So Chelsea recently won their 4th FA Youth Cup in a row. They beat Manchester City in the final for the 3rd time in a row, and have made 7 of the last 8 finals.
Yet the last player to break through Chelsea’s youth system and become a first team regular is set to leave the club this summer.
John Terry made his Chelsea debut in 1998, 19 years ago. And since then, despite many millions being pumped into the Chelsea youth system, no other player has gone on to become a regular starter for the club.
It leads me to the conclusion that, for top clubs at least, investment in youth is a waste of time and money.
To have dominated youth football for 7 years and not have developed a player good enough for your own first team supports this conclusion.
The likes of Josh McEachran, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Patrick Bamford, Nathanial Chalobah, Lewis Baker & Islam Feruz have all had plenty of loan spells over the time, but not much game time at Chelsea.
The majority of the players to have performed for Chelsea youth teams have gone on to have half decent careers in the lower leagues, but it is only really Chalobah and, more recently, Nathan Ake, who have shown they have anywhere near the ability to be in a Chelsea match day squad. Although they are squad players rather than 1st team.
Time might not yet be up for the likes of Dominic Solanke, Charly Musonda & Jay Dasilva. Whilst the likes of Tammy Abraham and Andreas Christensen have been impressive on loan. But whether any of them are good enough to be the “next John Terry” and go from youth product to 1st team regular is still up for debate.
The majority of players will end up as journeyman, only to pop up in a lower leagues FA Cup run.
It is not just Chelsea this criticism is labelled at. Manchester City have been the losing team in the last 3 FA Youth Cup Finals. They do not have a single academy graduate who has played a league game this year. The closest being Kelechi Ihenachu who signed for them at 18.
The last group of players I remember breaking through at City would have been before the money came in. The likes of Micah Richards, Michael Roberts, Stephen Ireland and Daniel Sturbridge – and even some of these might have been signed to the club.
Gone are the days of Arsenal winning the FA Youth Cup in the late 80s, then a year later winning the league title with many of the same players.
Will we ever see a Class of 92 again? A Manchester United youth team winning the 1992 FA Youth Cup, then the majority breaking through into the Manchester United first team, and going on to win the biggest club trophy of them all, the Champions League?
Liverpool of the 90s might not have had Manchester United’s success, but they had a similar level of talented youth products. The likes of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen.
Not one club can be singled out from the current top 6 as having a successful youth system.
Over at Manchester United, their recent most successful graduates are the likes of Danny Welbeck and Jesse Lingaard (although Marcus Rashford will be a top player). Before that it was Kieran Richardson, Wes Brown and Johnny Evans. Not exactly Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and the Neville’s is it.
Liverpool have given plenty of youth a chance in recent years. But what has happened to the likes of Martin Kelly, Andre Wisdom, Jay Spearing & Jon Flanaghan? Will Trent Alexander Arnold go the same way?
Is Raheem Sterling a graduate or was he poached from QPR? They have produced little quality since the Carragher / Steven Gerrard days.
A look over at Spurs will have many crying out “that is how it is done” as they challenge for honours with a group of young Englishman. It the fact is only Harry Kane in their current starting XI came from their youth set up.
Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were signed from Sheffield United and Leeds, whilst Dele Alli was recruited from Milton Keynes Dons. Kieran Trippier was a Manchester City youth product who had already been an ever present in the Premier League for Burnley. And Eric Dier came from Portugal.
They might have also bought through the likes of Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend and Jake Livermore, and have the likes of Harry Winks and Joshua Onomah, but these are all bottom half of the table / Championship players.
Arsenal are no better.
Having won the FA Youth Cup in 2009, a lot of high hopes were put on the likes of Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Wilshere is the only one who has really made it from that group, only injury problems holding him back massively.
Most probably couldn’t even name where the likes of Frimpong & Emmanuel-Thomas were now playing. The next generation of Chuls Aneke and Benik Afobe have also had to drop down the league. And time is ticking for Chuba Akpom.
The reality is Chelsea have not produced an England regular since John Terry, Liverpool not since Steven Gerrard, Man City not in living memory. Can you count Jack Wilshere as an England regular? I don’t think so. Arsenal’s last was then Ashley Cole. Spurs can at least. Ow cling to Harry Kane. But before that it was Ledley King (although he only won 21 caps!).
The big clubs have barely produced an England regular between them since the 1990s. And we wonder why the national team is struggling
John Terry made his England debut on 3rd June 2003. That was 14 years ago. Since that date, only two youth team graduates from England’s current top 6 have made their international debut and gone on to win over 30 caps. Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.
The days of sides winning the FA Youth Cup, and the competition being a good predictor for which side was set to bring in the next “future of English football” and dominate the game is over.
The FA Youth Cup is now a pointless competition. It is worth celebrating as much as you’d celebrate your side winning the women’s Premier League.