Within top football academies around the world, there is an acceptance of the innate fact that few will make the grade.
A great deal of time and money is invested in an entire squad of youths through every age group, not in any misguided hope that every one of them can ever play top flight football, but in the knowledge that by design most of the participants retain a place solely to make up the numbers.
Any future star needs 10 team-mates to play with. When a real talent is spotted he needs to move through the age brackets and have a full set of players around him as strong and as fast and as skilful as possible, if the club are to ensure his development will continue.
Those that aren’t good enough even to participate at the level required to advance the career of the starlets in their midst are let go, but those that are, can spend a decade of their later childhood at a top club. Hoping that hard work and perseverance will keep them at the top of the game, and that a career can blossom. Ultimately thoughaware that the vast majority are there only to bring on the very best, then ultimately drop into the lower leagues or out of football altogether ,once they’re too old to serve their training purpose. Discarded like old cones or bibs.
The Independent reports that of the 10,000 or so boys in the academy system, only one per cent (100) will make a living from the game.
Nobody is told they are one of the patsies, no one could be that definitive about the changes in a boy’s attitude and physique through the teen years. Some who were making up the numbers move up a gear. Some who were supposed to be the next big thing fall by the wayside. It’s not an exact science but the harsh reality is accepted by everyone in the game.
The fact and acceptance that not all of your academy players are good enough, or ever will be, is one that Mike Ashley has extended from the academy and into the first team squad at Newcastle United.
The most important business objective within the club (not including the external objective of promoting and outsourcing business to the owner’s shop) is to produce players that other clubs will pay good money for. The club has been designed not as somewhere that a player can enjoy the peak memories of an illustrious career, as so many did in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. Instead it’s just another rung on the production line where potential is nurtured by surrounding it with fodder that are not good enough to play at the elite level.
This is why the club has the same three centre-backs that it had 5 years ago when it was playing in the championship. It’s clear to every single Newcastle fan, and everyone within the club, that Mike Williamson will never be a top flight defender and that Steven Taylor has not delivered on the promise of his youth, developing instead into a consistently injured liability.
But rather than improving on these players immediately, buying better and releasing them to find their level in the lower leagues, they’re kept – solely to make up the numbers at Newcastle. Rather than going to the expense of a transfer and higher wages of any superior replacements with proven ability to play in this league, these players are left to do just enough when paired with a talented (though faded) partner like Coloccini to make up the numbers. To bring on the next potential assets like Debuchy, Haidara, Dummett, Santon, Janmaat or Krul, allowing those individuals to shine and build a reputation.
There are mixed talents at all top flight clubs of course, but Newcastle seem to be unique as they prefer to keep hold of the cheaper fodder proven to be incapable, rather than those with ability. Just about any player that shows the capacity to regularly win games at the top is preferably sold, as soon as an offer gives sufficient profit.
In midfield there are a similar set of players there to make up numbers (Anita, Gouffran, Gutierrez, Obertan, Ameobi), only there as a setting for the gem we hope to profit from (Sissoko, Cabaye, Abeid, Cabella, Colback). These inferior talents have been in the first team far longer than anyone needed to assess their (lack of) ability.
Strikers are where the real money is though, so the club has been even less willing to buy a proven goalscorer, preferring instead to take a punt on potential in the form of Armstrong and Perez, while having some cheap carthorse (Riviere, Ferreyra) available to make up the numbers.
This is how Ashley has been able to keep the Newcastle United wages bill the same as when he bought the club 8 years ago. No other club has seen their wage bill increase by less than a third in that time and the average increase is over 126%
It’s a system designed to position Newcastle United as nothing more than a feeder club to other teams. One that would never see the club compete in any meaningful way. It may be a system that was deemed necessary if the club were to become self-financing, but now that this modest goal has been achieved, the question is whether it’s one that can evolve, so the club begin to keep more talent and discard more of the garbage.
With the huge TV deal leading to far greater profits at the club, coinciding with the exit of Alan Pardew and the hope of a better manager arriving, it will be a question that should be answered over the next two transfer windows.
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