Manchester City Wins FA Youth Cup

We talk a lot about the senior version of the world’s oldest domestic tournament, but the FA Youth Cup goes largely unnoticed in the media and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

More and more, the big teams in England are importing their players from overseas or buying already established or up-and-coming stars from smaller clubs within Britain. There is less of a focus placed on youth academies and developing homegrown players. To them, it’s a question of why waste time and money to run a successful youth system, where not of all the kids pan out to become good players, when you could spend those same resources to bring in already proven commodities?

Even when those teams do have quality young players, the majority of them were snatched away from their hometown clubs anyway, and those smaller teams have little choice but to take the transfer fee and use it to cover operating costs and pay salaries.

Example? 16-year old striker Luke Freeman joined now-League One side Gillingham when he was 11. Freeman was born in Dartford, in the northwest corner of Kent, where Gillingham is located. He became their youngest first team player ever, and the youngest player in FA Cup history, when he came on as a sub in an FA Cup game at 15. After spending a little over four years with his hometown team, Freeman was sold to Arsenal in January of this year for about $400,000, still at just 15 years of age. He had broken through to the first team at Gillingham, but now is stuck in the Arsenal academy and could very well likely never play a senior game for the Gunners. As a League One team, $400,000 for Gillingham is a big deal, and they had little choice but to sell the kid off.

The same general thing applies to Theo Walcott, who moved from Southampton to Arsenal as a 16-year old for a possible $24 million, with $10 million of that guaranteed up front. Walcott has struggled to maintain a place in the Arsenal first team, and it looks like he’ll have to move to further his career as a player. What choice did Southampton have but to take that money? As a lower-league team, anything in the millions range for a player is like manna from heaven.

The same general thing also applies to a guy like Scott Sinclair, who was born in Bath, 13 miles southeast of Bristol. Sinclair joined Bristol Rovers at the age of 9 and made his first team debut at 15 in the 2004-2005 season. He only made two senior appearances with the club before Chelsea controversially gobbled him up in July 2005 for $400,000 guaranteed, with an additional $1.5 million in possible clauses based on goals and appearances still to come, and has only played in four Premiership games for the Blues since. He’s been loaned out to four different lower-league clubs since moving to Stamford Bridge, and will probably never be a regular first-teamer in West London, at least not for Chelsea. Why did Bristol Rovers sell him? They had to; money talked.

In the media, all we hear about are those big teams, so no one really pays attention to clubs like Middlesbrough, who is known for producing good young players, and Aston Villa, and Manchester City, who I’ll get to in a bit, and West Ham, who is starting to come on again after producing outstanding talent in the early years of this decade. The job that these smaller Premiership clubs have done to remain competitive in the league while still putting an emphasis on developing homegrown players is fantastic.

Anyway…. The FA Youth Cup has been around since the 1952-1953 season, when it was known as the FA Youth Challenge Cup. Manchester United has won it nine times, the most of any English club, but only twice in the last 14 years. Crosstown rivals Manchester City won it yesterday after beating Chelsea 3-1 in the second leg and 4-2 on aggregate. City’s academy graduates in recent years include outstanding young players like Nedum Onouha, Stephen Ireland, Daniel Sturridge, Michael Johnson, and best of all, Micah Richards.

It’s good to see a premium placed on developing youngsters from an early age and sticking with them. I’ve read Steven Gerrard’s autobiography and in it, he talks a lot about the appreciation he has, as a homegrown player, for his youth coaches like Dave Shannon, Steve Heighway, and Hughie McAuley, guys who do a lot of great work that flies under the radar because it isn’t with the senior team. The book provides a lot of insight into the life of a young kid in the system and is a fascinating read. Gerrard, Michael Owen, and Jamie Carragher are all graduates of Melwood, and now Kirkby, and look at what those three players have accomplished in their careers.

