Academies - or foreign stars?

FOOTBALL academies and the quality of English players coming through is coming under intense scrutiny but as sports writer Derek Davis discovers, Ipswich Town continue to fly in the face of criticism.

FOOTBALL academies and the quality of English players coming through is coming under intense scrutiny but as sports writer Derek Davis discovers, Ipswich Town continue to fly in the face of criticism.

PREMIER League bosses are spurning home-grown talent in favour of cheaper foreign imports which in turn is being blamed for the national team's continues lack of success and heighten worries to England's future.

Spending, and not just by the big four, has spiralled in correlation to the amount of television money being generated to the extent that this summer disclosed transfer fees were up to £531m from £333 this time last year, with half of that being spent at non-English clubs.

The number of non-English players starting for teams in the top flight has rocketed up from 23, and only 12 of those were from the continent, on the opening day of the Premier League season in 1992, to 123 this season, an increase from ten per cent to 56 per cent.

This clearly reduces the pool of players Steve McClaren can choose from, and it is not even as if he can go abroad to pick England players. With Owen Hargreaves now at Manchester United, only David Beckham plays overseas but the amount of England players in the premier league has been rescued by 16 per cent in one year and top English talent is being squeezed out - as highlighted by the recall of so many 'veteran' internationals.

Ipswich Town Academy manager Tony Humes recognises the dangers nationally and believes the critics are being short-sighted.

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Humes said: “It seems to be coming from foreign managers like Rafael Benitez who has questioned the academies but you wonder if he has looked at the long-term future.

“Ironically (Stevie) Gerrard and (Jamie) Carragher are probably the most consistent, and longest serving players he has and again Jose Mourinho cited John Terry and Frank Lampard as the cornerstone of Chelsea as he likes that English spirit in the side.

“It depends on the situation of the individual club. If they are looking for players to be ready made then they will go out and spend millions upon millions on them.

“There remains the trend for many foreign players to come into the club as they are not prepared for the English talent to develop.

“In the long run you question whether that is any good for the ambitions of this country. If we have aspirations of winning the World Cup then we need to develop our own players and that will be an ongoing process for as long as football is around.

“But there are still many clubs who still bring through their own players.

“Manchester United are still developing their own English players - Chris Eagles is an example.”

While the big clubs turn their back on producing English talent, and some managers questioning the validity of academies at all, the smaller clubs such as Ipswich continue to rely on growing their own to bring into their first team and eventually sell on to stay afloat.

The sales Darren Bent, Darren Ambrose, Titus Bramble and Kieron Dyer, basically kept Ipswich Town alive and Humes believes that keeping the production line running smoothly is vital for Ipswich and the game in general.

He said: “Traditionally Ipswich have brought kids through and the amount that have gone on and are in this first team.

“We know we have very good young players coming through you want to progress that and keep the tradition.

“In the long term for English football and the national side you want to promote academies and if they are not going to get the opportunities at the younger age how will they develop.”

Town have widened the net to bring in an influx of players from Ireland, with Chris Casement, Billy Clarke and Owen Garvan all receiving international recognition and making the town first team.

Humes said: “Certain clubs are bringing foreign players in at a younger age but mainly it is English players.

Irish and Scots are British style players who adapt well.

“Ipswich have been more successful with English and Irish foreign not progressed as much as we would have liked them too.

“Home grown players have done well latterly the Irish lads and we will keep the formula that works for us.”

Town have bucked the trend in order to bring over Reggie Lambe from British dependency Bermuda, after he was recommended by Town director Holly Bellingham and Humes has been impressed with the skilful player.

He said: “Reggie has settled in well and adapted to the training he needs to settle into programme as they all need to do.

“If there have been difficulties it has not been apparent. He is a very confident boy and has fitted in very well.

“The culture of the club and the family feel has helped them all settle in.”

Humes reiterated the importance of the Playford Road Academy and reassured Town fans that the club had no intention of listening to the likes of Benitez and Ruud Gullit.

He said: “The club looks at the Academy seriously as it is hugely important and we look to keep ahead of the competition.

“We don't get drawn into the concerns of others. The Premier League club may be changing but we will keep working hard and for the right reasons to the benefit of the football club.”

The amount of youngsters recruited has been compared to amount of eggs a turtle lays knowing that the chances of survival once hatched it is very slim.

While many Premier League clubs offer no route to regular football, for example Newcastle United did not retain any of the academy players at the end of last season, and Andy Carroll who made it through from the year before has been shipped out on loan to Preston, Town players continue to progress.

Tommy Smith, Ed Upson and Jordan Rhodes have all been rewarded with professional contracts and are still academy lads, while Humes is convinced others will follow.

He added: “Of the eight second years, three have already signed professional contracts and that is very satisfying. That shows the continuation

“Jai Reason, Kurt Robinson and Curtley Williams have had a good start to the season while Andy Plummer Nathan Tooms are doing well.

“There is a lot of potential in there although there is a lot of work to do.”

It just needs one of those turtles to make it and it makes millions for Town, and could even help a future England manager.”