I recently attended the match at Boundary Park between Oldham Athletic & Rochdale. This was an end of season derby with a few things at stake. Oldham needed at least a point to ensure their safety, whilst Rochdale ideally needed a win to have a chance of making the League 1 playoffs.
Something I found interesting, and also something I was quite happy about being a Mancunian was the amount of local lads and academy graduates playing in the game, albeit mainly for Rochdale such as their goalscorer on the day Callum Camps. Rochdale is classified as a Category 3 Academy under the EPPP, yet currently have the 12th highest amount of professionals making a living from football out of the entire 92 professional teams in England. That means they sit above several Category 1 Premier League sides in that ranking. This did make me contemplate what actually is the point in some Premier League Academies?
Using the two more successful academies based on results recently, Man City & Chelsea, even though their kids clean up at U18 level winning the FA Youth Cup, winning the Premier League 2, and even doing well in the UEFA Youth Champions League, none are considered good enough to be given a chance in the first team. Usually this results in the players then being sold or released from the club and dropping down the leagues. If we take a sample of the players released over the past few seasons by Man City, such as George Evans, George Swan, Alex Henshall and Reece Wabara, only one of those players is currently playing at a higher level than the League 1 level that Rochdale currently occupy. That one being George Evans who is currently at Reading in the Championship. Now this is not a dig at City in any way, this is the same for the majority of Premier League clubs, currently it could be argued that only Tottenham, and Man Utd are producing players that are Premier League standard if not good enough for their own club, examples of this include Tom Carroll, and Jake Livermore from Spurs, and the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Michael Keane and Jonny Evans from Man Utd. City themselves pre takeover did produce Premier League quality players, Ben Mee, and Kieran Trippier for example are very good Premier League players.
I feel in general what this demonstrates is that the stature of the club can be unimportant at academy level, the most important thing is actually the pathway the players have and also the coaching they receive. Again using the Rochdale vs Man City argument, Rochdale’s facilities and stature are much poorer than that of City, however they have been able to give more local lads a career in professional football currently than City have, why is this? It can be argued this is because there is less pressure at that level, however I would have to disagree. Football at that level is very physically demanding with a more packed fixture list, teams tend to be a lot more evenly matched so it’s possible for a team to have a great season reaching the playoffs one year only to be followed by relegation the following and vice versa. So I would argue that giving players a chance at that level has the potential to backfire more than at the highest level where it’s possible for a world class talent to bail the team out. The difference is that the Rochdale players have a pathway to the first team and they seize it when it’s given to them, arguably it could be argued the coaching philosophy at Rochdale may be even better than that at Man City and that is what allows their players to be more prepared for that step up.
At Aston Villa currently, City graduate Micah Richards is playing with Rochdale academy graduate Scott Hogan. I believe this can be used as an inspiration to lads currently in academy’s. Just because they haven’t been picked up by a Category 1 Premier League Club, that doesn’t mean they cannot forge a successful career in the game. Like Hogan, I’m sure we will see more players coming from the lower rated academies and having a career just as strong as that of those with a Premier League education, because as mentioned, it’s not about the club they’re at, it’s about the pathway given to them by the club and the coaches.