It is often said that we “should give youth a chance” and “invest in our youth” and these are both areas that over the 20+ years of supporting Aston Villa, many of us can attune to.
I can remember the nineties well. Being a kid and getting excited about everything on match day. Face paint to big games, huge piles of paper confetti scattering over the Holte End and the occasional toilet roll flying past your head as a streamer. I had become immersed in all things football and all things Villa.
Two things I distinctively and perhaps randomly remember were the relay races around the pitch at halftime and the parading of a new player within the academy.
Firstly, we never seemed to win any of the relay races. Four children, supporting Villa would race four children who supported our opposing team and no matter how fast we started off we always came off second best. The roar as the kids ran past my seat on the Holte was amazing and I always wished I could have done it although it wouldn’t have helped our success rate!
Secondly, I remember people being beckoned to look towards one of the big screens. There would be a table and contract with a young player smiling, sitting patiently ready to sign it. Then the fateful words of the pitch announcer saying something along the lines of, “Remember the name in the future.”
Occasionally we would unearth a player from the youth setup that would make it and go on to make appearances for the first team but more often than not, the lad sat behind the table would never be seen again and this is just a small part of what is becoming a big debate in modern day football.
Bodymoor Heath has always had a reputation for being one of the best places to hone your skills and develop as a player. This is true for both the youth academy and the first team players. The facilities are state of the art and you will often hear positive comments from people when asked about what it is like there.
However, in the modern frenzy of Transfer Deadline Days, £200million transfer fees, not to mention the agent’s costs and the influx of players from different nations, the question has to be asked:
What is going to happen to youth football in the future and how does this affect Aston Villa?
In a story that wasn’t really publicised as much as I expected, newly promoted Huddersfield Town announced a shift in their policy towards youth football.
The club issued a statement to say they were restructuring from a Category II to a Category IV in accordance with the Elite Player Performance Plan.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
The Elite Player Performance Scheme divides players into different phases.
Foundation – Under 9 to Under 11-year-olds
Youth Development – Under 12 to Under 16-year-olds
Professional Development – Under 17 to Under 21-year-olds
In regards to Huddersfield Town, the drop from Category II to IV means they can no longer recruit and develop players from a younger age and instead will only be able to recruit from the pool of 16-year-olds and above.
The idea is that there will be more focus upon elite football development at both U18 and U23 level. Initially, this may seem like a negative, in that the chance for children to make it in the professional game appears to have been cut down further. However, one thing a lot of us forget is they are still children. Being a teacher by trade, I see a lot of children who go on to academies and say how much they enjoy competitive school football due to the sheer amount of time at academies that is spent on fitness and specified training technique.
I don’t need to say much about the dropout rates too as the sheer pressure and psychological impact of being released from such academies often results in children and teenagers dropping out of football altogether.
The seemingly new and growing idea of developing a philosophy and style of play that mimics the first team squad is taken from continental methods that have led to success for other nations. This appears to be the new trend and latest plan for success.
We have been fortunate to see the likes of Callum O’Hare and Keinan Davis begin to break into the first team from our youth setup this season and their development within the younger sides and reserves has been crucial but with all other factors considered and the ever-increasing cost of English players, does this spell an end for local heroes and children living the dream of playing for their boyhood club?