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Opinion

Time for complete rethink of Newcastle United Academy not this latest ‘shake-up’

1 month ago
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There has been another ‘shake-up’ of the Newcastle United Academy, together with the news that fifteen young players will not progress.

As I read the story, I wondered if it was the Newcastle United academy system as a whole that needed an overhaul, rather than piecemeal surgery?

Is it right to encourage children to focus their ambitions in the direction of football, perhaps at the expense of other subjects, only for the vast majority to be told years later that they are no longer wanted?

The chances are we could learn from other countries about how to better develop young talent.

When in America, I attended local college Gridiron games where the next generation of would-be National Football League professionals played to big crowds. Many of these young people had sports scholarships but a key point was that they were students first and athletes second. As is the case with our football academies, most American students did not make it to professional level. However, the American ‘student first’ principle gave a sound education for whatever pathway a student eventually followed. Equally, it was no bad thing for all concerned to have well-educated professional players.

As far as I can see, our academy system is not integrated with colleges and universities much at all, but could be described as outside school hours training? Alongside this are young teams with paid apprentice-like players, though these also appear to have a high attrition rate.

The average spend by English Premiership clubs on Academies is £5.24million. Who knows what Mike Ashley allocates?

The North East has good schools, colleges and universities. Just imagine the effect if Newcastle United gave £20million exclusively within the North East to fund football scholarships and education, rather than £20million going elsewhere for the transfer of four Joselus or half a Joelinton?

Some of England’s finest players have come from the North East; with financial and educational help, the future of our region’s potential football professionals could be even better?

Speaking of transfers; things may have changed, but when I was in America the NFL did not allow transfer fees. Much of a club’s money went into the huge wages for the short careers of players, as well as stadiums and student scholarships.
There were no transfer fees because the recruitment system was ‘the draft’. How it could work in England is hard to see but at least with a bit of lateral thinking we could learn something from it?

The draft system starts with an annual nationwide list of all of the newly eligible young players. Most will be finishing their sponsored education, but as long as a person is three years out of high school, whatever line of work they are in, a player becomes eligible. Then in round after round the thirty two NFL clubs in turn hire players and provide contracts with generous wages.

The novel part is that the clubs at the bottom of the league choose first and the top clubs go last. This spreads the best players around the league; so in America, there is no ‘big four’ to dominate year after year as we have in the Premiership.

So for example, in the last twenty years, thirteen different clubs have won the Super Bowl. NFL players have to serve their contracts in full, after which they can renew or join another club, but no transfer fee is involved. There is migration to the big clubs by the best players, but only after they have fulfilled their contract.

Not that it would ever happen here as things stand, but the idea of a young Harry Kane learning his trade with Burnley before he could join Spurs; and Marcus Rashford being a proud Magpie before he could don a red shirt, has its appeal.

So what could United learn from this?

By using a decent amount of the transfer budget to help North East students and other young people, more great players would be found. In the future they could give Gareth Southgate quite a selection headache. United could realise its own best and best educated players by working in partnership with the North East’s further and higher education sports courses, as well as nurturing at school level. As in America, the number of players who do not make the first team would still be high; but with a student-first policy, many would be qualified to go on to do other things, while at the same time remembering with gratitude and hopefully enjoyment the help Newcastle United gave them.

So with a radically different approach to youth development, some stability and consistency could replace the all too regular Academy shake-ups. At present, the prominent mural at the Benton training ground announces in large letters “Who’s next?” Unwittingly it symbolises the in-out merry-go-round of the Academy. With an overhauled Academy system it could be replaced with “Doctrina perpetua” or “Forever learning”.

On the other hand, to inspire hard work; a better choice could be, as one of our greatest players said, “I’ve lived my dream and I realise how lucky I’ve been to have done that.” Alan Shearer.

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