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The Best Academy in English Football

By Lee Jamieson :  15/02/2009 :  Comments (0) :
I am elated having just watched us play Villa off the park when my son commented on how good Gosling and Rodwell played. I agreed with him and I sat for a moment and a thought occurred to me: we started the game with eight academy players in the squad and six of them were on the pitch. I concede that Jagielka and Baines were released and we bought them back; however, this is still an outstanding achievement for any team. How many of the current crop of top ten sides can boast having this many academy players in a matchday squad?

It must also be pointed out that Osman and Vaughan, both home-grown players, are out at the moment injured and would normally make the squad. It doesn’t stop there either as at the moment we have Ruddy and Jutkiewicz out on loan and Turner, Irving, Kissock and Spencer possibly ready to push for squad numbers next season.

I am wondering who to credit with this achievement and David Moyes must take the lion’s share of the credit as it has been his vision to reduce the age of the first team. He has made a conscious effort to move away from bringing in players over the thirty mark and brought in young often unproven twentysomethings.

Too often in the past have we wasted our time on players like Ginola, Gascoine, Jesper Blomqvist, Mark Hughes, Don Hutchison and John Collins. Some of these players were undoubtedly useful players who gave their all (others didn’t) but nearly all had hefty signing-on fees commanded big wages and left for nothing. Moyes was quick to see the poor financial return of these players and he has fostered a policy of buy young or bring through your own and I think we are currently reaping the rewards.

I also must also applaud the set-up of Finch Farm, which I have experienced firsthand when my son was scouted for the academy and I watched him play under the keen eye of the coaching staff until he was released late last year. The facilities at Finch Farm and indeed the staff are first class and I have to say far exceed those at Liverpool as my son has also played there. The setup at Finch Farm under manager Ray Hall is proving to be the model for all Premier League sides.

I have seen over the past five or six years a direction change from both Liverpool and Everton in regards to youth. I know from my experience in the local leagues that Everton scouts are ever-present on the local pitches, constantly looking out for the future stars, and they are on first-name terms with most of the children’s team managers. I would say that every youth sport event I have attended in the past two years has had at least one Everton representative attending. More often they have been sponsoring the event and there has been an area dedicated to showcasing the training and development at Finch Farm.

Everton’s links with the community have also impressed me, particularly in hard-pressed areas such as Kensington where every week they train local kids for free, whilst during the last five years I have watched Liverpool’s interest in youth dwindle. Although Liverpool scouts are around, they are far fewer than they had been and I think the emphasis on youth development at Liverpool has been curtailed under Rafa Benitez to the point that Blackburn Rovers scouts are now more prevalent on Merseyside than Liverpool’s.

I know the cynics out there will point out that Everton youth players have only been used due to a lack of squad depth but each time one of these players is retained and becomes a useful squad member, Everton save money. This also enhances our reputation and surely any young player would rather choose Everton to sign for as he will see it as a better opportunity of making it at Goodison.

Finally, I would like to point out the similarities between the current crop of young stars at Everton and the time Giggs, Beckham, Scholes and the Nevilles broke through at United. They all came through at the right time and were given an opportunity to develop in and around the first team and look at how well they've done. I see something similar happening at Everton and who knows if another Rooney comes along maybe we can hang on to him this time providing he wants to stay!

All in all, I think that the club has clearly channelled funds into the youth set up and it has paid off. Whoever is responsible, hats off to them and long may it continue.

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