An article I read a while back was headlined ‘15 of the best young players at Newcastle United’.

Not only did the Chronicle piece make me chuckle but it got me thinking…have Newcastle even produced 15 first team players in the past 50 years? Well I managed to come up with 20, which includes a few very dodgy Matty Pattisons, Paul Huntingtons and Shane Fergusons.

Having grown up in the academy system, and still having friends and former teammates who are plying their trade in the Premier League, lower leagues and even in Europe, I know only too well how the youth system works and most importantly, why it doesn’t work – I wrote about this in an article a while back.

Rafa has already shown he wants to address the youth system by considering an overhaul of the academy structure, including moving the U23s back to Benton in his first week at the club.

Firstly, what have NUFC done with kids since 1980 (37 years!)?

I have managed to scramble together 20 players.

Chris Waddle

Paul Gascoigne

Alan Thompson

Steve Watson

Robbie Elliott

Aaron Hughes

Shola Ameobi

Steven Caldwell

Gary Caldwell

Steven Taylor

Peter Ramage

Matty Pattison

Michael Chopra

Andy Carroll

Paul Huntington

David Edgar

Kazenga Lua Lua

Shane Ferguson

Sammy Ameobi

Paul Dummett

The fact that the two best players from this list, Waddle & Gascoigne, came through in the 1980s, and the two longest serving players at NUFC were Steven Taylor and Shola Ameobi, it says a lot about the problems Rafa has to address.

The best way to predict the future is to read the past. I have delved through his career, and managed to dig out what Rafa has done with kids.

For the record, within this list I have only included young players under the age of 22 and who played some sort of role in Rafa’s sides, that is they played more than 10 games in a single season under Benitez. For example, in regards to Newcastle, I would not include the likes of Jamie Sterry, Rolando Aarons and Dan Barlaser.

young newcastle players

Real Madrid B 1993-1995

Rafa worked his way up the youth ranks at Real Madrid from the U16s to the B team under the tutorage of World Cup winning manager Vicente Del Bosque. The fact that a young Benitez was valued so highly by a manager of Del Bosque’s standing goes to show that he was doing something right with the youth teams he managed at Real.

It was during this time that Rafa would coach Mike Antia, who is now Rafa’s number 2 at Newcastle, as well as Antonio Gomez, another member of the NUFC backroom staff. Rafa would also give a certain 17-year-old future Real Madrid legend Raul his first chances in the B team at Madrid.

Valladolid 1995-1996

Ivan Campo (21) –  on loan from the Real Madrid B team.

Alberto Marcos Rey (21) – signed from the Real Madrid B team.

Benjamin Esono (19) – would go on to be a big player during the good Betis team of the early 2000s.

What does it tell us? Well, firstly of all, in his first spell as manager, Rafa relied heavily on his links at Madrid to bring those he worked with in the B team. Unfortunately for him, he set up a team that would compete in the Segunda Division, then on the eve of the new season his previously relegated side were reinstated back to La Liga due to a financial scandal. Consequently, they struggled and Benitez was sacked after 22 games.

Osasuna 1996

Javier Vallego (21) Goalkeeper who never amounted to much more than a journeyman back up.

Aitor Oroz (20) Another journeyman who fell quickly down the leagues in Spain.

Jesus Maria Gomez (18) – became a regular for Bilbao over 8 years.

Again Rafa relied heavily on his time at Madrid to bring in former players that he had prior knowledge of. However, similar to his time at Valladolid, it didn’t work out and he was sacked after a very short spell at the club.

Extremadura 1997-99

Hector Capell (20) – Dropped down the leagues immediately after Rafa left.

Antonio Tejedor (21) – Would go on to have a few good seasons at Espanyol before he dropped down the leagues.

Hipolito Serrano (21) – stayed at Extremadura before dropping the leagues.

This was Rafa’s first successful spell in management at Extremadura. It is evident throughout the two years that Rafa showed little interest in bringing through youth. Although, it is important to note that Extremadura was a tiny club from a town with a population of only 28,000, so whether a proper youth system was even in place is in doubt.

Tenerife 2000-01

Gerardo (21) – would go on to play 146 times for Mexico, so not a bad find by Rafa at all!

Antonio Morilla (21) – was a key player under Benitez, but dropped down the divisions after he left and never recovered.

This was the make or break position during Rafa’s career. His success at Tenerife was what prompted his move to Valencia. During the spell where Rafa forged a reputation as a potentially good manager he again failed to use any young players within his side. Here we begin to see a change in Rafa’s transfer policy with less of a focus placed on youth.

Valencia 2001-2004

Vicente (20) – One of the top wingers in Europe during the early 2000s

Mohamed Sissoko (18) – Signed from Auxerre he would go on to feature for Liverpool, Juventus, PSG and Fiorentina without every really doing much.

