Pep Guardiola’s appointment at Manchester City hopes to reinvigorate their newly invested academy system. Pep, whose time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich has given him the recognition as one of the best managers in the world, is renowned for turning his sides into possession-heavy teams that encourage flair and creativity on the ball. He’s known for building his own teams, and although his squads have never been short of talent, he’s built a reputation for coaching ‘perfect football.’ Manchester City hope Guardiola can enforce his philosophy on their new, expansive academy facilities and it’s clearly an appointment looking at success in the future as well as now.
Apart from City’s recent investments, have the rest of England’s top clubs left their academies behind? Manchester United’s recent plans to develop in their youth has kick-started a discussion, including a string of criticisms, on how the Premier League’s elite are failing to enhance the prospects of their home grown players. Granted, there are still many players who have made the successful jump from the training ground to the Premier League’s first team, but the numbers have fallen in the last decade and it’s hard to see when the next ‘Class of 92’ will come from.
It was refreshing to see Southampton’s squad when they climbed into the top flight following back-to-back promotions in 2010-11 and 2011-12. In that squad, a number of players had grown up through the illustrious academy down south and notched up several Premier League appearances between them. Of those players, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw went on to play internationals, whilst team-mates Jay Rodriguez and Nathaniel Clyne also joined them and have since progressed in their careers. As well as Southampton, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United have all seen recent first team additions from their academies, but could there have been more?
Southampton’s academy has been renowned as one of English football’s best, with players such as Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale all progressing through its ranks. However, recent criticism from manager Ronald Koeman, who was disappointed with the ‘lack of talent’ at the club’s academy, and no recent starlet to pronounce himself, cries concern for academies across England.
Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool fans hoped some of their promising youngsters would progress but it was only Jordan Ibe and Raheem Sterling who really became a hit. Jordan Rossiter, Jordan Williams and Cameron Brannagan made cup and European appearances but didn’t make the cut in the Premier League. However, since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival, the German boss has put his faith in many of Liverpool’s youngsters for most of the FA Cup, Capital One Cup and Europa League competitions. Six youngsters have seen themselves make their debuts, whilst Jerome Sinclair, Pedro Chirivella, Brad Smith and Joao Texeira have added to their previous appearances under Rodgers. Liverpool’s own fan-favourite, Jon Flannagan, has also recently returned from injury to continue to notch up appearances under Klopp.
In contrast, Louis Van Gaal’s arrival at Manchester United saw the sale of Danny Welbeck to rivals Arsenal in September 2014, whilst Adnan Januzaj was shafted on loan to Borussia Dortmund and James Wilson to Brighton for the 2015-16 season. All three decisions were highly criticised by United fans, who saw the two youngsters as great products of their famous academy systems. It’s not been all doom and gloom for Manchester United’s youngsters though, as Andreas Pereira has cemented himself with regular first team appearances, while Jesse Lingard has particularly impressed in the Premier League.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane was a revelation last season and he’s just one of nine home-grown academy players to have made the jump to the first team in the last five years – the joint highest total of players to have been produced and nurtured by a Premier League club (based on players joining club before 18th birthday.) Unsurprisingly, it’s Southampton and Arsenal’s academies which join Tottenham with nine players to have made first team appearances based on these statistics. Chelsea have given league starts to 6 players who joined their academy before their 18th birthday whilst Liverpool gave out 5 and Premier League leaders, Leicester City, gave out 4. Manchester City have only named one player, Kelechi Iheanacho, who scored a 90th minute winner against Crystal Palace, whilst local rivals, Manchester United have given starts to 8 players. *Stats produced by Sky Sports, Nov 2015.*
Elsewhere in England’s capital city, Chelsea currently have 18 players aged 21 or under out on loan, with the majority of those practising their trade in foreign countries. Romelu Lukaku, Victor Moses and Kevin De Bruyne were the last of Chelsea’s academy stars to make the break through, although they failed to notch up more than 50 league starts between them for the Blues. Despite only making one start in the Premier League for Chelsea, Lukaku, since leaving Stamford Bridge, has gone on to score well over 50 Premier League goals, becoming just the fifth player in history to achieve the feat by the age of 21 and only Cristiano Ronaldo can share that achievement as a foreigner.
Manchester City’s recent investment saw the club executives pour millions of pounds into the facilities, encouraging youngsters to make the switch to Manchester. Like their rivals, Manchester United have recently revealed plans to invest in their own academy, as well as plans to expand training grounds and improve communications with the academy and first team staff. Although these are signs the top clubs have recognised the need to look to their own, has it come too late?
Since 2010, the last five champions of England have fielded just 16 of their own home-grown youth – opting to spend big money on foreign players and loan their youngsters to the lower leagues of English football or to other clubs in Europe. Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have led the way in neglect, and the rest of England’s clubs seem to have followed suit. The number of home-grown players to have made more than ten first team appearances in the league has dropped dramatically since 2000. In 2015, just 44 youngsters who had been involved in club academies since the age of 17, made more than 10 league appearances out of all 20 clubs in the Premier League. Just one player did so from Chelsea’s league-winning squad.
If England want to compete on the international stage, and if the Premier League’s top clubs want to continue to push on in European competitions, they must start looking to their own academies to embed their philosophy. Jurgen Klopp, Ronald Koeman and Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the Premier League could see these changes made but fans will hope there are more than just these managers that will have faith in their youngsters. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing one of your own make it to the top and Manchester City’s hopes will lie in Pep Guardiola to achieve just that.