Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe beauty of growing your own players - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The beauty of growing your own players - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The beauty of growing your own players

 An incredible thing happened in the world of football last week. No I’m not talking about United’s latest demonstration of dominance of the English game nor German football’s apparent takeover of Europe. I’m not even talking about the toothy goings on at Anfield, I’m sure we’ve all had our fill of that particular tasteless episode.

No, I’m referring to what took place on Saturday afternoon at the Alexandra Stadium. Crewe became the first senior English club to name a starting eleven consisting solely of players who have come through their academy.

It was a remarkable achievement by the League One side managed by Steve Davis, made even more memorable by the fact that they ran out 2 – 0 winners against Walsall.

The club have long been associated with progressing young player’s careers, mainly under the tutelage of Dario Gradi and last summer a further two, Ashley Westwood and Nick Powell left the conveyor belt and signed for Aston Villa and Manchester United respectively.

In the wake of Roy Hodgson’s recent complaint about the lack of opportunity for young Englishmen (Ironic given the fact that his last West Brom selection contained two Englishmen, one of them happening to be Billy Jones from the Crewe Academy) it got me wondering if this achievement could be achieved further up the food chain.

The closest any Premier League club has come to such a feat was the Middlesbrough side fielded by Steve McClaren against Fulham in May 2006. The team was the youngest in Premier League history with an average age of 20. Of the 16 man squad 15 were born within 30 miles of the Riverside Stadium.

That team contained the likes of James Morrison, Adam Johnson, Lee Cattermole, Danny Graham, David Wheater, Andrew Taylor, Ross Turnbull and Matthew Bates. Others at the club but not featuring in this game included Stewart Downing, Tony McMahon and Stuart Parnaby.

I accept that this may not quite have been a title winning outfit but it’s one that even now would have a good chance of holding its own in the top flight. They certainly couldn’t have done any worse than the collection of imports that ended up getting relegated in 2009.

Celtic of course provided the blueprint of how this idealistic vision could work. Their Lisbon Lions that captured the European Cup in 1967 were all famously born within 10 miles of Celtic Park.

Arsenal under George Graham and United under Ferguson have both initiated success based on a core of young players that have come through the ranks. Manchester City with the backing of Sheikh Mansour are making all the right noises about developing their own but in truth how many of them will be local to the area? How many will be players that the fans can truly identify with?

In Europe, Ajax’s famed youth program was previously seen as a forerunner in the field, their pinnacle being the 1995 Champions League success with a largely self made squad.

The accolades that accompanied Dortmund’s demolition of Madrid were warranted but it should be remembered that only three of that side came through the youth team and one of those, Marco Reus was released, only to be re-signed last year for 17.1million Euros.

Spain can now rightfully claim to be the leaders in the field. The three clubs in Europe with the most home grown players in their squads are Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona and Real Sociedad.

Everyone is by now aware of Barcelona and the success of La Masia, their academy that continues to produce a gifted supply line right through to the first team. The two Basque clubs however, despite neither being quite as stringent as they once were in terms of enforcing their Basque only policies, have both remained true to their region and local talent.

To return to my original point, could this happen in England. I think it could but it would need finance, scouting and an ideology to align. If West Ham fifteen years ago a rich Russian had flown over the ground and liked what he saw, if the said Russian then had the will to build a side based on the local catchment area, then a team could have evolved featuring not only Joe Cole, Lampard, Carrick, Johnson, Ferdinand, but also Defoe, Sol Campbell, John Terry, Ledley King and Ashley Cole, not a bad starting point for any squad and something to keep hope alive for romantics like me.

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