Much has recently been made of our 'french faction' and how we are beginning to look like a side "lost in translation". There is no sense of identity within the side, and this has been reflected by the, quite frankly, appalling domestic turn out this season. Here, we tackle the issue head on, and suggest a proven alternative which could very well resolve this frightening problem.
The direct introduction of Financial Fair Play in full force is imminent, and ever-tightening restrictions on the allowing of foreign players both domestically and in Europe – at present a minimum of 4 players who have trained at Newcastle for at least 3 years between the age of 15 and 21 and 8 who have trained at a club in England are required in a Premier League first-team squad registration – means that a change of approach is clearly required.
Attempts to have a first-team squad made up as much as possible of youth team players are very much in vogue at the moment – pundits have spent the last five years waxing lyrical about Barcelona’s incredible number of youth team players, whilst we were dazzled by last season’s Athletic Bilbao who knocked out Man Utd in the Europa League with breathtaking football (Bilbao, of course, have a Basque-only player policy which forces them to rely almost entirely on their academy, making their very presence in the Spanish top-flight a magnificent achievement on its own.
And this season both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have received praise for the success they have achieved with principally German and often totally homegrown players – Dortmund have benefited in particular from signing relatively unknown German players in their late teens or early twenties cheaply from smaller clubs, having acquired the likes of Sven Bender, Roman Weidenfeller, Seb Kehl, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin Grosskreutz and Marco Reus in this way – and this has led to more complaining in Britain about the fact that so few clubs can boast such success at bringing through homegrown talent.
Crewe Alexandra in League One recently achieved the impressive feat of beating mid-table rivals Walsall 2-0 using a starting XI made up entirely of academy products, and rightly received much praise for this.
However, most clubs in the Premier League are still relying on pre-prepared talent – only the likes of Aston Villa, Southampton and Norwich can truly be said to be relying a side made up mostly of cheap British players, whilst other sides who use large numbers of British players a lot have normally either acquired them at great costs which are realistically unsustainable for most (Man Utd with Rooney, Jones, Young, Smalling and Ferdinand) not truly relying on the British players they have (Man City with Milner, Barry, Sinclair and Lescott – Hart is their only important British first team player) or mixing the odd British youth product with a mainly foreign first XI (Wigan).
Obviously to create a scenario in which bringing through large numbers of youth team players into the first XI who truly have the quality to compete at the highest level is a difficult and lengthy process.
It looks easy enough when Bilbao, who have been doing it for years, or Barca, who have an established philosophy implemented at all levels of the club so that even 7 year olds are being taught first team tactics do it, but the reality is that it is very hard to pull off – indeed, the depth of quality of young German players available at the moment is down to the total revamp German youth football underwent after the national team’s shocking Euro 2000 performance, which was designed to produce the results now coming through.
Millions were invested in new coaching techniques, facilities, and encouraging kids to stay in football for longer. Sadly, at the present time the English FA lacks the motivation, realism or organisation to arrange such a nationwide makeover, allowing all clubs to produce more youth for a fraction of the cost required currently, so those clubs who wish to try such an experiment have to do it themselves.
This, in part, explains why progress is so slow – in terms of young players who have come into the first team from the academy over the last three years, Man Utd have just Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, Liverpool have Raheem Sterling, Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom, Arsenal have Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs, and Southampton have Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana – these are the standout examples of the highest numbers of truly promising English talent, and having two or three per club is hardly sending signals that an entirely academy based team would ever be possible. Nonetheless, it is certainly a worthy ambition and one Newcastle should undertake for a financially secure future.
It is worth noting that at present Newcastle’s academy is not exactly brimming with talent – Adam Campbell is possibly the only player with a realistic chance of becoming a first team regular.
However, as has been proved elsewhere, although the results take time to come through, the “academy makeover” can be done – it took Rafa Benitez five years to renew the Liverpool academy, and only now are promising youngsters being brought towards the Liverpool first team, for example. Considering it will be another four or five years at least before these players start to hit their prime, it is certainly a process that takes over ten years at least.
However, if Newcastle were to seriously invest in their academy, and in better youth coaching and an improved domestic scouting network, it is most certainly a possibility. Not only would an all academy – and hopefully at least partly Geordie – team be much more financially sustainable, but there would be a much stronger affinity between the club and its supporters.
This is not to say that foreign players do not connect with Newcastle fans – one only has to see the passion that the likes of Coloccini and Gutierrez show for the club to see how much foreign players can grow to love Newcastle – but all the same a team of Steven Taylors would have much more connection to the community than a team of Gabriel Obertans.
Moreover, whilst it would obviously be impossible to keep some academy players – any outstandingly talented ones may well soon move on to bigger clubs – the potential profit value is much higher than it is for a foreign player brought in in their prime – even the likes of Cabaye, who cost £5m, would probably only fetch a few million more than that, especially after a season like the one Newcastle are about to end.
As well as this there is the fact that homegrown players with a love for the club are less likely to demand exorbitant wages than players brought in in their prime who are not as passionate. In terms of results on the pitch, it is worth remembering that a group of players who have played together for years can often produce the same results as a more talented group who have played together less often – the “team chemistry” factor.
Barcelona staff have often said that when buying a Zlatan Ibrahimovic or an Alexis Sanchez – that is, a player brought in from another club in their prime – the cost is often much greater than the transfer fee and wages alone, as the time it takes for the player to get used to their system and adapt to their style can often lead to many situations where they make a mistake that a less talented youth player – a Pedro or a Cristian Tello – would not have made as they are accustomed to the tiki taka philosophy. As such, an academy based system does not require the world’s most talented footballers, just ones who understand how the team is supposed to play.
Evidently, changing the way Newcastle United is set up as a football club is not a simple task. To introduce a system in which the club completely changes its transfer policy is obviously not a quick solution.
However, the potential long-term benefits of such a system, both on the pitch and in the boardroom, are huge, and would lead to a future in which the club was fully sustainable and capable of competing at a high level without spending beyond its means.
Newcastle United is a club which is known for its character; there is no doubt that the city has been, and probably always be, enveloped by the interest of football. So, we must restore some much needed pride and identity within both the dressing room and the stands.
Let us know what you think about this idea? Do we need a change in approach or does the source of the problem reside somewhere else?