The Premier League is bursting with young talent, many of which don’t ever get an opportunity to show what they can do with regular first team action. Some of the best managers in the league have found ways to implement their youngsters and bring out the best of their abilities but in an era of inflation, big spending and money-dominated owner-ships; it’s becoming increasingly hard for young talent to break through the ranks in some of England’s top clubs.
The loan system is a great tool in assisting clubs to develop youngsters and push them through towards the first team squad. The agreement between two clubs allows young players to try and pick up regular first team action and improve their experiences as a footballer, whilst gaining valuable skills in leadership and responsibility. Their talent can be exciting for teams of a lower standard too and it’s often a favourable agreement for both parties.
However, in recent seasons, it’s become rare to see a youngster go out on loan and return to their club to be given the chance as part of the first team. It’s become more common to see them join another club or to stay with the squad they’ve carried out their loan spell with. There are exceptions to this of course, but the norm suggests that if you undergo a lengthy loan spell, you’re unlikely to make the frame in the Premier League’s top clubs.
As a result, it’s worth questioning whether young stars should seek to go out on loan or is it better for them to remain and hope to be given a chance?
The pathway to the first team requires a number of factors. Of course talent is important, but so is attitude, professionalism, leadership, versatility and effort. Young footballers must possess all of these in order to progress but there are also factors outside of their control which must be addressed.
First and foremost, the manager must have faith in youth. If the boss doesn’t believe he can rely on the academy’s youngsters to pull through, he won’t offer many opportunities. Secondly, the club’s philosophy from the top to the bottom must be ideal. For example, Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich wants to win trophies and if he feels his side aren’t one of the biggest names in Europe, he expects the manager to splash the cash in order to attract the biggest stars. If the club are looking to buy in top talent who will slot straight into the first team, it makes it even harder for the academies to provide youthful prospects.
Finally, luck and timing are other factors which are usually necessary for youngsters to break through. Marcus Rashford is a prime example; the Manchester United striker found himself fast-tracked to the first team squad when injuries and lack of form created an opening. His young team-mates, James Wilson and Ashley Fletcher agreed loan spells with Brighton and Barnsley but Rashford’s decision to stay found him thrust into first team action when an injury to Anthony Martial in the warm-up left Manchester United short on options. He leap-frogged his younger colleagues, who had made what looked like great choices for a loan spell, and was celebrating scoring two goals on his first team debut in a Europa League clash against Midtjylland just weeks after Fletcher appeared in a League One play-off final.
Rashford’s rise continued and he found himself a spot on the plane to France as part of England’s European Championship campaign. The international has been sung about at Old Trafford and kids are wearing his name on their backs, but without that bit of luck and the timing of it, Rashford could’ve been battling it out in the Football League this season rather than scoring goals in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho.
He is an exception of course. But how many other youngsters have gone out on loan and failed to make it on their return? Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur have demonstrated how good the team can become in recent seasons if club’s trust their academy systems. Southampton’s stars made up the bulk of England’s 2014 World Cup squad, including the likes of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, all of which were prodigies of their famous youth system. Tottenham’s young side led an inspiring title chase last season too and Deli Alli, Eric Dier, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were the stars chosen to lead England’s 2016 European Championship hopes.
There’s plenty of youthful talent around, but with top clubs now opting to buy in ability, it’s becoming increasingly hard to make the jump. But will Rashford’s fate make other youngsters think twice before agreeing to be shipped out on loan? It’s unlikely many will but with the introduction of the Premier League 2, there’s now an even greater platform for progression for club’s young talent on the brink of the first team. If they’re good enough, perhaps it’d be a better option in some cases to remain with their club, competing in the high standard of the under-23’s league. The decision must acknowledge all factors but one thing’s for sure, there’s no way of telling which is the best course of action.