Youth Academies: Good For Someone Else

Anthony ThewesCorrespondent INovember 17, 2008

On November 6, 2008, John Bostock made his Tottenham Hotspurs debut against Dinamo Zagreb in the UEFA Cup.  With this appearance, he became the youngest player to ever make an appearance for the Spurs (16 years, 295 days).  However, exactly one year before, he was starting for Crystal Palace against Cardiff City.  By doing so, he became the youngest player to ever make a start for Palace (15 years, 295 days)*.

What a year it's been.

During the 2008 summer transfer window, Tottenham was able to controversially buy the young midfielder for a mere £700,000 (increases to £1.45 million based on appearances and full international appearances). 

Two years ago, Chelsea attempted to purchase the then-14 year old at £900,000.  Estimated market value puts Bostock between £2.5 to £5 million.  Even at his cheapest value, £2.5 million, Tottenham was able to get a huge discount on the England U-17 international.

The one thing that bothers me about this is that people didn't see this coming.  In recent memory, teams such as Crystal Palace, Everton, and Leeds United have produced amazing talents that have gone on to do wonderful things.  The only problem is few of their homegrown talents actually stay there.  Why should they?  They can make much more money with bigger clubs such as Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, etc.

To quote Leeds chairman Ken Bates: "The problem is that young players and their parents are sometimes seduced by short-term promises. It must be very tempting to see short-term gains and the glamour of moving to a so-called 'big club'."

In reality the truth is very different. The kids disappear at these "big clubs," rarely to be heard of again.  Once moved, few are making it into first-team play, they instead get few appearances and garbage minutes.

With all their money, the big clubs no longer need their own youth academies.  Instead, they can just go into smaller clubs and sign their top talents.  Sometimes, this pays off for the club, but more often is just dumping a few hundred thousand pounds.

Since his signing in 2007, Michael Woods (formerly of Leeds) has made just two appearances for Chelsea, both in the FA Cup.  In their Carling Cup loss to Burnley, Woods was called up to the bench, but did not make an appearance.

In comparison, Woods' former teammate Fabian Delph, Leeds United's next big name, has made 17 starts, scoring three goals as an impressive midfielder.  Delph has been getting increased attention from the footballing world, most notably from Arsenal and Manchester United.

With many of the world's top club going after him, how long will Delph last at Leeds?  What is in store for many smaller clubs during this next year?  How many of their players will end up leaving for bigger clubs only to sit on their bench or be loaned out to other clubs?  How many are going to be the next stars at their future clubs?

*John Bostock made his Crystal Palace debut one week earlier on October 29, 2007 at the age of 15 years and 287 days, making him Palace's youngest ever player.