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Is academy football letting the side down or being let down?

Thursday 4th May 2017
Some truly superb players have graced football courtesy the game's most impressive academies. La Masia, Ajax, Southampton, the list goes on. However, in more recent times, there has been a dearth in talent emerging from academy football. Non-League clubs are contributing more players to the English Football League. Rather than upping their own game, most English clubs prefer to import young talent.

Take Manchester United as an example. Two academy players featured in the starting XI against Swansea; two more sat on the bench. Four homegrown players among a squad of expensive imports. Sadly, these players might not have gotten a game if the Red Devils weren't mired in an injury crisis. Marcus Rashford would back up Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A fully fit Juan Mata surely replaces Jesse Lingard.

So we've got four in a matchday squad of 18 for Manchester United. Let's look elsewhere then come back to them.

Cross town rivals, Man City, took a trip to Middlesbrough to play out a 2-2 draw with the Premier League strugglers. City's match day squad included just one academy product: goalkeeper Angus Gunn. If Claudio Bravo wasn't injured, Gunn would never have sat on the bench. Yet again, City would have featured a squad entirely comprising purchased players. Not good news for the English game.

Historically, Premier League teams do look to the transfer market rather than academies to bolster squads. What exactly does that mean for those signing up for a footballing education with the country's biggest and best clubs? For most, a series of loan deals before being sold to a lesser club. This is utterly wrong.

Arsenal, Southampton, Manchester United, and a few other clubs do take a vested interest in their academies, offering opportunities to far more players than domestic rivals.

Beyond players United has kept, academy football graduates Ryan Shawcross, Michael Keane, Tom Heaton, and Tom Cleverley are among many who have carved out a Premier League career. However, even these clubs have brought through significantly less players in recent years.
United, for example, relied on the Class of '92 for more than a decade. Sir Alex Ferguson continued the trend long after David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville had moved on or retired. Jonny Evans, John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher, and Wes Brown were all drafted into the squad, shown faith by their manager despite not holding a candle to the last remaining '92 alumnus, Ryan Giggs.

Jose Mourinho seems to have adopted the traditional United philosophy, including academy products in the first team squad but reserving his favour for the impressive Rashford, inconsistent Lingard, and occasionally remembered Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Highly rated players such as Andreas Pereira and Sam Johnstone have been sent out on loan whereas coveted Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong remain in the youth ranks for now.

Surely their morale is being tested? Young Axel Tuanzebe took his place on the bench against Swansea but saw no game time. United are in a defensive crisis but he can't get a game before lacklustre Daley Blind? Something is wrong. Tellingly, the club has yet to hire a permanent replacement for acclaimed reserve manager, Warren Joyce, who left to manage Wigan six months ago.

Arsenal's young, homegrown first team talent largely comes from other clubs. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are Southampton products. Aaron Ramsey's youth career was spent at Cardiff. Their most prominent Arsenal academy star, left back Kieran Gibbs, can't get a game from Arsene Wenger.

Ben Woodburn is the token academy product for Liverpool these days, replacing Martin Kelly, now at Crystal Palace.

The FA's new rules on homegrown talent may play a part in the future but we've been waiting some time for them to take effect. Too long, in fact. Academy football will still produce an occasional superstar but more would emerge if only players were given a chance to shine on the pitch.
Kristian Webb
A Manchester United fan who actually knows where Manchester is; I'm the chief writer for AccumulatorTips, ForzaSwansea and a contributor to WhatCulture's video game section. I'm a professional proofreader, content author and SEO Expert but that doesn't mean there won't be the odd grammatical error!

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