Personality development priority in English youth system

What defines the success of a football academy? For those with a first team playing in the country’s top league, it’s all about the number of players who go on to play for the senior side.

Published: 02nd March 2020 10:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd March 2020 10:04 AM   |  A+A-

(L to R) Chelsea youth coach Ian Howell with his counterparts Daniel Maye (Southampton) and Karl Brown (Manchester United) in Mumbai

Express News Service

CHENNAI: What defines the success of a football academy? For those with a first-team playing in the country’s top league, it’s all about the number of players who go on to play for the senior side. But in a country like England, where there are multiple state-of-the-art academies, it is impossible to expect teams vying for top honours to field a team full of youngsters.

While there are the likes of Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), who have graduated from academies, it is unlikely to witness something like United’s Class of 92 again.

So what happens to those who do not make the cut? There is a possibility of loans and playing for other teams. But will that be at the same level? Maybe or maybe not. With these kids joining academies at a young age, there is much mental pressure to don the senior shirt. And as far as youth coaches are concerned, helping them deal with disappointment is one of the trickiest parts of their jobs. According to Southampton’s youth coach Daniel Maye, the key is to develop them as individuals and not just as players.

“At Southampton, our aim is to give all the lads a chance of coming through to play in the first team. Statistically, you can tell that it doesn’t happen for every single player. But the pathway is certainly there. We focus on many aspects (academics and personality), so that they can work in any industry. When our kids leave the programme, we try and get them into clubs. But a lot of our players have gone on to universities. And we help them to get into careers.

So you want them all to come through. But you have to be realistic and help them develop as persons,” Maye said. This is why most academies focus on academics and the holistic development of the kids. Patience is a key element for these institutions. One cannot expect these schools to produce world-class talents in hundreds and thousands every year. It is a long-term plan that has to be trusted.

“Results are important. It’s great if we win the FA Youth Cup and the Champions League. But ultimately we are judged on our players coming through to the first team. The support of the coaches in the development structure is equally important. So if the academy is not having successful results, we should know how to manage that and have a patient strategy for overall development,” opined Ian Howell, who has been Chelsea’s youth coach for 13 years. 

According to Karl Brown, who is United’s youth coach, the most difficult part of their jobs is off the pitch. In their teens, these kids go through big changes physically and mentally. Staying away from parents, the coaches are their mentors and a family away from home.

“We try to instil our culture and history in the players. A big part of our job is to be understanding. As a coach, I feel 80 per cent of the work is off the pitch. I think the work on the grass is the easy bit.”

RFYC graduates

Since its inception in 2015, the Reliance Foundation Young Champs’ (RFYC) first set of graduates are passing out this year. Eight players have come out from the first batch and some of them have already been approached by professional clubs.


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