After a summer of unprecedented success at youth level, English football has demonstrated that there is no shortage of talent in the country. However, the vast sums of money that now dominate the bi-annual transfer windows are still causing a crisis when it comes to opportunities for many of these young players to showcase their talent in the top leagues. PDP Assistant Editor, Jon Hoggard discusses football’s financial crisis.
At the time of writing, transfer spending in the Premier League sits at £850 million, with just over a month to go until the end of the transfer window. It was recently estimated by a top accounting firm that Premier League sides are on course to beat the record £1.165 billion spent in last summer’s window.
Many top players have been brought in from outside the Premier League, such as Alvaro Morata, Bernado Silva, and Alexandre Lacazette. Some internal transfers have taken place for huge sums too, like Romelu Lukaku’s £73 million move to Man Utd and Kyle Walker’s switch to Man City for £43 million. Meanwhile, further afield sums of £198 million are wafting through the headlines for Neymar moving to PSG – a move that makes no footballing sense whatsoever and is entirely about marketing, shirt sales and sponsorships.
There are many of factors inflating the market of course, the main ones being the huge rise in the amount of money coming to Premier League clubs from TV deals, and the unbalancing of the wider market by China’s sheer economic weight. Manchester City are currently the biggest spenders at over £200 million, a figure that will undoubtedly rise before the end of the window. So much for Pep Guardiola being a nurturer of talent and not a chequebook manager.
Of course, we’ve touched on the perils of money, greed and the blatant disregard of Financial Fair Play before at Player Development Project, so we should focus on another aspect of the current insanity gripping the Premier League. Namely, that the current trend of spending massive sums on “proven talent” is stifling a very promising generation of young English players who are crying out for first-team football.
This summer, while Premier League clubs have spent vast piles of cash on the top names in football – with all the subtlety of a kid left in charge of FIFA 17 and their parents’ credit card details – England won two international tournaments and reached the semi-finals of another.
In June, England Under-21s were defeated on penalties by Germany in the semi-finals of the UEFA Under-21 Championship. There were a smattering of names in the squad that will be familiar to those who follow the Premier League – Nathan Redmond, Jordan Pickford, James Ward-Prowse and Demarai Gray, for example. Some of these lads are first team players at club level – the majority of them aren’t, and have just had the queue jumped by megabucks incomers.
In July, England under-19s won the UEFA Under-19 Championship after beating Portugal 2–1 in the Final. These players were mostly 18 or 19, so are probably less well-known with the standout name probably being Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon.
Also In June, England Under-20s won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup after a 1–0 Final win against Venezuela. New Liverpool signing Dominic Solanke won the Golden Ball, while Newcastle United prospect Freddie Woodman won the Golden Gloves award. England have never won this competition before.
While it is stretching it to suggest the lads who played in the Under-19s victory should now immediately command first-team places in Premier League clubs, we have to start wondering when their clubs will start to trust these players to make the step up – this is a more pressing issue when considering the Under-20s and Under-21s.
There are clubs who do this, to some extent at least, at elite level in England. Spurs, for example, have spent nothing on transfers so far, despite key player Kyle Walker departing for Man City for £43 million. Rather than flash the cash, manager Mauricio Pochettino and owner Daniel Levy have identified former academy player Kyle Walker-Peters as a viable replacement. Further academy graduates are tipped to feature in the coming season too, such as Josh Onomah, Marcus Edwards, and Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Looking below the sparkly world of the Premier League also shows promise. for example, Fulham FC currently have a first team squad of 25 players which has eight academy graduates in it, including the aformentioned Sessegnon, Marcus Bettinelli, Stephen Sessegnon, Cauley Woodrow, Denis Adeniran, Tayo Edun, Luca de la Torre and Matt O’Riley. This kind of statistic is a rarity in the modern game.
Compare these examples to Manchester City’s model, or Chelsea’s. A few years ago City spent £200 million to improve their academy, yet this season have already spent more than that on defenders alone. Out of all three successful England squads this summer, City had three players. And while Phil Foden recently set social media alight with his performance in the pre-season tour of the USA, it remains to be seen whether any of the youngsters at the club will play a single minute for Manchester City any time soon.
Meanwhile, the last player to emerge from Chelsea’s academy and become a first-team regular was John Terry. Chelsea have similarly spent big money on their academy, but their prospects hardly ever make it into the first team. Instead, the majority spend multiple season on loan to other clubs – in September 2016 they had 38 players on their books who were loaned out. Their current longest-serving player, Matej Dalec, has never appeared competitively for the club having spent nine years on loan elsewhere.
Unlike City, Chelsea had a number of players appearing in each England squad from under-19 to under-21. But they let Golden Ball-winning Dominic Solanke move on a free transfer to Liverpool, while spending £55 million on Morata from Real Madrid.
It is disheartening for people involved in player development to see a glass ceiling appear for youngsters who, given trust and opportunities, could be ready to make the step into first-team football. Not every one of them will make it, and being successful at youth international level does not mean a player is ready for greatness. But something needs to change in the way elite clubs do business, as the current model is a blockage in the development pathway. Success has to be delivered today, no matter the cost, and if success also brings a spike in shirt sales then all the better.
We believe this culture is fundamentally wrong. For the game as a whole, but more importantly for those who it leaves behind – transitional-age players.
So at Player Development Project we urge you to keep the faith. Focussing on England, it’s clear from this summer’s successes that players are coming through who are talented – and if you’re part of that system and reading this, then that is in part down to you. It’s also clear that the smaller Premier League teams and those in lower leagues are generally doing the right thing. What we must do now is work to change the cultural system currently operating across football, where success can only be bought in a transfer window, not nurtured and encouraged through years of development. It’ll take time, but it’s important we try and unblock the opportunities for our players when they reach those transitional years between 17-21.