As I said, it was great to hear that City won yesterday because it gives validation to the philosophy of youth development more so than it would have if Chelsea would’ve won. It’s a system seen in professional baseball here in the US and has worked wonders over the years for major league teams that just don’t have the money to buy the best available talent, so they develop it over time through their minor league affiliates. Not everyone can be the Yankees or the Red Sox; not everyone can be Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Some teams have to rely on homegrown players and when they’re successful, you have to give them a round of applause and appreciate their patience and mindset.

14 thoughts on “Manchester City Wins FA Youth Cup”

  1. As an American I am often perplexed by the concerns of British football fans. There is too much money in football, but there seems to be no major voices calling for the types of revenue sharing or salary caps in U.S. sports.

    Prices of tickets are too high and there are too many foreigners in the game, but the sport is more watched and the product on the field, better than ever.

    People complain about the style of football AND about the substance of the standings.

    People complain about a 39th game, people complain about adding in video replay, people complain about the ineptitude of referees.

    No one seems to complain about what I believe is the number 1 problem Americans have with the sport, which is the diving/play-acting. If keeping youth players is such a foundational part of club/regional identity and the home town boy etc., then change the rules to allow no transfers until 18 or 19 with strict territorial rights for players/clubs. If you want to work on the competitive imbalance, then push for a reverse table ordered draft and a promotion draft for the new teams up from the championship, or revenue sharing or salary caps.

    There seems to be an incredible amount of whining on a whole host of issues surrounding the EPL and no one who seems willing to provide any sort of possible solutions. Everyone feels empowered to bitch, but petrified of bucking tradition, so completely unable to change anything for the better.

    Annoying to say the least for this American.

  2. Kat Kid, I share your sentiments exactly.

    I’ve thought about some sort of rough draft for all English players under-17, in which teams who finished 17th would pick first, then the team who finished 16th, and so on and so on. As I said, only English players would be in it and would be eligible for the draft once they turn 13. At that point, teams would be free to pick them and offer them contracts, and they could move through either some trading system or free agency. Again, it’s a very rough concept that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while, and I’ll be doing a post on it within the coming weeks, probably in the summer.

    I also agree that some sort of revenue sharing and/or salary cap should be enforced.

    With all of this said, I can “whine” and want as many changes as I can think of, but none of them are likely to happen because as you said, no one in power seems to want to fix the current system. They believe that all things are good right now and that the whole system doesn’t need to be changed at all, but that’s not the case.

  3. Not sure who thinks all things are good right now – i think most fans want some changes. A lot of the changes we need made start with the European Union trade laws and it seems no-one in football is able to change those and its annoying because England will get worse and worse on the international scene until we can fix that.

    A lot of clubs in England are restricted to developing talent that is within 150 miles of the club – thats not great though as if Man U discover an English player in Southampton they cant take him is my understanding. Newcastle have coastline so they can only go 150 miles inland and less options for them…

    The lad who said diving above is spot on – it drives me crazy. As an Arsenal fan I have to put
    up with that bas*ard Eboue every week pulling his tricks… I want to see these people punished and I think the FA can take a stance on this but so far havent.

    As for a 39th game, the authorities themselves proposed that ridiculous nonsense and it looks like they have been thwarted by serious fan outrage. Thank God.

    Definitely a lot wrong with football but I genuinely think we need to get the national quotas in place to maintain credibility in International Football. I know a lot of foreign fans disagree with this but a league needs some national identity too, I miss the likes of Ray Parlour, Lee Dixon, Adams, Seaman who played alongside Bergkamp, Kanu and the rest… I dont want to see all English or all foreign but a good blend.

  4. I generally agree with the main point – that the dual pressures of (a) the financial might of the big clubs and (b) the financial instability of smaller clubs is a problem.

    I do, however, have one minor quibble which I think ultimately strengthens your argument:

    There is an implication that these moves are generally negative for the player who moves. You cite as evidence Theo Walcott, whom according to you, will likely have to move. I don’t think that’s true, Wenger has been cautious with him, but his role has steadily increased in scope over time. It is too early to say whether or not he will need to move in order to secure a good future.

