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What is the point of an Academy?

By Chris Robinson :  02/04/2008 :  Comments (22) :
Apologies if this goes on a bit... bees in the bonnet syndrome! I watched the mini-derby reserves game last night, which we lost in much the same style as the senior derby - Liverpool creating/missing the main scoring chances and our lads having to defend in numbers, while creating hardly anything in attack. It was not simply the result that was depressing, but the make-up of the teams and our general standard of play.

Our team comprised youth/academy players, with only Rodwell having any first team experience. Liverpool did field Pennant, but otherwise their team also comprised youth players with little or no first team experience.

Our official website quoted the 0-1 scoreline as being "the difference" between the two sides. DREAM ON! The Offical website also says, quite correctly, that Liverpool enjoyed long periods of possession, especially in the second half. This was largely due to their young players being so much more comfortable with the ball and ours giving away possession at almost every opportunity!

The order of the day was for hurried, stray passes, lumping the ball out of defence, when blue shirts were available to receive a pass, by-passing midfield and lumping aerial/channel passes up to Agard (imagine Leon Osman as sole striker and you get the picture). It was like watching the first team of a few seasons ago (and sometimes this season too)!

Our players did defend and tackle well, but than again they had to. What they lacked was creativity ? but you cannot create if you do not have the ball.

I do bear in mind that our players largely had only academy experience and on average might have been slightly younger than the Liverpool team, but why should they be so uncomfortable with the ball? Admittedly, they might just have collectively had an off-night. Playing on a rugby pitch did not help either, but Liverpool had that same disadvantage. Our players did not seem to be at ease with each other as a team and were definitely second rate/best when it came to ball-retention technique, including movement off the ball. It was not as if Liverpool played a pressing game to put them under pressure.

Only Connor (who was subbed), Baxter, Codling (who came on as subs), O'Kane and Agard looked capable in that regard (and in the absence of a growth spurt over the next few years, only human growth hormone will help some of them make it into the first team squad ? unless DM has designs on a re-run of Snow White!). Of the rest, nobody stood out, not even Rodwell, who nearly hit the corner flag with our only clear chance of the game, a left foot shot from 6 yards. (Perhaps he was dreaming of Marbella and the first team squad).

The other main difference between the sides was the players' origins. Apart from Stubhaug, ours largely came from Merseyside, the UK or Ireland. Liverpool fielded only @ 6 local or UK players, including Pennant The majority were European, North African or South American and their skills showed through.

I would prefer Everton, as "The People's Club", not to be importing youth team players, unless their future international class is obvious, and to continue drawing on the pool of talent locally or within the UK/Ireland. But I also want those players to be as skilled and comfortable with the ball as the potential imports, otherwise what is the point? They will not be able to compete in the Premier League and we will simply release them and look to buy replacements who can.

Easier said than done, I know, but such skills can be coached into them from an early age and should become an attitude of mind. Our youth/reserve team players last night have surely spent time at the club's academy during the last few years, coming through the ranks. What skills training did they receive in that time to enable them to feel comfortable with and to retain the ball?

Where is all this going? I suppose I'm asking "Why have a youth training system and what is its purpose if we do?" The answer clearly is that if we do not have the money to buy the £10-20m players on a regular basis or at all, we need to produce the talent at home. But that "talent" must be capable of complementing the first team, of playing successfully in the Premier League and European competitions, or it will be released. To do that, they must have ball retention skills, not just stamina and athleticism. If we cannot or will not import the skilled players, why not "import" the skills?

If we do not have extensive scouting networks overseas or even want to have them, and if we want to emphasise local talent, perhaps we can compromise and bring the overseas coaching talent to the club instead, specifically for the youth teams. I do not know if we do this already or are working on it, but as part of the Finch Farm set up, why not have a coaching academy, as well as a players' academy, with coaching exchange links to European and South American clubs?

The "School of Soccer Science" anyone?

Reader Comments

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1   Posted 02/04/2008 at 15:01:20

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didnt read it in full because was too long sorry, but our acedemy is one of the best in the country, where 2nd in the league behind Man City’s wonder kids, the acemdey has been great the last few years -Osman, Hibbert Ball, Jeffers, McCann, Oster, Rooney, Vaugahn, Anchiebe, Turner, and now Rodwell, how many other teams have produced that. Even though we havent kept many we have made a lot of money of them
Brian Garside
2   Posted 02/04/2008 at 15:15:35

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How many of our 2nd string/ rteserves are out on loan?
Would they have made a difference?
Would you have written the same letter if this team had won 3-0 with the same style of play? I think the term "counter attacking football" and "tactics" would have been used.
Accept the fact that we (UK) are brought up with a different football culture than other countries. Our technique has been critised for decades,so this is nothing new.
Was it their home grown players or the imports which were so talented?
Nick Toye
3   Posted 02/04/2008 at 15:31:11

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The academy has produced some quality players, not all of them are at our club, or even in the Premiership, (Jeffers - played for England) - but they are still quality.

