The recent success of the England under 20 and under 21 teams has reignited the debate about the development of young players for the national team.
The under 20s won the World Cup, whilst the under 21s reached the semi-final of Euro tournament but the big question now is what happens next.
The young players have returned to their clubs to continue development but how much chance will they be given at the highest level?
Over recent years, it has been noticeable how the number of young players coming through the ranks to take their place in the first teams of Premiership football teams has been dwindling.
Clubs increasingly look for instant success, which most often sees foreign players bought in from Europe. There is no need to develop the player, as has to happen with the youngsters brought through the system The foreign player can, as it were, be bought off the shelf – the finished product, who can be relied upon to do a good job week in week out.
Managers will claim they are under pressure the whole time to compete, failure means the sack, with owners having high expectation and low patience levels when it comes to success.
The sacking of Southampton manager, Claude Puel, having secured eight place in the Premier league and a League Cup final appearance in his first season was proof of the high expectations even among what would be considered middle ranking clubs. Watford are another example, where changing managers appears to be an annual ritual regardless of how things have gone on the pitch.
The fans ofcourse are also fickle, they want success but also like to see the local home grown players coming through to represent the club.
The feelings of the fans on these matters was nicely illustrated a month ago when West Ham co-chairman David Gold tweeted to the effect that it would be unlikely that a home grown teenager would break into the club’s first team anytime soon.
The comment did not go down well among fans of a club that earned much of its name and reputation on bringing through young talent. Hammers fans chests swell with pride, as they talk of “the academy” that brought through the likes of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking, Joe Cole Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampards (father and son) and Jermain Defoe.
What did the comment say to the present crop of promising youngsters at the club? Players like Reece Oxford, Reece Burke, Josh Cullen, Declan Rice, Tony Martinez and Martin Samuelsen. It is also particularly galling for some players, who left the junior ranks of bigger clubs, because they believed there would be a chance at West Ham.
Indeed, West Ham’s once proud record of bringing through young players is becoming a more distant memory than the old Boleyn ground at Upton Park. The last youngster to really make it in the first team and endure was James Tomkins, who made his debut in 2008. He was sold last summer to Crystal Palace. Tomkins came through under the managership of Gianfranco Zola, who was the last West Ham manager to really give kids a chance. Others from that era,like Jack Collinson (retired due to injury), Junior Stanislas (Bournemouth) and Zavon Hines (Southend) have since departed or left football.
Many fans thought things would improve when Slaven Bilic took over as manager from Sam Allardyce, who really had no time for bringing young players through. At the end of Bilic’s first season (2015/16), the youngsters won the Premier League Under 21 cup. Bilic promised that the young players would be around the first team squad or loaned out. Plenty were loaned out but few featured for the first team. Some like Reece Oxford seem to have gone backwards.
Adding to the ire of the fans was a recruitment policy that saw some very average players being bought in from abroad. Some felt that many offered little more than the club’s youngsters, who were being denied a chance.
The West Ham way, which has now become buying in a foreign team to represent the local east London area, is not untypical amongst Premiership football teams, which will regularly field a team of all foreign players. But what does this do for the national team?
A number of times over recent years, England teams have been fielded with players that could not get into their club sides. There have been players, like Sean Wright Phillips, who have been signed by the big clubs, only to then be left on the sideline rather than get the first team action required to develop to the maximum of their abilities. Arguably, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Theo Walcott at Arsenal have suffered a similar fate. Had they remained a little longer at Southampton they may have got more chances, more quickly.
Some clubs are better than others at bringing young players through. Southampton have a proud record of giving young talent a chance, which still appears to be the case, with the likes of James Ward Prowse prospering at the club.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has managed to combine developing young talent, like Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier and Deli Ali, with buying in foreign players, to create a Premiership challenging team.
It is this sort of progressive approach that is needed if those young players who have done so well in the international tournaments are to progress to the top level. They no doubt have the talent but need to be given the chance to succeed.
Not so long ago, fans took a more tolerant attitude if a young player was being given his chance and made a mistake or two – it was all part of the learning process. Eventually, the finished product would take shape and everyone would be happy. Today fans, as well as owners are less forgiving. However, if the young players are to develop, then they must be given that chance.
There clearly is another generation of exciting talent coming through in this country. Players that could one day be part of a successful national team. However, that will only happen if they are given a chance, a chance that must include the possibility of failure now and again.