“You can’t win anything with kids” – the famous words of Alan Hanson, echoed on a BBC production of Match of the Day in 1995.
Hanson’s words were in reference to the Manchester United team; and specifically the class of 1992, that were beginning to flourish and develop under stewardship of the Sir Alex Ferguson, though the stinging criticism of Hanson came in the wake of a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa – oh how the mighty have fallen.
Hanson had a point, and it can be credited on its merits – to achieve unprecedented domestic success as well as garnering accolades from further afield in Europe is a truly tough task with youth products, regardless of how talented or promising they may well be.
Fast forward 22 years, and Hanson’s words in 1995 could simply not be truer in the present moment – the ability for managers, teams and executive boards to rely on youth is no longer a choice. Premier League clubs require instantaneous results to maintain their status in a simply ruthless division, they must turn to dependability and reliability as opposed to promise and ultimately subjective managerial perceptions of youthful talent.
The transfer fees spent by Premier League clubs in the 2016/17 summer window has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. Seemingly average players; or players who are yet to prove their worth, are commanding £30m+ fees – in a market bordering on lunacy, clubs are opting to pay for potential as opposed to proven pedigree. Herein lies the true catalyst; or ever-present fuel, for the woes of our English national team: our clubs; and to no fault of their own, simply cannot afford to give youth a chance, and who can really blame them?
The financial structure of the Premier League means now more than ever, monetary sums of simply absurd proportions are at stake – £5.1bn for TV rights spanning 2016-2019 are testament to this, and if for example you’re Lee Hoos at Turf Moor or Paul Barber at Brighton (CEO’s), what’s the message to Sean Dyche and Chris Hughton? Keep us up. No matter what.
That may seem simplistic; and it is, but the managerial pressure is just too much nowadays for youthful prospects to be given a chance in the Premier League. Loan spells in the lower tiers are important, but as is evidenced in the case studies of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Everton’s Tom Davies; in my eyes two of England’s brightest prospects, if you’re good enough and in turn are given a platform to perform, the rewards can be quite something.
The Premier League is inarguably the most premium sporting product offered from the shores of the United Kingdom – a global fanbase that will only exponentially expand with time, and in turn with this increase in consumers, viewers and fans comes money, and a lot of it. We are currently witnessing this shift in managerial orderings of priority – survival is of paramount importance, and the development of youth players falls just shy of the present agenda for just about every Premier League club, though particularly in the bottom half of the table.
Henry Winter titled an excellently written book of his “50 Years of Hurt” in referencing the mens English national team, and as ever Winter got it right – the past 50 years as an English football fan have been far from appeasing nor have they been enjoyable, but as the product of Premier League football continues to thrive both on and off the field, the likelihood of our truly worthy English youngsters getting a chance to make a name for themselves is dwindling.
Premier League clubs have had their hand forced – almost like they’re sat round the poker table and the pot’s just trebled – in the face of pressure and with one eye on the pot itself, they’re sticking to what they know. In turn; and admittedly with exceptions such as Rashford, Davies et.al, the opportunities for young talent in the Premier League is dwindling in the face of mass financial pressure – though will it dwindle beyond the realms of perceivable repair?
Only time will tell.
Written by Tom Newman.