English Football’s Headache: The ‘Next Season’ Player

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As University students, it is often difficult to comprehend the standards and expectations that come with the money paid for and to some of the youngsters in the world of football.

With new laws recently introduced requiring squads to contain a certain amount of English players, the price of home grown youngsters has rocketed through the roof.

It’s one of the most tired clichés, particularly in the English game. Commentators and pundits alike often throw a blanket over young players by pointing out that ‘they’re still young’ or ‘they still have time to develop’, but is this really an appropriate defence for some of our underperforming youngsters?

English football is almost crippled by ‘next season’ syndrome, which takes focus away from a player’s development. How long can we really allow the transition from youth to full potential? Where do we draw the line? Many top players in world football have shown their full potential from a young age, including the likes of Messi. But more importantly for English football; Rooney, Gerrard and Shearer were all players who blossomed early on. Conversely, players like Charlie Austin and Ian Wright did not reach their potential until later in their careers.

England, despite performing well under par at the U21’s tournament this summer, have produced players with big price tags. But is it enough to have a ‘promising future’? Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are prime examples. Injury may have halted their progress, and they may have shown glimpses of what they are capable of, but glimpses don’t win league titles or World Cups. A poor season is usually excused by the supposed fact that they’ll discover top form in the following term.

Ross Barkley is rumoured to have a £30 million price tag, yet has often seen himself on the bench for Everton. Moreover, Raheem Sterling has just been purchased for £49 million, a price tag that has brought much scrutiny. Here, it is important to remember that City aren’t paying £49 million for the player that he is right now. His youth and potential come under that price tag.

The FA has invested huge amounts of money into youth football, but the results have been questionable, with clubs often looking abroad to recruit talent. Clubs have used so many different methods in trying to develop their youngsters, with the loan system commonly being used – but to what end?

Patrick Bamford has been loaned out by Chelsea numerous times, achieving a playoff final with Derby, and earning Championship Player of the Year with Middlesbrough in a season which saw him bag 17 goals in 39 appearances. You could argue how beneficial it is to be the best amongst a group of players you’re expected to be better than, as opposed to learning and developing against technically more advanced and experienced opponents. Josh Mceachran and Nathaniel Chalobah appear to be further examples of players failed by the loan system.

Yet this is where the headache begins. Were these players to stay at Chelsea, would their likely lack of first team football hinder their development in the years when they need to be gaining experience? Sterling’s constant first team football has allowed him to improve at Liverpool, eventually resulting in a big move. Should managers be taking more chances with young, unproved players?

Alan Hansen’s famous quote about not being able to win anything with kids was proved wrong by Manchester United in 1996. Surely clubs should be doing their best to replicate the success that Ferguson gained through the trust he put in United’s young talent. With financial fair play and regulations on the amount of English players required in each squad, it appears to offer a far cheaper solution to clubs like City rather than spending £49 million.

English football needs to remove the idea of a ‘next season player’. Footballers do improve as they travel through their twenties of course. But if a player is not performing, instead of labelling them as ‘too young’, it would undoubtedly be more productive to ask why. Hazard is young and winning Chelsea league titles. Messi did the same for Barcelona, as did Ronaldo for Manchester United.

Developing players is complex and difficult, but using labels doesn’t help. Sterling has proved his potential, and the £49 million price tag on his shoulders is more of an investment, with Manchester City hoping in the next few years he becomes a title winning player. The potential is obviously there and as a footballing nation it is paramount that we set about reaching it, not postponing it.

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