Ball, Jeffers, Rooney, McCann, Dunne, Johnson, Osman, Hibbert, Jagielka,Vaughan, Anichebe - these are all products of our youth academy.

Plus the new ones - Rodwell, Agard, Baxter, Codling, Boyle.
Tim Keen
4   Posted 02/04/2008 at 16:14:30

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At the risk of repeating everyone else we do have one of the most successful academy sides in the country.

The Liverpool reserve team is made up of millions of pounds worth of imported youth players, we aren’t in a postion to compete with that.

What we can do is ensure when a Rooney / Jeffers / Ball / Osman comes along is that they realise the best chance of making it as a pro is to sign for us rather than compete with the Argentinians and Spaniards in the Liverpool system.

Look at Manchester City, their kids team is awesome at the moment and some of them are now breaking through into the first team. If those lads had signed for United they’d not have had a chance yet but this has meant that the best local kids are signing for City.

I’m lead to believe that similar has been happening with Everton over Liverpool for the last few years and our results in tournaments such as the Nike Cup and Academy Leagues suggests we are developing the local players better.

The difference now is that the "big 4" are now offering silly money for the best 16 year old kids (Chelsea have signed about 4 Leeds kids and one from Sheffield Utd) and the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool are pilaging France and Spain for the best young players.

We can’t compete financially but we can develop the local kids into the best players they can be which is what the original point of youth development was.
Joe McMahon
5   Posted 02/04/2008 at 16:37:33

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Mark - you state that Osman, Hibbert Ball Jeffers, McCann, Oster, Rooney, Vaugahn, Anchiebe, Turner are from our Academy. I really would only rate Vaughan apart from Rooney, as premiership class. Yes I know Ball is doing ok, but is ok good enough?

How we ever got 10mil for Jeffers god only knows!

Unfortunalty as the SKY 4 grow & show academys are not necassary, just the finance that we certainly don’t have. Yes Beckham, Gigs etc came from academy’s but that is over 15 yeas ago.
Iain McWilliam
6   Posted 02/04/2008 at 17:14:54

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Ball, Jeffers, Rooney, McCann, Dunne, Osman, Hibbert, Jagielka: All produced when Colin Harvey was In charge of the youth.

Vaughan and Anichebe are the only ones produced since...and Anichebe is pretty dire. Its a pity Vaughan has been injured so much because I wanted to see how Moyes would treat him. The next experiment will be Rodwell I suspect.

However, I still dont understand why we invested in the new training centre if the reserves don't play there....or am I missing something obvious (are the pitches not ready or something?). I thought the whole point of the new complex was to have everything run under the same ?roof?? Maybe it's a form of Wyness outsourcing the reserves when we play at other grounds?

As someone else has mentioned, Everton will have the same problem attracting youth players as they do attracting senior players... money (legal or not), more expansive (and expensive scouting systems) and location, location location. The big 3 have it covered on all angles.
Chris Robinson
7   Posted 02/04/2008 at 15:31:38

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Mark: I was critical of the style of play last night, as much as the technique of the players themselves. The Academy has performed very well over the last few years and produced players who have been and still are a credit to the club. In Jeffers’ and Rooney’s case, the money came in useful too! The sale of Ball and McCann, who would have been happy not to leave, was a tragedy. Where would we be now had they not been sold? Nevertheless, we do not need to sell players to make ends meet now and the improved training facilities at Finch Farm give us an opportunity to raise the players’ skills to the next level. It was disappointing last night to see us give the ball away needlessly so often.


Players out on loan/injured? Good point - Jutkiewicz, Kissock, Downes, Turner, Spencer, etc might have made a difference to the score, but to the style of play?

3-0 scoreline in our favour? I would never complain about any scoreline like that against the RS, but it’s academic anyway. It would never have happened with that squad, playing the way it did. As for "counter-attacking football", you still need to keep the ball and pass it quickly and accurately to players wearing the same blue shirt for this "tactic" to be effective.

I cannot accept that where you are born should affect the way you play. How you are brought up in the game affects how you play and I cannot see why we should not drill the young players in our care in how to keep possession of the ball, especially under pressure.

It was the RS imports who tended to be the more talented (Nemeth, Brouwer, El Zahr, San Jose..)