Over an incredibly successful 3 years at Valencia, Benitez again did not make the most of the youth system he had at his disposal. Although he did win two league titles and a UEFA Cup, I still find it a little disappointing that Rafa didn’t make the most out of a well-known academy system from a region in the south of Spain with a huge catchment area for talent.

They signed a young Mohamed Sissoko, who Benitez clearly liked as he later took him to Liverpool. He was also fortunate enough to inherit Vicente, who would be a key player in that Valencia team who won two Spanish league titles.

It becomes obvious that at this point in his career, there was a clear correlation between the amount of young players used and the return on results. Experienced pros were paying off for Benitez.

Liverpool 2004-2010

Florent Sinima Pongolle (20) – After showing initial promise he would later be sold by Liverpool and embark on what can only be described as a journeyman career.

Mohamed Sissoko (20) – As mentioned, signed by Rafa but after failing to perform, he was sold on and never amounted to his potential.

Ryan Babel (21) – Performed well for Liverpool on a few European nights, but on the whole was disappointing. Another one who was talked about with huge potential that never lived up to expectation.

Lucas Leiva (20) – Probably the most successful on this list, however, Lucas wasn’t always a regular starter under Rafa – struggled to break into a midfield of Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard (obviously).

Emiliano Insua (19) – Given a considerable chance by Rafa but failed to grasp the English game.

David N’Gog (19) – Like Insua, he was useless.

A look at the list above is striking for three things. The first is that there are far more younger players on here compared to previous clubs. The second is that they are all rubbish.

Only the exception of Lucas shows any of these players have gone on to achieve anything near their potential ability. The third reason is that despite the larger numbers of players named, not one of then are what you would call ‘a local academy graduate’, that is none are from the British Isles. I find this aspect to be particularly disappointing.

I think if there is one thing Rafa would regret from his time at Liverpool, it is that he didn’t manage to bring through one local player into the first team squad from a region that we all know is blessed with talent.

Inter 2010

Phillipe Coutinho (19) – We all know what happened to him.

Davide Santon (19) – Don’t know what happened to him.

Chelsea 2012-2013

Oscar (21) – Went on to be a key player at Chelsea before moving onto China for silly money.

Eden Hazard (21) – Now one of the best players in the Premier League.

young newcastle players

Given the short amount of time spent at both Chelsea and Inter Milan, I don’t think that either examples are really applicable to judge Benitez on. At Chelsea, the likes of Oscar and Hazard were already both seasoned professionals, while at Inter Milan, Benitez does deserve a lot of credit for the nurturing of Coutinho who was apparently signed by Liverpool on Benitez’ recommendation.

Napoli 2013-2015


For me, this one is the most striking. Over his 2 years in Naples, Benitez failed to hand 10 games in a season to any player aged 21 or younger. I find this staggering, and this particular example is quite worrying for the young players coming through at NUFC right now. What it does show is that Rafa is not willing to compromise results by experimenting with youth. He did a fantastic job at Napoli.

Real Madrid 2015

Mateo Kovacic (21) – still struggling to get a game but that is at the best team in the world.

Another one that is similar to his stints at Chelsea and Inter Milan in which Rafa had very little time to give youth a chance. Important to note that one of the reasons why he was sacked is that he refused to play all of the stars, with the likes of James Rodriguez sacrificed in favour of a younger holding midfielder Casemeiro to provide balance in the team.

Ironically his successor Zidane has managed to find the right balance at Real, while also giving youth such as Mariano and Asensio a chance in the first team.

Newcastle United 2016 – ????

Aleksandar Mitrovic (21)

Chancel Mbemba (21)

Isaac Hayden (21)

young newcastle players

At Newcastle so far, he hasn’t really had the chance. I know some will say that playing in the Championship last season was a key time to give the youth a chance, but I disagree. Last season was all about promotion, and winning football matches. I don’t think anybody would disagree that last season results really were the ‘be all and end all’. Although I was disappointed that the likes of Armstrong and Mbabu weren’t given a proper chance.

So what can we make of this?

I have to be honest, I have no idea what to make of this…so its all up to interpretation.

For me, it shows that since Rafa was at Valencia, he hasn’t brought through many young players at all. Perhaps he learned through his time at Extremadura and Tenerife that older more seasoned players are more reliable. I think this was definitely the case with NUFC last season.

The most worrying part for me is that when Rafa does use the youth, they are often shipped in from elsewhere. Only Vicente at Valencia is a player who wasn’t bought and actually came through the youth ranks. Also, aside from Liverpool, Rafa has never been at any team long enough to set some foundations to actually build a club.

This is a project, and Rafa is building something brilliant here at Newcastle United (I hope), however, he is a man that really is all about results.

After all, his past has taught him that when results don’t go your way, you are sacked immediately and there is no forgiveness. Consequently, if you are a young player coming through the ranks at Newcastle, then you are going to have to be one hell of a player to break into Rafa’s side.

At the moment, and I include the likes of Armstrong and Aarons in this, there is nobody who looks anywhere near good enough for the NUFC first team.

Lets hope that changes!

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

  • steve

    I think this articles shows what we already know, that although he gets the job done he is a manager who is extremely averse to taking risks, whether that be tactics or team selection.

    • Damon Horner

      depends on what we want as a fanbase in truth because trophies are rarely won by a team who aren’t one of the best in their country who play their youngsters from their sub-standard academy.

      • Geordiegiants

        As Hansen once said “you win nothing with kids”.

        • Damon Horner

          He was wrong that time but the general basis of his comment is because you usually don’t.

          Fans don’t have much patience for it either. Just need yo see the reaction to playing Barlaser, El-Mhanni and Findlay last year.

          • Geordiegiants

            I know, I was just having a bit of fun as the BBC always did with him, in general though you’re not wrong. Very few young players make it through a premier league clubs academy.

          • Damon Horner

            Didn’t mean to come across otherwise! apologies. Wasn’t sure if this was pointing out some irony or just running the gag! doesn’t come across obvious to me on the net haha

  • Damon Horner

    Just need to look at the top really, Mourinho is direct, spends the maximum and aims to put out the best team to win games to win trophies and his fanbase respect him. Wenger works more to a budget, has more trust in youth and is mocked.

    Sad reality is this is a results business and if he starts to trust young players and we lose he would be sacked and have his judgement questioned.

  • 1957

    If the article is an accurate summary of Benitez approach to youth team players progression, the message if you are the parent of a young boy is, don’t send him to Newcastle he has a better chance somewhere like Southampton

  • DanK

    Off the top of my head a few more who ‘made it’ Paul Stephenson Steve Howey Ian Bogie Kenny Wharton Brian Tinnion Joe Allen

    • Geordiegiants

      I had a few of them and could add, Paul Ferris and Neil McDonald. There is probably a few more.

  • Albert Stubbins

    Lee Clarke- Lee Makel?

    • Geordiegiants

      Yeah defo all of the above. I was at Newcastle for a couple of weeks trial the same time as Clarke, Howie, Elliot, Makel were in the reserve team. (Can’t beleive I even missed them from my list below). Peter Kirkley, who was the chief scout at the time, had Lee Makel down as the next big thing, and so did Colin Sugget, sadly he never quite made it that high.
      I also remember every one had Bogie down as the next Gazza.

      • Albert Stubbins

        lol- Lee Makel as next BIG thing- had to laugh at that- only because he was the smallest player Id ever seen in my life.
        Bogie was given a few games but was in shadow of gazza and comparisons were very unfair to both players- he went on to port vale kind of tells its own story!!
        you must have been a canny player- where did you end up playing?

        • Geordiegiants

          I never ended up any where, I broke my left ankle on the town moor sledging then about a month after having my plaster off, I broke my right ankle playing football. That was the end of footy for me. Kenton School and Redhouse farm when it first opened was as far as I got. Certainly not good enough for the toon 😀. Davey Roach was another one, don’t know if his couple of games constitutes making it mind.

          • Clarko

            That’s a really good story.

          • Geordiegiants


          • Geordiegiants

            You liked it? Are you sure I wasn’t wrong and you were right.

          • Jezza

            Ha ha, David Roche is well remembered here in Doncaster for all the wrong reasons.

          • Geordiegiants

            He retired and tried his luck in the Olympic shooting team they recon😉.

          • Albert Stubbins

            it never stopped Albert Craig!! ;)

          • Geordiegiants

            Ha ha, Hamilton accys finest!

      • Jezza

        I think Ian Bogie being the next Gazza was just a myth created by the board in a desperate attempt to quell fan unrest and maintain season ticket sales after the sale of Gazza. None of us who saw Ian Bogie play ever fell for it.

  • Down Under Mag

    Frazer Forster surely deserves a mention in this list?

    We’ve actually had a number of players over the past 10-15 years come through the youth system, some talked about in very high esteem. The trouble doesn’t seem to be finding them but making them progress beyond the U18 setup to be first team potential. You can write some off as just “not every player can be a top player”, but after so long failing to bring players through it is time to start looking at why, in my opinion something isn’t right with the setup and coaching. Chopra was talked about with such high regard that everyone thought he would have made it, but as has become too regular an occurence at the club, he was left too long to stagnate without a chance before being loaned out and disappearing into obscurity. Our loan policy seems to be more a case of prolonging the death-knell before offloadign than actually hoping to get the players first team ready.

    • Desree

      Remember a couple of seasons ago when McLaren kept telling us how great the players looked in training. What he failed to realise is they were playing against each other. The problem is that we have such a low base, average kids are made to standout. They then flounder against real talent. Gazza is the only class player to come through our system.

    • Jonathan Drape-Comyn

      Amazingly, Forster never played for us.

      The only game I recall him playing at first team level was a 7-2 win over Darlington in pre-season.