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Resurrecting the lost youth

An informative Insight into former England manager Glenn Hoddle’s Academy.

We’ve all heard it numerous times before; the young, up and coming footballing talent in your local town who was tipped for big things but unfortunately was released from their club so close to stardom.

For many youngsters in this country, the dream of playing football for a living can come so close, but yet so far with the tough dog-eat-dog world of professional football becoming a harsh reality on a young player’s dreams and aspirations. “When I was a nipper, I played for Brighton, but was unfortunately released at 18”. The words commonly heard from colleagues or friends, sitting at their office desk, pondering what could have been.

For many youngsters in various youth set ups of professional clubs throughout the country, the big step-up to the professional game is a step to far and thus fall to the waistline. But, what the Glenn Hoddle Academy (GHA) aims to achieve is to give the players who failed to make the grade a second chance at achieving every young English boy’s dream of playing professional football.

Glenn is convinced that the academy will be able to develop a reasonable proportion of players into professionals within two years. Looking at the facilities at their base, the Montecastillo Resort in Southern Spain, many of the youngsters would probably give-up their dream to play professional football in England to stay at the 5-star resort in sunny Spain, which boasts a luxurious spa and an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus on site. 

The facilities available to the players in Jerez are of the highest quality. Two international sized football grounds, athletics track, you name it the Montecastillo Resort has it. One thing is for sure, if the players at the academy are to become professional footballers one day, they will certainly be accustomed to the luxury lifestyle.

In comparison to the AFC Ajax Academy, the GHA approaches developing young footballing prospects in a different way.  The Ajax Academy only promotes one or two of its players into the first-team each year.  Not only is the Dutch academy strict on numbers, the criteria required to even play for the academy is of the highest quality. The no-nonsense approach taken by the Ajax Academy has seen its benefits. Players like Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids all began their careers at this academy, proving that the system they use to develop young footballers does work. Whereas, the GHA looks to take more of a risk on players who may or may not make the grade, hopefully resulting in a higher turnover of players who make it as professional players.

 Former Liverpool and Chelsea player Nigel Spackman and former England Goalkeeper Dave Beasant are Hoddle’s head coaches at the academy, with coaching support from former Portsmouth manager Graham Rix. The players at the academy undoubtedly benefit a huge deal from the wealth of experience that the coaching staff has to offer.  The high profile names of Hoddle,and his coaches also allows the academy to be able to attract interest from big clubs in the game. Friendlies against a Real Madrid XI, and Chelsea reserves previously enables the GHA players to come up against some of the most talented up and coming prospects coming through the ranks.   

This year, the academy has formed a link with Hyde Football Club, as an outlet to attract interest in their young stars. The greater Manchester side play their football in the Blue Square North Division and they will be looking for the academy players to propel them up the table and improve on a disappointing year last season. This move also has also resulted in the academy relocating back to England to train at Bisham Abbey during the English football season.

Before the move back to England and Hyde FC, the academy formed a partnership with Spanish side Jerez Industrial, and in doing so it saved the fourth tier team from bankruptcy. In return for helping Jerez financially, the GHA are able to use the side as a base to be able to show off the talent that is evident at the academy, in a competitive environment.  

There is no doubt that despite the former England manager’s efforts to develop the players into competent professionals, many of the players will still fail to make the grade. And despite the seemingly harsh manner in which clubs release players at a young age, the reality is that clubs are nine times out of ten correct in their decision to keep or let go of players. Having said that, the success of players and former players of the academy is there to be seen, pacey striker, Ikechi Anya signed for La Liga giants Sevilla FC in 2009 on a two year deal after spending a year at the academy in Spain.  The former Wycombe Wanderers trainee has since stayed in Spanish football, and signed a three-year contract with newly promoted La Liga side, Grenada.

The first Glenn Hoddle Academy player to sign a permanent deal with a professional club was striker Chris Fagan. The former Manchester United youth team player got the ball rolling for Glenn and his staff, and the former Spurs midfielder was clearly delighted that the hard work seemed to be paying off stating on the academy website: “This is a great day for the academy.  Today has proved that the concept of giving players time to develop in the right surroundings can and does work.”                                                      

In this case, yes, but the path to consistently delivering good professional footballers is a long one, and to this day, Hoddle will know his job to develop these youngsters in professional players is as tough a job as he will face in his coaching career. Hoddle’s passion and motivation for unearthing young talent is evident, and you would be a brave man to bet against the former England manager’s academy being a success for many years to come.

Jamie Hopkins



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