    But either way, we see lots of players who come out of the academies run by the big clubs and are successful. It’s a pedigree which helps you get noticed, even if the club that notices you is Birmingham or something. Indeed, part of the problem is precisely that it is advantageous to leave smaller clubs to get the big club pedigree.

    (I based this reading on your comments about Walcott, Freeman and Sinclair).

  5. God Bless Simon. Diving has to be severely dealt with both in-game and afterwards.

    The NFL has done this with violent hits (although many would say not enough) and I think the EPL could learn a lot about enforcement of player conduct and league financial structure/competitive balance from American leagues.

    That said, the 39th game to me is a minor issue compaired to the other ones facing the game. I understand that there was a visceral reaction partly because of all the other problems and that the 39th game became emblematic of the uncaring/self-interested executive and the growing distance between the fans and the players/game.

    My problem is the exceedingly annoying embrace of all the good that has come through the globalization of the game that is coupled with opposition with any move that is any further to the types of reforms that have led to the undeniable quality of players like Ronaldo, Cantona, Drogba, Adebayor, Henry etc. wanting to come to the league in the first place.

    People seem to be advocating a return to a time when players came down the pub after the game and blah, blah, blah. Fine, then don’t hammer Arsene for keeping a small squad and posting net gains in the transfer window amid a few trophyless seasons, stop celebrating all those expensive and talented foreign players on your squad and replace them with Div. 1/2 players or members of your youth team, start boycotting the European competitions because of the competitive imbalance they create with their millions of dollars etc., etc.

    I’m sick of seeing everyone rail against any positive development in the game as a step away from the times when the boys from the factory used to lace ’em up for a saturday game in the sun, and then buy the newest kit for their team for every member of their family, lament the lack of big signings in the transfer window, and call for a coach’s head for not winning a trophy.

  6. “The same general thing applies to Theo Walcott, who moved from Southampton to Arsenal as a 16-year old for a possible $24 million, with $10 million of that guaranteed up front. Walcott has struggled to maintain a place in the Arsenal first team, and it looks like he’ll have to move to further his career as a player. What choice did Southampton have but to take that money? As a lower-league team, anything in the millions range for a player is like manna from heaven.”
    -sir michael the proud

    Michael i think you’re being toooo general. havent you seen walcott play for arsenal? in the league and the champions league. against liverpool, against manchester united? and he’s already scored for us.
    -arsene wenger said walcott will be an important part of the team for years to come.

    you have your opinions but when someone says and does something, your opinion is just a waste of a thought.

  7. just look it up, go to a news search engine like google, type in walcott and wenger and you’ll find that wenger says walcott is an important part of the team…so if he’s important for arsenal, why would he have to leave. when you feel important do you shy away? maybe you do, but i think a man would stay.

  8. Alex, yes, Walcott has looked impressive in recent weeks but that’s not exactly what I was talking about.

    Let me ask you something, would you ever hear Wenger say that Walcott is NOT an important part of the team? Would you ever hear Wenger say that Lehmann is unimportant, even though he’s the backup these days? Would you ever hear Wenger say that a guy like Justin Hoyte isn’t important?

    I don’t mean to pick on Wenger, I’m just saying that it’s “coachspeak”. All managers will say that every one of their players is important, whether it’s true or not. Walcott would start for nearly any other club in England but is lucky to come off the bench at Arsenal. The only reason he’s played as much as he has recently is because of injuries for Arsenal’s wingers this season.

    Walcott is a terrific young player, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying that in order for him to further his career, I think he’s going to need to leave Arsenal, just like David Bentley did at that same wide right position, and look at where he is today. Look at Fabrice Muamba, who couldn’t get a game at Arsenal but now features regularly for Birmingham. Look at Jermaine Pennant, who played just 12 senior games for Arsenal from 1999-2005. Pennant was signed for $4 million when he was 15, couldn’t get a game, and then was sent on loan three times before moving to Birmingham City and then Liverpool. All jokes aside, Pennant has carved out a decent career for himself since his move away from London, and will likely return to first-team action when he leaves Liverpool this summer.

