Two recent things have led me to write this article.
The first was an article on The Mag which not only highlighted the deplorable results of our first team, but also highlighted how poor Newcastle United had been across all age groups.
The second was Roy Hodgson’s naming of the England squad, which obviously included no players from Newcastle or the North East (based on his elder age and the fact he came through the West Ham youth system; I have excluded Michael Carrick from that statement).
It raises the question of just what is going on within our Newcastle United youth/academy set-up.
Based on my own experience I like to think that I am in a pretty good place to do that. From the age of 8-18 I played at a county and academy level standard, and came through the same age group as the likes of Adam Campbell and Remie Streete, as well as playing with/against Adam Armstrong, Nathan Redmond, Jonny Maddison and several others on the fringes of the Middlesbrough first team.
Growing up, my aim was to be as good and be at the same level as Adam Campbell and Remie Streete, because they were the best. Those two players were the standard that all the other kids in the area had to aspire to, ‘the ones’ that were going to make it.
At the age of 16, those two were head and shoulders above anything at Sunderland or Middlesbrough, and as far as I am concerned Remie Streete was as good as I had seen nationally.
We once played against Sunderland, and I partnered Remie in centre midfield. He was so good that night that the watching Kevin Ball offered him a contract straight after the game. Having heard about this, Newcastle offered him a contract the next day (He was actually training with Newcastle at the time, but the club only acted once another club was interested).
Another example of putting this into perspective, are the now PSV Eindhoven first team players Rai Vloet and Jordy De Wijs, two players I also grew up playing football with and at the age of 16, I can safely say that they couldn’t tie Remie Streete’s boots.
So what is going on at Newcastle United, are the players at fault for their attitude? In the case of Streete and Campbell I can safely say it’s not, although injuries did play a big role in hindering Streete’s early years. If the young best players in the North East aren’t making the grade, then what hope do the rest of us have? What hope is there for the future of our first team?
I think this is probably the first time in history where I look at the under 21’s and 18’s and don’t see one local player who is going to even get close to the first team (obviously Armstrong is out on loan and Mbabu & Satka hail from Switzerland and Slovakia).
Furthermore, although Kevin Mbabu (pictured below) had an absolutely fantastic PL debut against Chelsea, is it not telling that Newcastle didn’t have another truly recognised left back in the whole club?
I have two main theories as to why our youth system is so evidently poor, and if anyone else has others then I would love to read them in the comments below.
The first is that the structure at Newcastle United is completely different to that at Sunderland and Middlesbrough. At Newcastle, it was always evident that Streete and Campbell would be ‘the ones’ and there was a sense that the rest of the team were just there to make up the numbers.
Whereas at Middlesbrough, I know for sure that there is a system in place that correlates directly to the first team. There are no ‘special players’. For example, every player in every position is expected to move up into the next line, from my age group alone the likes of Bennett, Burn, Fry, Kitching, Jackson, Cooke, Maloney, Jones, Morris, Chapman, Mondal, Fewster (all local players) have all made the step up to first team in league, cup or pre-season.
The second theory is the poor treatment and lack of respect the club shows young players is often disrespectful and disregarding. Within youth football, I know many players who have been ‘strung along’ by Newcastle United for months with no communication from coaches and scouts, only to be left disappointed at the end of it.
In most cases, young players come out of Newcastle United feeling less in love with football than they were before they went. The last example is the case of Greg Olley, former Newcastle under 21 player (now at Hull City) who played for the club since the age of 8.
Now I don’t know the details at all as to why he was released this summer, however if it was down to his performances on the pitch then someone needs to lose their job. I have seen many youth games over the past few years and Olley was always a constant performer, so the reasons as to why he was released I think are interesting. I hope those reading this who are involved in youth football can relate to some of the things I am saying.
I don’t have the answer as to why our youth players don’t make it, just a few theories. However, from my own experience, I can say for sure that many of them, if given the right chance, the right support, can certainly be good enough to contribute to our first team instead of the likes of foreign fringe players.
I often speak with my parents about this and friends about this, and we all agree that the best thing that ever happened to me was that I dropped out of the system at 16/17, allowing me to do my A-Levels and go to university.
Sadly some of my friends have not had the same ‘luck’, only dropping out the system between 17-21 and being totally unable to understand why. The passion for youth football at the grassroots is so great in the North East, it’s just a shame that so many aspiring footballers feel so disconnected.
The youth system is just another one of a number of aspects of the club that is mismanaged, problematic, and suffered so much under the ownership of Mike Ashley. If Newcastle are to ever be a successful football club again, then our youth need to play a more prominent role.
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