Whither the Academy: Are the Kids of Tomorrow Getting a Chance?
This year promises even more new blood, as young internationals look to cement themselves in their clubs' first teams.
Despite all the progress, though, the question remains: Are today's young talents produced by clubs' youth academies, or are they purchased at cheap prices from outside markets?
The answer is both.
Look at Arsenal, for instance.
Justin Hoyte has worked his socks off to get where he is today. After a successful loan spell at Sunderland during the '05-'06 campaign, Hoyte has proved to Wenger that a wealth of right-backs isn't a bad thing to have—injuries have landed him in the starting lineup.
Where Hoyte worked himself through the ranks at Arsenal to earn his first-team spot, Cesc Fabregas was plucked from Barcelona at the tender age of 15.
Is that wrong?
Very good question.
Wenger likes to scout around the continent. Armand Traore is another of his acquisitions; Wenger brought Traore in from AS Monaco in France when he was 16.
And it's not just Arsenal who likes to plunder the mainland.
Manchester United is attempting to create a blend of homegrown and imported talent. Current rumours even have them signing a 9-year-old from Australia.
Remember, Nani and Anderson are 20 and 19, respectively. Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio are set to arrive in two years from Fluminense. Like Fabregas, they were signed when they were just 15.
Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, and David Beckham won the Treble in ’99. It's no coincidence that they came through United’s academy, but it remains to be seen whether such a feat is still possible today.
Chris Eagles is the first quality player to emerge from United’s academy in some time. After years on the cusp of the first team, he finally looks set to get a chance from Sir Alex.
If a team wants to mix native talent with purchased players, it's okay with me. Only time will tell whether this combination pays off at the club and international levels.
Here's a look at three players who could—and maybe should—bust out of their academies or reserve teams to make a splash in the coming season:
Scott Sinclair – Chelsea
Signed by Chelsea at the age of 16 from Bristol Rovers, this striker has spent a number of seasons trying to work his way up the pecking order.
Sinclair spent the majority of last season on loan at Plymouth Argyle, where he scored four goals—including a spectacular shot in the FA Cup.
Sinclair was slated for the first team when he returned in May, but a broken metatarsal put an end to that.
The youngster is up against top stars like Drogba, Shevchenko, and Pizzaro—but his pace, strength, and finishing should be enough to persuade Jose to give him a chance. Look out for this boy in the Carling and FA Cups.
Chris Eagles – Manchester United
This right-side midfielder was constantly compared to Beckham as he progressed through United’s academy. His first goal in United’s colours—an audacious curl around Everton's Iain Turner off a feed from Wayne Rooney— helped United win the title.
Eagles has made a number of minor appearances for United, primarily in the Carling Cup. That trend is likely to continue this season, but he will play a much larger role as Sir Alex puts more faith in him.
Loan stints at Sheffield Wednesday, Watford, and NEC Nijmegen in Holland have already resulted in three substitute appearances for the 21-year-old this season.
Nicklas Bendtner – Arsenal
With strikers Robin van Persie, Eduardo da Silva, and Emmanuel Adebayor already on the books at Arsenal, Bendtner looks to be the final piece of a near-perfect quartet.
Bendtner scored 13 goals during a loan spell at Birmingham last season, helping the Blues gain promotion to the EPL. Still, it will be hard for Bendtner to establish himself at Arsenal, mostly because Wenger sticks with one striker when his team is winning.
Bendtner has made two substitute appearances this season, and is likely to see more action down the road. He's a tall lad, only 19 years old, strong and good in the air. Hopefully his presence will encourage Arsenal’s fullbacks to send more cross balls through the area.
All told, it looks like a promising season for these EPL youngsters—and there will undoubtedly be many more “diamonds in the rough.”
Keep an eye on Michael Johnson (Manchester City), Craig Lindfield (Liverpool), and Adel Taarabt (Tottenham Hotspur) as the year progresses.
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