    Wenger has never been big on using English players and in the summer, he’s going to look to buy more established, high-profile players that will just put Walcott even lower on the depth chart.

  9. As an American I am often perplexed by the concerns of British football fans. There is too much money in football, but there seems to be no major voices calling for the types of revenue sharing or salary caps in U.S. sports.

    Prices of tickets are too high and there are too many foreigners in the game, but the sport is more watched and the product on the field, better than ever.

    1. Price of tickets are not too high. The number of available seats is dwarfed by the number of fans that would like to attend. Point blank, clubs have to ration seats. Not everyone that wants to will be able to attend matches in person. This is physical fact. And EPL clubs already employ systems of loyalty points that give priority to season ticket holders and fans that have attended the most matches previously. The “tickets cost too much” griping is universal to every sport, and is always spouted by the ignorant. How would you propose seats are rationed if not by price? Even if clubs gave seats away completely for free, that’d mean only the fans that had time to wait in lines for days would get to attend matches.

    2. There is not too much money in football. The money in football comes from the fact that millions of people get enjoyment from it and through mass transportation and modern media can enjoy it all over the country/world.

    The economic laws of supply and demand aren’t some idealized suggestion on how money ought to change hands, they’re descriptions of the way things actually function. Remaining ignorant of economic law is as prudent as ignoring the law of gravity.

    If you want to lower the price of tickets and decrease the amount of money in football, convince millions of people the EPL isn’t worth following. Heck, for starters, you could stop following it yourself.

  10. Bit harsh that last argument.
    Prices for tickets are high for a family of 4 – I take your point about supply and demand of course as clubs charge these high prices because they can get enough people to pay it – in that sense your argument is robust. However economics rarely takes into account common decency and morality.
    Football as morphed from Englands national pasttime into a financial pit which big business and chairmen gobble up.

    I do think that the rich fan can go to football but shouldnt the clubs care a bit more about the poorer fan. I support Arsenal and to be on the priority ticket list you have to pay and that doesnt get you a ticket, thats paying for the privilege of getting advance tickets at full price – they also charge a pound for the merchandise catalogue!! In the past this was free but now you get to pay for the privilege of seeing Van persie and Hleb in daft sweaters which you can buy..

    I cant attend games as I have moved to the States but when i am home I am often shocked at the costs involved for those who attend regularly.

    The football audience has aged a lot, the median age is much higher than in the 70’s and I would suggest this is because younger folk simply cant afford to go.
    If this trend continues who will fill the stadia in 20 years? Football will eat itself.

    As for there’s too much money in football – well its hardly measurable but I will say there is a lot of negativity that has come from this financial boom. Player power has gone through the roof, ticket prices as well. THe increase in foreign labour to the Premiership is having a negative effect on the National team (though this can be argued against), the devaluing of the domestic cups as clubs concentrate on staying in the Premiership and Europe where there is more money to be made….

    THats what one means by there is too much money in football.

    I love the game but I loved it more in 2000 than I do in 2008.

  11. Kyle’s reading comprehension is lacking. I was saying that the arguments listed were perplexing. That is why they followed this sentence:
    “As an American I am often perplexed by the concerns of British football fans.”

    Instead of trying to impress everyone by regurgitating the Econ 110 lecture you just got out of, maybe you could try actually reading what other people write before spouting off.

  12. Get your facts right… Bristol Rovers didn’t want to sell Scott Sinclair, they tried to make him stay but Chelsea took him for Free until a Tribunal ruled that Chelsea had to pay £400,000 for him with some add ons based on appearances. But basically Chelsea got a Bargain and Bristol Rovers were ripped off……!

  13. That’s why I had “controversially”, Sean, calm down. My articles are long enough as it is, and the backstory behind Sinclair’s departure really isn’t relevant.

    Chelsea would’ve signed him anyway, and not for a free, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to there. They paid $400,000 US up front, not 400,000 pounds, so maybe you should get your facts right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *