Establishing a youth culture part 1: Why the lower leagues are key to an English future.

Irwin: So good Liverpool stopped him going out on loan so he could...not get games for Liverpol instead.

When Gerrard was left out of the players that were called to England’s under 16 academy, he was consoled by Steve Heighway, head of Liverpool’s at the time blossoming academy. He said that Gerrard was much better off with Liverpool’s coaches. Considering Gerrard’s career since, you would say that he had a fair point. Back then, anyway. Back then things were different – 11 years later and much more is at stake.

Fast forward to 2007 and the following alleged events took place: Stevie Irwin requests a loan move in order to get more football. Rafa Benitez refuses, saying he wants to keep the youngster under Liverpools better coaching. And today, this article wonders wheather that was the right descision, and further, wheather youngsters should really be kept for so long in a clubs clutches before seeking first team action. (Added note: As of today, Steven Irwin is rumoured to be training at Aberdeen for a week or going to the MLS. As of today, he has had brief appearances in pre season friendlies, and that’s about it.)

There are notable problems with keeping a youngster in the confines of a top team, regardless of his talent. Firstly, without match experience a manager is going to be less willing to try a youngster. Stuck in the back of his mind will always be the doubt that said youngster can cope with the rough and tumble of the premier league, wheather he outplays senior opposition in training or not. Reserve games, while generally competitive, is not a physical league – it will not offer the same challenges that any of the top three or even four english leagues can offer, and that is the essential difference – the reserve league with the top teams best talent in still is a shadow of the pace and physical battle that is an English league.

Secondly, a player is in a safe environment in one of these top clubs – that is, an environment in which he is familiar and used to. Then if he is given a premier league debut they are instantly forced into this high pressure game in which every point matters toward your season aims. And this again, is in a managers concerns. A youngster may adapt to the pressure. He may not, but as we all know these risks are not the type that a premier league manager wants to take.

The crux, and general conclusion of keeping youngsters at home is that they stay young. They stay soft and untested untill they are released without exposure, without hope of finding a club because they have no real, vital experience. And they will be dismissed as not being good enough because they never got the experienced – young lions released into the wild unable to hunt. Old fashioned ideas of nurturing youth within the club have to change. They have to grow up quicker – coaches have to have some idea of what the youngsters will do in the vastly different conditions of the English leagues compared to reserve level.

For this the players have to be exposed to these conditions at a younger age, to sink or swim as fit. If it were me, I would seek to link with as many clubs in these lower divisions as possible. It wouldn’t matter if our club was paying the entireity of the youngsters wages to save the smaller club money – he is getting experience in a whole different way – in a way that would give them the steel and competitiveness to try for the first team.

The loans would have to be structured in such a way that the players technical ability doesn’t suffer. So the player spends the first half of the season with his premier league club, in order to refine his skills and ability in the reserve league and with the top class coachin staff. Then in January these players go off to clubs who want to bolster their squad, who need quality to stave off relegation. You either put play games clauses in for those who have the talent but not the experience of the physical strength. Or you don’t put them in for those who need the experience, a shot of determination from simply fighting to get into a first team.

To get to the point, in order to make the best out of their youth talent Premier League clubs must look to simply give players experience of the likes of league one and two at an early age. Looking to the increasingly able championship to farm these players off to will ultimately end in failure for all but the best – a school system where a youth player seeks to get loans to ever higher clubs, progressing from leagueone to championship to premier league, possibly from the age of 18 to 21 when they can sink or swim, find their level or become a club player for the club they love, possibly a legend. Both better then talented players stagnating at clubs which can’t, must in their managers eyes risk them.

The loan move should become dominant among the top clubs in order to give their talented players the tools to compete at the top level. I do not believe that we as a country are lacking in talented players – I believe we lose them through neglect of the experience they need quickly in order to build on their potential. For this, the premier league needs to connect more with it’s lower leagues, possibly make a brief tournament for players the premier league want to loan which the smaller clubs can easily scout.

I think I’m done. I believe we as a country do have talent – you hear constantly about young players who are made out to be the next big thing only to disappear. The premier league should do more at a younger age to ensure that this doesn’t happen to their youngsters. And lets be honest – with all the money the league gets, it’s perfectly capable.

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