Academy football is facing a huge crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Clubs are finally preparing for their youth teams to return to training later this month – most are back on Monday July 27 – after finally being given their own separate training protocols and risk assessment programmes similar to Premier League level.
But an even bigger issue is for smaller clubs within the Elite Player Performance Plan set-up and the dilemma for EFL clubs as to whether to carry on funding their academies.
Salford City, part-owned by the ‘Class of 92’ group of former Manchester United players, were considering departing the programme but have decided to stay in for now.
The issue for Salford was not so much cutbacks but more whether it is effective to try to develop players when generally the best go to Category One and Two academies anyway and then EFL clubs can often pick up those who do not make it.
But for others, it will be about the cost and whether they can commit to academy football which, ultimately, could have a long term knock-on effect for youth development in this country.
There is no doubt that the EPPP works for top players like a Mason Greenwood or Marcus Rashford coming through, but even at Category One and Two level, 75 percent of the intake are out of the game by the time they reach 20.
That is not enough of a guarantee for some clubs, especially when you look Brentford who scrapped their academy set-up in favour of a B team and, when you see what the club is doing on and off the pitch, it is hard to argue against their model.
Meanwhile, for a go-forward club like Salford – with the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham as such great examples of youth development – to be concerned then it must be a major worry, especially if clubs do not get proper fees for youngsters.
But it is also worth thinking about Chelsea ’s Ethan Ampadu who was developed at Exeter, Exeter’s Ben Chrisine has been called up by England under-17s or youngster Malik Mothersille who was released by Charlton, started again at Leyton Orient and has now been snapped up by Chelsea.
It will be worth keeping an eye on Middlesbrough’s emerging defender Djed Spence.
Right-back Spence, 19, is enjoying an impressive run of form which has already caught the eye of Premier League scouts.
And, interestingly, Jose Mourinho pulled Spence after Tottenham beat Middlesbrough in the FA Cup in January, asked for his shirt to give to his son Jose Junior as the pair were together at Fulham.
Mourinho used to go to watch his son every week, knows Spence and was full of encouragement for the 6ft 2in defender, told him he can reach the top and, intriguingly, Spurs are now looking for a right-back themselves.
American superstar Jay-Z ’s entertainment agency Roc Nation continues to make impressive inroads into football.
Their latest partnership is with AC Milan, who are looking to explore entertainment and commercial tie-ups.
Roc Nation’s expanding client list now includes Marcus Rashford, Axel Witsel, Eric Bailly, Dakota Watterson, Federico Bernardeschi, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Reece James, Lauren James, Samuel Chukwueze, Siya Kolisi and Tyrone Mings.
Eni Aluko was compelling viewing while giving evidence to MPs about a lack of diversity within football.
But the former England forward, who is now Aston Villa Women’s sporting director, did raise an eyebrow when she said (quite rightly) you do not have to be a top player to become a top manager, but listed Barcelona legend Pep Guardiola as one of the examples.
“Some of the best managers in the Premier League, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson, they weren’t amazing footballers, but are incredible managers,” she said.
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