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Can the waste of young English talent be prevented?

Monday 27th February 2012
There's nothing we football fans love more than seeing a young lad make it through the ranks of the academy system and play for the club we support. There's an endless list of players we adore because of it: Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Paolo Maldini are names we associate with breaking through the ranks. But For every success story, there are players who, for personal reasons, end up on the footballing wasteland.

Names that have recently sprung up include Raheem Sterling, Ravel Morrison and Nile Ranger. I won't suggest all footballers fail to make it because of crime. Look at Kaz Patafta, a player most will never have heard of. At 16 years old he was with Benfica and set to dominate games from the midfield, yet at the age of 23 he was without a club. Clearly he couldn't handle the game mentally, as the talent was there. However, wasted talent can not be ignored. Are young, English players given enough support?

Yes, many a cynical fan will mock this and say they've got all the money in the world and that it's their fault. How many have been in their position? Young, too much money, plenty of free time? Temptation is always likely to play a part. Players like Michael Johnson of Man City for example, could have been England stars, but instead their careers have hit a standstill. What can be done for young players like them?

Pressure plays a massive part on a player, at the age of 14 Freddy Adu was tipped to be America's greatest player and would dominate the Premiership. At age 22, he is in the MLS with Philadelphia Union after several unsuccessful forays into Europe. Why did he never succeed? Clearly he had the mental attributes required to break into football at such a young age, but poor advice, moving to Europe so young, and massive hype driven by sponsorship hindered a player who just needed time and games to get somewhere. At the age of 22, Adu still has time to make an impact.

However, criminality does play a part in football. The case of Ravel Morrison is well documented. Henry Winter of the Telegraph claimed he was the best young talent since Paul Scholes. That is unbelievable praise for a player who had barely played in the League Cup for Man Utd. While players such as Paul Pogba and Federico Macheda have had chances in the Man Utd first team, Morrison has not, and he has been restricted to the occasional cup game. Morrison's inability to turn up for training; police charges and general misbehaviour have caused Sir Alex Ferguson to lose patience, and Morrison was sold, for a profit, to West Ham. If a player can not be motivated to play for one of the best clubs in the world, there is a serious problem in attitude.

Much like Morrison, Nile Ranger made headlines early into his career at Newcastle. Initially, they were positive. His goal scoring record for the reserves was mightily impressive, leading Alan Shearer to promote him to the first team squad, in the Championship he even scored twice. Last season, he turned a 1-1 draw with Liverpool into a 3-1 win as he dominated their backline.

Amazingly, Ranger still could not turn up on time for training, and continued to find himself on the wrong side of the law. While Sammy Ameobi has shone for Newcastle, Ranger never makes the squad for the first team or the reserves. How can players with the tools for success and fame ignore it for senseless acts? While money may play a part with their ego, it is often quite difficult for players to leave their roots, as Morrison and Ranger have demonstrated, are clubs doing enough to keep them on the right track?

Upbringing seems to be a factor, as Sammy Ameobi - mentored by his brother Shola and their grounded family - goes from strength to strength, Ranger regresses. Agents play a large role in football these days, and are often rightfully accused of leeching off the game. Young players are regularly tempted by a quick, money making move to a bigger club without a second thought. Recently, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll were developing well at the clubs who made them, but they both soon snapped at the chance of a big money move to Liverpool.

Neither can claim to be as good as they were at their original clubs. While football is a short career, experience and player growth is vital, a big move can wait. So what can be done? I believe that the following changes would help keep the players on task and understand what they have:

1. Revision of Loans:  Players such as Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere have massively benefited from loans to other clubs. A season long loan for young talent to the Championship/League 1/League 2 would help ground them. A league without the glamour, massive media hype but defined by a fantastic work ethic would be of great benefit to the players. While they would improve as players, they would also learn just what awaits them if they take the Premiership for granted. Arsene Wenger has proven time and time again that a loan can only help youth players.

2. A fixed youth wage until the age of 21 Too many times we've seen a young footballer jump at the chance to join a club for more money, and often this has stalled or completely wrecked their career. With a fixed wage for young players, they would see the benefits of staying at the club who created them, learning from regular game time. A fixed salary would help a player who isn't getting sufficient game time to move clubs without money playing a part as an ulterior motive.

3.  More Club involvement in Youth Players' lives While every club has grounded young players, it would be better for members of the youth setup to know the club is a viable option for support. It might be an idea to send young players on a type of work experience, and let them get a feel for the real world. While many football clubs have community projects, a requirement for young players to go on the programme and help the community could only help them realise the power they have as footballers. These are just three simple ideas that I think would have a positive impact on the lives of young players. Any other ideas?
Tom Errington

Total articles: 9

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