion that comes from the parents. My boy has just been offered the chance only this week to join an academy with another 2 teams looking at him. His grassroots club have been blocking all enquires about him since march and never told us the parents. Only just found this out. Under they circumstances he will be moving on. I was willing to let him learn at grassroots but it seems even at grassroots the name of the game is winning not developing kids.

  3. Its a hard one for me, I’ve coached my eldest son in the past who will enter his 4th Season playing development football for our local football league team. Not at academy level at the moment but is improving each season and is 11 year old. The extra training he gets from this and playing for Wickersley youth Jamie Vardy’s old team is 2.5hrs training a week, then match days at around 1hr game time per week.

    The question for me is this enough?? Academy players will probably get 6hrs a week including games this is 2.5hrs more then my son then pushing the gap potentially further away from academy football. How can an academy player not improve with this amount of attention and training against a current grass roots player?

    On the other hand my 8 year old son who as only been playing football for his grass roots team since Christmas and now as 4 local teams wanting him and are constantly at games and tournaments to watch him, At the moment I want him to enjoy playing with his friends but its tempting to allow him to go in the future. I have a friend who was at an academy for years and left at 16 who is against it all but recently said I’d be daft not to let him go due to him being very good player.

    I’m still non the wiser as an ex coach and parent what is the correct thing to do at their key age group, I am at the point were I am now letting them make the decisions regarding what they want to do in football. Wrongly or rightly.

  4. My boy went through x9 academies, and played for 1 for over a year. I pulled him out of the system when, after taking him to a trial for an international scholarship, he vomited at the back of the car out of anxiety and stress. I failed him as a father by not noticing this earlier, but the stress and pressures piled on children is horrific. The fun had been totally syphoned from him and out of the game.

    He now plays with his mates in lower leagues and has found his enjoyment in the game again. Pro clubs are mostly hideous, and the academies are conveyor belts so they can hit numbers for funding. They’re also beholden to their “catchment” area depending on the academy level they are UNTIL the age of 16. I’ve heard horror stories of young players being sold dreams only to be dropped like a stone at 16 because the club has brought in foreign players they couldn’t before because of the restrictions.

    I’ve no faith whatsoever in the academy system in the UK. None.

  5. This whole system is basically “bums on seats.” Parents are generally complicit in the system as they are desperate for their child ( and by association themselves) to have the recognition. The clubs are generally ruthless with the system and hack and cull the squads with little regard to the ones that are dumped. It is usually the Parents, who are themselves devastated, who are left to pick up the pieces.

  6. Heard about one lad recently being pulled out of a training session at an academy and told he wasn’t wanted anymore. There doesn’t seem to be any care for the children and it’s as many have said just a conveyor belt. But parents are also to blame for pushing this endless dream of being a professional footballer and anything less and they have failed in life.

  7. It’s totally wrong ! In most local clubs there’s not one single local player! Don’t the clubs realise that there is a lot of talent locally and if there is more local players the crowds would be bigger. Parents, family, friends would all be turning up to support them and local businesses would more likely get involved. When a division club is interested in a young player the first thing they want to know is how tall the parents are! They just look for kids that are going to be 6ft+ and can run 100m in around 10sec, the football they recon they can teach them!

  8. Clubs recruit a profile which is invariably based around physical attributes such as speed. If you’re quick and half decent that’s a great starting point. Actually being able to play football can be taught later.

    As an example, my son is a decent u7 who has played a few times against two Category 1 & 2 sides where they have more than matched those sides (same age as well, he’s not gone there a year older like a lot of these teams do). In my boys team is a lad whose best attribute is he’s quick. His passing, ball control, movement etc is non-existent. Guess who the scouts ranked as highest in their team? Yep, him. Subsequently seen he’s been off to other Category 1 teams to train etc.

  9. Absolute true story – I used to coach one of the best teams in the region at a certain age group, playing in one of best leagues. A scout turned up and asked for the details of a player who hadn’t even played….just based the decision on the fact that it was an lad of African origin playing at the top level. The same club had asked for details of similar lads the season before when, at best, the said lads had been average in the game. When I asked why the scout wanted the details of those players, the response was “profiling”… yeah, based on experience, it’s seems that the day of the small white lad is numbered!

  10. Absolute true story – I used to coach one of the best teams in the region at a certain age group, playing in one of best leagues. A scout turned up and asked for the details of a player who hadn’t even played….just based the decision on the fact that it was an lad of African origin playing at the top level. The same club had asked for details of similar lads the season before when, at best, the said lads had been average in the game. When I asked why the scout wanted the details of those players, the response was “profiling”… yeah, based on experience, it’s seems that the day of the small white lad is numbered!

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