The problem with academies…..

Many thanks to Dan Yeo for this piece on football academies in England.

There’s no doubt that football academies are harsh environments. The FA’s official website even describes the process of getting released by one as ‘heart-breaking’, which, considering they’re trying to increase participation levels, is hardly encouraging…

It’s entirely truthful though and not particularly surprising; when the stakes are so high, the consequences of being rejected become even more considerable. The disappointment of being let go by a big-name Premier League club would be enough to crush any youngster so, when the huge financial influence is also factored in, the pressure can often become unbearable.

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Children not even old enough to attend secondary school are exposed to a stressful, ruthless environment in which their every move is carefully monitored and analysed. Those judged to be progressing too slowly are filtered out of the system as early as possible, but the players really at risk are the ones that succeed in making the first few cuts.

The reason for this is simple and something the FA’s site also alludes to; young footballers tend to get carried away. Tell a ten-year-old he’s good and he’ll dream about being the next Messi. Tell a sixteen-year-old he’s good and he’ll think he really is the next Messi. The further teenagers progress down the path of becoming a professional footballer, the more they begin to prioritise the beautiful game over everything else in their lives. Football, for many, becomes an obsession and this is something that authorities need to guard against.

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While it’s fantastic that the next generation are competitive and hungry to do well, the current clamour for more home-grown talent and the amount of money being spent on the best academy graduates means that, if anything, academies are encouraging rather than discouraging this kind of compulsive attitude. This has to change.

Spurring youth players on to succeed at all costs may benefit those who finally make the grade but, for the majority who don’t, it can very seriously damage their career prospects and later lives. The PFA estimates that, for every five players offered academy scholarships, only two will receive full-time contracts at the age of eighteen and only one will still be playing professionally by the time they’re twenty-one.

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One Reply to “The problem with academies…..”

  1. Read this article but completely disagree, we need this harsh environment because we need to find some better players. Also we need to look out for the better players in grass roots more rather than the ones who in reality aren’t going to be any good at all. Whilst this retreat rule has improved the standard of lower division grassroots matches. It hasn’t given the youngsters who need to develop the opportunity to develop the skills and composure to receive the balls in tight areas. I have seen players as young as 5 at Liverpool academy playing without the retreat rule and seeing it work and no category 1 academy use it. I had a mini soccer team where every single player was comfortable with the ball under whatever pressure was applied by an opponent and in the tightest of areas. We could still play football from the back every time we got the ball, this standard player in my opinion is more important than kids at the lower end of the scale. That article stinks to me and is just looking after people who are mentality weak. They will get nowhere regardless.

    I think the best way to do it would be this. Category 1 Academies sign double the squad size. So 11 a side would carry around 30. All 30 Players still sign for their full grass roots club, not just their own age. And players play one week for their club and one week for their academy. Category 2 & 3 academies don’t play that many games over a season anyway, they wouldn’t have the budget to fund the coaches for 25-30 player training sessions, but they could just play games every other week over a 44 week per year period.

    Academy training nights for each age should be set across the country and have zero flexibility. Clubs then build their training nights around that, this would mean all the talented youngsters get to play more. Players continue to play with their mates. The good players playing at grassroots level get challenged as every other week when the academy players go missing, you may have to step up an age group.

    Ive also experienced 3 players end up stuck in contracts at category 3 academies when They were borderline Category 1 players. The category 1 clubs have approached me with regards to all 3 players to see if I could advise the parents to pull them out so they could sign them. When they signed on for the category 3 clubs, the players eyes lit up and they were were scared to lose out and against my advice they signed for the category 3 club. A bigger pool at the category one club would prevent this problem. This would also help massively with the heartbreak of being released as you’re still actually part of your grassroots club.

    All the best players wouldn’t go to 1-2 teams, they would stick it out at their original clubs because no manager would want to lose his full team every other week. This would mean every grassroots div1 match would be competitive, And also develop players. Also players could then be training 4-5 times per week which would only help bring them on and bring their opponents on. Imagine the standard of 11 v 11 at academy training when every lad was training 7-8 hours per week, it would be hugely beneficial. Also final point, as you have seen, kids develop at different stages, a world beater at 8 year old can be average at 11. Except on average of 1-2 players in every age group their isn’t much between the average academy player and the elite grassroots player.

    I believe academies are producing good players already and the technical ability over the past 5 years has increased 10 fold to bring us closer to the elite countries. We still need better coaches but I really think this system would help bridge the gap and bring more players who have a big chance through.