Monday, September 21, 2009 by Paul Grech
Much has been written about the Gael Kakuta case which has led to the ban on transfer dealings that has been imposed on Chelsea. There has been debate about whether the decision was too harsh or not; others have focused on going over Chelsea's actions to see whether they were right in what they did or not.
What has escaped most people's attention is why they've acted in that way. Why is it that all the big clubs (and the not so big ones) feel compelled to go raiding across Europe in order to find young players with which to load their reserves? Isn't that the reason why they spend so much money on their own academies?
Ten years down the line from the publication of Howard Wilkinson's 'Charter for Quality' that set up the academy system, England should be flush with promising young players coming through the ranks. Instead, the likes of Jack Wilshire are the exception rather than the rule. With the cost of getting things wrong being that of missing out on the Premiership's millions few managers are willing to risk their future by giving young players a chance with the temptation of going for cheap imports being too strong to resist.
Or, at least, that is what normally gets blamed for the evident lack of results and what Chris Green tries to confirm in his book 'Every Boy's Dream'. What he finds out is that, whilst there is a lack of opportunites out there, it is only one of the reasons for the declining number of local players; it is only one element of a much larger and more complex issue.
By talking with a whole host of experts in the field of youth development, as well as some players who have been chewed up and spit out by the system, he slowly starts piecing together the various reasons for the system's failure. Some of these are to be expected - lack of money lower down the league structure for instance - but many will inevitably shock because quite simply the expectations being placed on young children are, frankly, unacceptable.
The risk that such books run is that they become over-bearing, that the doom suffocates the initial interest that there is. Green avoids this by skillfully managing the pace of his writing, alternating between moments that are laden with serious thoughts and others where the writing takes a more personal tone which, as a result, make the whole piece a lighter read.
Green also looks beyond the conventional boundaries of academy football by talking to those who are doing things their own way. He looks, for instance, at the ideas behind the Give Us Back Our Game project that aims to let the children auto-regulate themselves rather than impose rigid the kill off all the fun. Again, these lighten the mood but also offer a genuine alternative for the game.
The end result is a fine piece of work and as exhaustive a look at the state of English football as you're likely to come across. Yet, reading it I couldn't avoid the nagging question about whether, despite all the negative aspects of youth football that Green uncovers, we as fans are really bothered about it. Does it really matter if the big clubs prey on the smaller ones, if the children are put under undue pressure or if the academic side of thing is pushed aside? The sad truth is that the answer most probably is a negative one.
Which makes Every Boy's Dream all the more important for it looks into areas that we're not normally bothered about and asks the questions that we should be asking. For those reasons alone, it is a vital read.