Incidentally, I noticed on the EvertonNews site that the club is linking up with a coaching scheme in India, training their coaches and hopefully picking up a few useful players for the Academy as a by-product. That sort of thing is admirable and can only be good for the long-term development of the club. So back to my main point - why not link up with coaches and coaching academies from other clubs in the developed football world - Europe and South America? Pick their brains and adapt their training techniques for our players?
Chris Robinson
8   Posted 02/04/2008 at 17:23:46

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Tim: I agree, the money does talk, even or especially at youth level. So we have to compete for local talent with the SKY4 on a value-added basis, attracting the best local talent with the promise of the best training and future career opportunities (even if it’s not to be a carrer at Everton). My main point is still valid: how best to provide that training? "Only the best is good enough" (including training), but we may not know what that is unless we look beyond Finch Farm to compare ourselves with other coaching/training schemes. All I want to see is every Everton player coming through the Academy being at ease on the ball, making accurate passes as second nature.

Iain: I agree with the pitch issue. Why build sate of the art training pitches and then play competitive games on a rugby league pitch? Are we contractually bound to play there?
Chris Briddon
9   Posted 02/04/2008 at 18:48:24

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I think, if you look at most teams, very few players go from youth to 1st team level at premier league clubs, and even less become big successes.

How can Hibbert not count when he has played countless times for us? Ok he?s not world class, but he has been a consistently solid prem defender as have Ball, Dunne, Osman.
Do you know how many clubs produce a Rooney on a regular basis - NONE. There will always be a number who don?t make it at this level.
Tony Williams
10   Posted 02/04/2008 at 18:57:58

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Our acadamy has brought through some fantastic players, all mentioned above.

One of my mates is a taxi driver and took a redshite player to wherever they train, he was a "product" of their youth academy and of course he was not British, he wasn?t sure where he was from but he had been with them for years.

The redshite simply buy in stacks of potentials each season but hardly ever bring any through.

There is about 5 this year from ours who seemingly may be good enough for the Prem, all home grown boys.

That is why we need the academy
Gareth Hughes
11   Posted 02/04/2008 at 21:49:42

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I think major questions should now be asked of our youth system. There are no talented midfielders pushing through, an area we sorely lack in. Vaughan and Anichebe are promisinh but young players with craetive skilss and comfortable on the ball are mainly produce elsewhere. Our recruiting of young foreigners is appalling; we hardly sign any and thos e we do sign nevr make the first team. I can only blame the manager for this as it is his job to set in place an effective overseas scouting network. In 6 years Moyes has failed to do this. His recent comments about wanting to sign British players this summer show his mis trust and lack of interest in the continental game. If people want to make excuses for the youth system by using Hibbert and Osman as examples of its success, then I don’t need to add anything else.
Ron Leith
12   Posted 02/04/2008 at 22:00:36

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LFC may have a great crop of youth talent but I would guess that these talented players will rot in the reserves as LFC will also continue to spend Mega bucks on the finished article. As long as we get one or two coming through like Osman, Vaughan, Anichebe it will be more than LFC get coming through.
Keir Ninanovski
13   Posted 02/04/2008 at 22:05:53

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If you want silky skills and players who can pass a ball the Premier League needs to change. The game has to slow down as Alex Ferguson has said this week. The main requirement now is for a 6ft plus athelete who can run all day and not get knocked all over the place by the likes of Gerrard, Nolan, Essien etc.

Moyes plays to a rigid system and this has adapted as the quality of players we can afford to buy has improved. However, I have major doubts about whether small players like Pienaar have a future in the Prem unless they can match the muscle of most other players.

The academy players who come through are those that can adapt to the physical battle. Hence why we have no more wingers who can cross a ball.

Michael Kenrick
14   Posted 03/04/2008 at 02:11:34

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Iain, I think the issue of where Reserves games are played has a historical component that has perhaps become outmoded. Time was the Resserves played in the Big Stadium when the First Team was playing away. At least fans who did not or could not travel (and didn?t want to go to Anfield!), could get their weekly dose of footie by attending "the Ressies"

That quaint idea went by the wayside in... well, I don?t know to be honest. The 80s I guess, when footy almost became unglued. They had the bright idea of playing these increasingly meaningless games at a smaller provincial stadium that was under-used. And it saved on wear and tear of the hallowed turf.

To my knowledge, reserves games have never been played at the training facility because of the need to open up to the paying fan. However, I think you are now right. With very small attendances and midweek games, they might as well be played at Finch Farm as anywhere else.
Iain McWilliam
15   Posted 03/04/2008 at 09:34:03

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Yeah, its a bit sad in a way at how the role of reserve sides has been eroded over the years. The mini derbies used to get quite good gates in the 80s (better than Tranmere!), but its now very much like the Continental system and will probably end up with no resvere leagues whatsoever. The only competitive football the youngsters will get is in youth tournaments.

