“If they are good enough, they are old enough”Sir Matt Busby
Every 99 minutes. That’s right, almost every game, Ademola Lookman produced a goal or an assist (5 Goals, 1 Assist, 11 Games) whilst on loan at RB Leipzig last season. A team that finished 2 points off third in the 2017/18 German Divison. Effective? Yes. Too young? No. But yet we are told young English players aren’t ready? But is this true? Let’s dig deeper.
To do this we have to go back a bit. One important area we have to consider is the wealth of the Premier League. With all the glamour and money being brought into the Premier League, mainly through TV rights and sponsorship, the long term effects are clearly damaging for the future of young English stars. Currently, TV income for 2016-2019 is £5.136bn, it has seen a 70% increase from the 2013-2016 revenue generated of around £3bn. Premier league giants can now outbid top European teams when bringing in top talent, most notably teams in Germany and Italy. You could argue that with this wealth, teams prefer ready-made stars to academy graduates.
Taking a look at the current crop of top Premier League stars, Rashford, Alli, Sane, and Sterling to name just a few, they were all playing competitive football regularly at the ages of 18-19. Reiss Nelson (19, Hoffenheim) and Jadon Sancho (18, Borussia Dortmund) have both made the choice, of what is becoming a common trend, to join teams in Germany. How do they fair up against Hudson-Odoi (18, Chelsea) this season, who’s been of hot interest from Bayern Munich? Statistically speaking, it’s obvious. Odoi has had considerably less game time (6.2% of Chelsea’s games this season), completing 90 minutes only three times in his 8 appearances this season, underused. In comparison, Sancho has played 26 (70% of BVB games) and Nelson just behind with 23 (48% of Hoffenheim games). But more than that, they are delivering. Sancho has produced 7 goals and 11 assists, whilst Nelson has netted 10 times in the league. Odoi, 1 goal and 2 assists.
Let’s move on. German coaches tend to be young and most have previous experience of working in club academies. So it’s of no major surprise that we are seeing, and will continue to see, this type of positive effect with young players in the Bundesliga. Borrusia Dortmund bases their whole club structure on youth. BVB’s sporting director Michael Zorc states “It would be naive to think that finances don’t have any influence on what happens on the pitch. That’s why we like working with young players who are at a level we can afford and generate money that we can use to close the gap somehow.” Circumstances, similar to those at Tottenham, have led to a successful football project that allows young players to excel. It sounds contradictive, but less money seems to be correlated with better decision making regarding youth prospects. The opposite is also true…
Manchester City’s decision to sign Mahrez in the summer has left Phil Foden limited to mostly domestic cup games. Not even making the first eleven to enjoy the beating Burton received at home in the league cup, 9-0 being the end result in that game. BVB’s sporting director touched on this, “They can’t get into their first teams because the squads are so big. But they understand that we can provide a platform for them to play, that our coaches have the courage to play them.” Finishing with, “Not just in the first round of the DFB Pokal against (fifth-division) Eintracht Trier, but in the big games against Bayern and such like.” Sounds like a dig right? But it’s not, it’s just facts.
Let’s take a look at this season. 30 English players between the ages of 17-21 have made at least 1 Premier league appearance. 5 have not played more than 19 minutes. Only 17 have played 3 games or more. Okay, but what does this mean? Well in the Championship, the second most competitive league in England, 83 players in the same age group had made at least 1 League appearance. Let’s continue. Only one Premier League player has played more than 2000 minutes, Wan-Bissaka, and thoroughly deserved. In the Championship, that number was 12. So a bigger portion of young English players play regularly in the Championship, you could easily argue start more games too. The average minutes for these players in the Championship was a comfortable 341 more than in the premier league, 470 minutes in the Premier League, 811 in the Championship. Could the Championship then also provide another solution for these players? The stats certainly suggest that and Tammy Abraham seems to think so too, 16 goals in 21 Championship games this season. Not bad. James Maddison of Leicester City is another prime example of this, whilst at Norwich City last season.
The summer of 2017 was a memorable one for a number of reasons. Notably, Neymar smashing the world record fee paid by PSG for his services at £198m. At that same time, England’s U17’s, U19’s and U20s won their respective international competitions. A platform has been created. Now it needs the clubs and the Football Association to take action. To create an environment that encourages teams to afford more game time for these players. Not because they have to, but because they want to. Players shouldn’t be afraid to take responsibilities into their own hands if this isn’t happening in deciding their futures. There are options everywhere you look, I’ve just covered a couple. I don’t want to pile pressure on these players or any others, I just want them to get a fair chance. Right now, I don’t think that’s happening enough.