Illustrious names have come through the ranks of youth development at Newcastle United and graced St James Park with their presence before being sold on, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne are two that spring to mind.
There are of course others who have found fame and have come back to the club albeit at great expense, a certain Alan Shearer is one who fits that later bill.
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I wouldn’t say the club has been as prolific as some in growing their own, but there have been some, though not all setting the world alight and not all universally liked by the fans. In recent years ones to come through are Shola Ameobi, Steven Taylor, Tim Krul and Fraser Forster, as I said not all liked or even rated, but have come through and played a considerable number of first team games for Newcastle.
There was considerable fanfare by the club eight years ago when the present regime took over, that the days of marquee signings were over and the club would invest in young talent and effectively grow our own. Much was cited by the management of two other clubs noted for this, Arsenal and Everton were mentioned in despatches as clubs to be revered at how they brought through youngsters into the first team and then sold them on. Now I’m not going to slag off either club, that’s not the point here, merely picking up on something our illustrious management may have forgotten in their panic to avoid all forms of sanity.
Firstly, I would like to take you to another club, a one most love to hate and a scenario that would have appeared similar but with a vastly different outcome to what we have at Newcastle. The club is Manchester United and when old red nose arrived at Old Trafford all those years ago he was horrified to find the state of the academy and that the best locals went to City or elsewhere, familiar so far.
He set about changing it and he got lucky in the early days with the notorious class of 92, including the Neville Brothers, Beckham, Butt, Scholes and that well known headless chicken Robbie Savage. They all came through at the same time, yes in itself very rare, but they did set the standard for a steady stream of players to come through to the first team.
It took Sir Alex five years to build this and get his first trophy, he did also buy players to complement these players and bring them on, this was neither a gamble nor a calculated risk but a strategy to move the club forward based on long-term sound footballing policy.
Next let me look at our friends in London, Arsenal have always tried to bring youth through, however when Arsene Wenger came to the club he inherited one of the best and meanest defences in the league, constructed by George Graham, who again had brought players through and supplemented them with astute buys and had been backed by the club.
The defence was tighter than Ashley’s grip on the transfer budget and that’s saying something. Wenger then proceeded to not only follow in Graham’s pattern but he bought young talent, notably Thierry Henry, but buying the players alone is not enough as he blended them with the experienced guys that were already at the club.
Other young stars he has bought have developed into full England internationals; Theo Walcott and Oxlaide Chamberlain cost about £10m each, ironically both from Southampton. Wenger eventually sold Henry, but not before he had got five years of good service out of him and had won both the League and FA cup and had let Henry help bring the younger players through.
Next we come to the blue half of Liverpool, who was held up by the regime as a way to bring youngsters through and sell them, interestingly they had only sold Rooney who had come through their ranks and Francis Jeffers who was sold to Arsenal and then failed to make it there. Which I think had more to do with the player than Arsenal as he has faded off the scene, also the timing about Everton at the time was interesting when they had only just bought Fellani for £15 million.
Not exactly a case of youth development and an awful lot to pay for a bad hair day, we incidentally got the poorer relation in Colccini, and equally bad hair day. Everton do bring through players but however not in great numbers and always buy the core of their squad, so there isn’t really an argument here that stands up from a management point of view.
At last but by no means least we come to our club, and we start with the coaches. By all accounts they carry twenty plus passengers, depending upon whose figures are used to tell the story. However, their crash avoidance and navigation systems for the Premier League have continued to malfunction, leaving management and supporters equally perplexed for differing reasons. Management are blaming everyone from the Tea lady to the supporters as there are no mirrors inside the club today, that way they can’t blame themselves.
I have only looked at the last fraught eight years of suffrage and not before, whilst I appreciate that the malaise goes probably further than that, it has worsened in this time.
When the club was taken over they said they wanted to in effect grow their own and save money, the gardeners amongst you will appreciate the sentiment. However, as we stand today, they would have been better growing tomatoes than players, at least with the veg you can pile them high and sell them cheap.
Big Sham was in charge at the start with negative football and he isn’t renowned for youth development, I personally can’t remember any player at any club he has brought through.
He prefers the vets team, more suited to the oval ball in style. His services and that of his coaches were quickly dispensed with, in all probability to reduce the wage bill.
The club restructured with Peter Beardsley heading up the youth system and the reserves, the idea of this was to get the youngest possible and bring them through. Indeed they brought young players from other clubs.
Steven Taylor, Tim Krul, Shola Ameobi and Fraser Forster were not a product of the current regime/system they were all signed and developed before that. So we look also at players brought in and money paid to clubs who had found them. Players like Harris Vukic and Gael Bigirimana and others like Shane Ferguson who had come to the club in the last eight years.
Whilst a few players over this period have made first team appearances, none that I can recall have gone on to be what I would call first team regulars and have saved the club money. We just have to look at the Glasgow five in that it is doubtful how many if any will come back to the club and be developed.
It was also interesting to hear Peter Beardsley recently say that none of the under 18 or under 21 squads were ready for the first team. Pardew for all of his bluster rarely used the kids even for cameo appearances, preferring to go with Dan Gosling and Shola Ameobi who were leaving the club and who had hardly set the pitch alight with their performances whilst on Newcastle’s books.
This failure to develop and in effect waste talent, either given to them or bought as development squad players, is criminal. The working model of the coaching set up is clearly not fit for purpose as with both Bigi and Vukic they were promising youngsters and have gone backwards under the current set up.
Unfortunately, as with the rest of the club, instead of buying the best and getting the best to bring them on, it is done on the cheap. I could actually understand that if we were Crewe Alex who have to sell just to survive, or is that what Ashley wants – a bargain basement club from top to bottom…only the big man can answer that?
I know that all the supporters want is a well run, forward thinking club that looks to compete at all levels in all competitions and can bring out the best in young exciting talent.