I suppose we all have to accept their role has been redefined, but if I was a youngster in the blues youth system I’d find it quite demoralising with no obvious goal in sight.

(I think Kier makes a very good point btw)
Ken Merchant
16   Posted 04/04/2008 at 02:17:44

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We are trying.

We have to have faith in our academy. We?ve invested in what seems to be a great facility to produce players, as long as we can fill the academy with good prospects I don?t see what we have to lose given the price of a decent player at any age these days.

It?s just a shame how many do not make it.

Gavin Ramejkis
17   Posted 04/04/2008 at 11:35:00

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You only have to look at the current Man City crop and Hibs to see what decent development can get you. It should be nurtured and not forgotten about in today’s quick fix pay over the odds for mercenaries league.
Justin Kenning
18   Posted 04/04/2008 at 20:20:28

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Great to know that everything is dunky-dory at Everton and that we have only to be patient to see a glorious future filled with own home-grown products.
Sorry to say, however, that in truth the cupboard is totally bare with only teams full of midgets filling the lower orders. I have not seen ONE player in our lower ranks who is within three seasons of the Premier League!
Karl Masters
19   Posted 04/04/2008 at 22:19:32

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There?s lots of things wrong with youth football in England and EFC are reaping the ?rewards.?

As a parent who has stood on many a freezing touchline over the years watching one of my sons play football, I can safely say that the way football is coached is often the wrong introduction for young kids.

For a start the coaches all preach some sort of pass and move mantra they?ve seen on Sky or from their FA coaching scheme, but don?t back it up with actions. Once a match kicks off it?s all about power, running, shouting and screaming orders and inevitably the kids who are more physically developed dominate.

It?s all jargon and tactics too. I once watched a 10-year-old looking round on the ground bewildered as his coach almost burst a blood vessel telling him to ?get in the hole?!

There is no real nurturing of pure ball skills. They don?t practice keepy uppy or passing with the instep and outside of the foot, Cruyff turns, dropping the shoulder feigning going one way only to go another. Our kids are uncomfortable on the ball - it?s like a hot potato to most of them.

It?s no wonder this continues through to the teenagers and older kids right trough to adult level. Just watch how the players of continental teams caress the ball around - it?s not a hot potato, but your chance to show what you can do when you get the ball in their eyes.

Much of this is down to confidence of course. And here i where coaches in this country really miss a trick to my mind. Kids, especially, need encouragement, for you to get in their heads. Many creative kids in the artistic sense (and that?s very similar to what we want to see on the pitch really) are alienated by over aggressive coaches and they lose interest.

Yes, it?s a man?s game, but intelligence will always triumph over brawn in the end. Wenger is the perfect example. He understands the people in his charge and gives them confidence and support. Others like Mourinho or Ferguson are more wiley and use aggression as well whilst people like Paul Jewell (nothing personal and I could use almost any English/ British coach as an example) rely on aggression and physical prowess above all else.

Big problem and I reckon we are at least 20 years away from a solution.

It?s interesting that Moyesie is getting better results since he calmed down a bit and has started getting players settled and happy rather than in fear of a bollocking a la Blomqvist or fighting with his players in an Autrian nightclub whilst boss at Preston (allegedly! :) )
Kevin Gillen
20   Posted 05/04/2008 at 17:53:56

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Oster came from Grimsby Town, he wasn’t in the blues academy.
John Martin
21   Posted 06/04/2008 at 12:19:47

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Most academy/reserve players never make it, even Colin Harvey said if you get 1 good player out of the youth team that goes into the 1st team then that's a success. Most teams have not got time to wait for players to develop if they are not good enough they get shipped out like Peter Clarke & Mark Hughes for instance.

We have brought a number of players through our youth system and while its not the best its better than most. Youth football, like Premier League football is seeing more and more foreign players as invariably they are better. Perhaps we need to look at today's Playstation youth as a factor in British youngsters not being as good anymore. It seems to me youth football is a gamble: some buys/players work out; others dont

Tim Lloyd
22   Posted 06/04/2008 at 12:28:59

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With one exception, all the comments refer to the young players (British) in the Academy not being skilful enough. Not being comfortable on the ball.

Surely that?s what should be taught in the Academy. The local teams one can see in the local parks on Sunday or maybe Saturday mornings are there for recreation. The ?coaches? or ?team Managers? have no coaching skills, kids will not progress under them.

Its only when some lad is spotted with a natural talent, very very few and far between, I suggest, should that lad be signed for the Academy and coached using the talents of an imported continental or, maybe, a South American coach.

Selected boys with a natural ball playing talent, should start to be trained using the continental methods from the earliest possible time. Only then, will be possibly be able to produce p[layers of the necessary skills to move eventually into the first team.

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