With the national team securing their ticket to Rio this week thoughts will revert back to the alarming failure in youth development of home grown players. Possible solutions to this crisis at the heart of English football range far and wide, with the game’s experts citing countless reasons for this shocking series of events which has lad to the footballing masses clutching at straws. One thing that can be agreed is that is going to take a long time before we see the benefits at the senior level. What many don’t realise is with no intervention from the FA or a high costing commission the Championship is doing it’s best to help out.
It is fair to say that the Championship goes about it’s entertaining brand of exciting football in the shadow of the global juggernaut brand that is the Premier League. However, if the upper echelons of the game spent just a small time focusing their attention on what lies in the shadows they would find plenty to wet their appetite. The BBC Sport State of the Game study headlines have grabbed the attention of the footballing community, but under the surface there is some statistics which are good reading for the those at the FA and the Football League.
The statistics organisation Opta found that English footballers accounted for less than a third of all minutes played in the Premier League, a fall from 35.43% in the 2007-08 season to 32.26% in the 2012-2013 season. This figure has rightly drawn the attention of many as an underlying reason for the failure of the national team. Even so, the Championship can hold its head high from this study of home grown participation. So far this term English players have played 55.44% of total game time in the second tier a rise of 7% from six years ago.
Critics will say that the majority of these players are journeymen way beyond the peak of their careers that offer little to threaten Roy Hodgson’s squads. Whilst there is a belief that the great academy development days are long gone in this country, reference always made to Moore, Hurst and Peters that won the World Cup all coming through the same system. This dismissal is simply not the case we just find our young lions learning their trade in the second tier. The development in the academy network should be credited to an extent in this country, with several Championship creating their own talent to be proud of. Take Burnley whose 20-man first team squad contains 16 British players and a further 21 in their development squad.
Alongside this there has to be acceptance that the loan system does a good job at offering younger players the chance of much needed competitive football. 41 players from Premier League clubs are on loan at Championship sides and 35 of those are British; Powell, Chalobah and Carroll to name just a few. The feeling that players good enough to break through at big sides will do so is simply false, naive and undermining the talented youth of today. A large proportion of the national team have spent time out on loans down the leagues learning their trade. Take the England side that started the game against Poland, 6 of that side spent time at so called smaller sides as did a similar proportion of the substitutes. Loan moves to smaller sides are the first rung on the ladder in the professional game, up to playing for your country which still is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the game.
Football is an ever evolving world both on and off the pitch. Twenty years ago if your team were to play without a striker, instead employing a “false 9” there would have been uproar, today is is a much used tactic across Europe. Youth development has similarly evolved. In this country with such a strong level of competition below the top tier we should be overjoyed that our future stars can gain experience and consider a spell in the championship as a luxury that other top nations can’t employ. No one group can be accused of generating the current attitude to taking two steps forward and one back but an overhaul of attitudes towards the merits of the Championship for the national side is needed.
To close the words of Everton manager when asked about the talents of young Ross Barkley, “You have to walk before you can run”. In England we have been challenging ourselves to sprint before we can crawl.