“Anyone who tells you they can spot a professional player at five years old is basically lying,” says talent ID manager Nick Levett, an expert in the eight to 11-year-old age group and one of several FA appointments encouraging clubs to improve in this field.
Scouting football players as young as five, persuading an 11-year-old to sign a contract with private school education or offering a teenager’s parents a house. These are just some of the things English clubs are doing to secure the best youngsters in the country, in an increasingly desperate fight to beat rivals to sign potential stars.
But are they doing this to develop the player? Or to stop other teams from gaining the player?
Academies have came under extensive criticism due to the lack of first team players coming through the system. In the search for instant success, the cheque book approach is being adopted over developing youth.
There are approximately 12,500 players at present in the English academy system, however only 0.5% of under-nines at top clubs are likely to make it to the first team. Why?
The drop-out rate in football between the ages of 13 and 16 is alarmingly high with anecdotal evidence to support a similar number to Rugby union which can be as high as 76%.
So have clubs got it right or is it in a compete state of disrepair? And, with the number of foreign players in English football already making it harder for academy players to reach the top, is a different approach required at the bottom end to ensure talent doesn’t slip through the net?
With players such as Jamie Vardy developing late in his career into an international star it is clear, from the thousands and thousands of kids spat out of the academy factory line, that a change is needed. What would any change look like? And how could it be done?
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