Arsenal's one-sided 3-0 victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield brought an interesting week to an end for Manuel Pellegrini's team. It also highlighted a problem blighting the defending Premier League champions and the league in general where young English talent is concerned.
Is youth development a problem in English football?
Only three English players started the match, and all were in Arsenal colours.
Calum Chambers, 19, made his competitive debut for the Gunners and was excellent throughout. He was joined by Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs. City, on the other hand, did not start one Englishman, let alone give a youngster a chance.
This particular issue came to light earlier this week when Jack Rodwell left the Etihad Stadium for pastures new at the Stadium of Light. The ex-Everton midfielder joined Sunderland on a five-year contract, according to the Black Cats' official website.
Roy Hodgson at Wembley for the Community Shield. Three English players starting.— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) August 10, 2014
Rodwell cut no time in lashing his old employers and offered the advice that no young Englishman should join the defending champions, as per BBC Sport: "I would weigh up your options and ask yourself if you want to be playing regularly. ... I would probably say, 'don't sign now; get as much football as you can.'"
As if in rebuttal, Patrick Vieira, manager of Manchester City's elite development squad, or the reserves to you and me, gave an interview about the youth system at City.
In a gushing piece by Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail, the ex-Arsenal captain and his coaching staff talked of how City were not just developing players; they were developing people.
"We have a motto here," Jason Wilcox, who coaches the under-18 side, says. "Great person, great footballer," as he talks about the club's off-field philosophy. In this regard, City are trying to mirror the famed Ajax Academy. At De Toekomst, emotional intelligence and education are coached as much as football intelligence. That is where the similarities end, however.
Vieira goes on to say:
We want to bring talent through our academy into our first team.
There are no borders in football, but if there are seven or eight Manchester boys, then fantastic.
No Manchester City player has graduated from the youth system to regular first team action since before the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) bought the club from Thaksin Shinawatra in 2008, as per Sky Sports.
According to Soccerbase, City have signed 62 players since the 2008 takeover, 12 of whom have been English. City have spent £629.5 million on those 62 players—almost three times more than Ajax have spent on transfers in their 114-year history.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale & James Rodriguez cost Real Madrid €265M. Ajax have spent €232M on transfers since their founding in 1900.— Football Centre (@FootbaIlCentre) August 6, 2014
Ajax's internal philosophy dictates three youth players must graduate toward the first team every season. Ronald de Boer's current squad of 23 includes 11 players who started with the club as under-sevens.
Wilcox, a former Premier League winner with Blackburn Rovers in 1995, maintains the club is moving in the right direction as far as home grown talent is concerned, saying:
We had seven under-16s in the England squad last year,’ Wilcox reveals. ‘That was a record for us. We have some incredibly talented English players. Brandon Barker, Ashley Smith-Brown, Angus Gunn, Kean Bryan, Tosin Adarabioyo. The players are coming through.
Below the under-18 group, over 90 percent of our academy is English. Recently we offered eight professional contracts and six of those are English boys.
Four of those six are local boys. It’s the ideal scenario, but the wider you spread the net, the more chance you have of finding the gem.
Vieira ends the piece by claiming "the numbers will not lie. We have to make a report in 10 years on how many players are in the first team. Then we can say we did it right or we did it wrong."
At this particular moment in time, the numbers are, most definitely, not lying. Rodwell and Scott Sinclair only started nine Premier League games between them last season. Against Arsenal, not one Englishman was deemed good enough to start. Micah Richards, James Milner and Sinclair all came on as second-half substitutes. However, all three will more than likely leave the club within the coming months.
Much has been made of the qualities of 18-year-old right-back Smith-Brown and the 19-year-old son of ex-Manchester United striker Andrew Cole, Devante Cole. However, when push came to shove, Pellegrini chose not to give valuable game time and experience to these players. He chose to use men who are surplus to requirements at the club.
An argument may be made for not parachuting these youth players in with squad players, but that simply does not wash. These men are all top professionals and full internationals in most cases. They may not be first choice at City, but they are by no means bad players.
At 17, 18 and 19, most players are ready for first-team football. They possess the technical qualities to succeed but need to develop further in a physical sense.
This would have been the ideal time to blood a few youngsters.
Karim Rekik, 19, who signed from Feyenoord in 2011 and who has spent the last three seasons on loan at various clubs, was an unused sub against Arsenal. Bruno Zuculini, a recent capture from Racing Club in Argentina did, at least, get 30 minutes under his belt. The 21-year-old Argentinean joined City in July, but the move was only confirmed on August 8, according to the Citizens' official website.
Neither one of these prospects came through the youth system at City. Richards, the last player to truly break through from youth to first team, has really never been part of either Roberto Mancini's or Pellegrini's plans. The powerful right-back has been linked with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, as per Ben Jefferson of the Sunday Express, in recent months.
Arsene Wenger's high-flying Gunners were more than impressive in the way they took the game to City's second string in the Wembley showpiece. Last season's FA Cup winners were exciting and imposing, and they inflicted their slick game upon a rusty-looking City who, it must be said, only fielded two regular first-team players.
Santi Cazorla, the irrepressible Aaron Ramsey and a phenomenal strike from Olivier Giroud proved the difference as Arsenal sent out a statement of intent for next season.
Arsenal not only put one over Manchester City as far as early momentum and Premier League intentions are concerned, they also put one over City's lack of faith in young players.
Wenger has a great belief in giving youth a chance, and it reaped great rewards in the Community Shield, where his team played with abandon and a fundamental belief in their manager's philosophy. This comes from being ingrained with the philosophy from early on and being allowed to make mistakes and lose matches. But most importantly, it comes from being given a chance.
As Vieira says, "the numbers will not lie." They didn't in the Community Shield.