As the referee blew his whistle for the final time, three short blasts signal the end of an enthralling game in which Everton blew the blue moon of Manchester City to pieces. Pep Guardiola slumped in his seat like a man who had put the turkey in the oven overnight at Xmas only to realise he had forgotten to turn the gas on! Two players both scoring their maiden Premier League goals were the icing on the cake for the Toffees as Pep’s men were put to the sword. Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman may not be household names yet, but Everton’s new kids on the block both look to have bright futures. Academy graduates at Everton and Charlton respectively, these two young players are the new breed of homegrown talent in which Premier League clubs are now starting to take a punt on. Mason Holgate and John Stones came through at Barnsley before making the move to Merseyside with Stones heading east to Manchester for a whopping £50m.
Liverpool fielded their youngest team in their history in the third round of the FA Cup against Plymouth. An average age of just 21 spread across eleven players that day, with half of the starting line up working their way through the Melwood Academy. Down the M62 in Manchester, United have the dynamic duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, both recently capped this year by England. Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford was having a cracking season until his injury took him out of the firing line. Down in the capital, Harry Winks at Spurs and Alex Iwobi at Arsenal are both being trusted by their respective managers to go out there and do the business, again academy graduates who are being shown you don’t have to be a fancy Dan from overseas. But where do they all come from?
In the 3 and a bit years in which my son has played football, academies or soccer schools, whichever you want to call them, have become more and more popular. Many are run by current pro’s or ex-pro’s who put their name to these schools to drum up further interest. Let’s be honest if Alan Smith, the painter from down the pub, told you he was setting up an academy to coach young kids football you would most probably say “oh that’s great mate, I might bring little Johnny down Saturday ” and that would be the end of that. But let’s say Alan Smith (ex Arsenal and England forward and current Sky commentator) had opened an academy in your local area, and you had a boy or girl interested in football, then chances are you would be down there like a shot.
When I was a lad growing up I absolutely loved football. Unfortunately the only structure in place was the school team when you reached the age of 11. Stood on a gigantic pitch with a full size goal which the whole team would not fill if you had all stood in it at the same time! Now there are many clubs all over the country which are starting kids off as soon as they reach a school age. Brilliant! Teaching kids good teamwork, social skills and some moral fibre from an early age with the added bonus of fitness and learning/playing football.
Some people I speak to about these academies are sceptical. Isn’t it expensive for an hour or 90 minutes training? Well I guess it’s how you look at it. If you have a leaky toilet and you try and fix it yourself then it can be done fairly cheaply, but unless you are a fully qualified plumber, then you never really know if the job you have done will be sufficient. So you pay for a plumber. It costs you a lot of money but you know the job is done right and you’re happy with the service. Which brings me back to these academies. They are run by very highly qualified coaches, many of whom have worked at league clubs all over the country. So why not pay a bit extra to give your son or daughter an hours training by someone who has spent years learning and perfecting their skills?!
Dele Alli was brought through at the MK Dons, his mother taking him weekly to various soccer schools in between training and playing with his friends.
Will the next David Beckham be found at every club? I doubt it. But the kids don’t care. They look like they are having the time of their lives