Top soccer boss: 'give our youngsters a chance'

With five out of every six footballers not making the cut at professional level, Professional Footballers Association Chief Executive  Gordon Taylor  talks to  Phil Simms  about how the FA is failing the countries young footballers.

Gordon Taylor believes that   if the FA continue to ignore the need for a working development programme, to foster the countries young talent, then it will mean disaster for the national side. The FA has sought to block moves by UEFA to encourage the development of young players.

This season  the European football governing body  has established a quota system for its UEFA Cup, Inter Toto and Champions League games whereby, clubs will have to have four players out of 25, two being a product of the club's development programme and two through a national development programme.

The quota is to increase from four to six next year and finally to eight the year after that. Taylor said:

   "It is interesting that neither the Premier League nor the Football League have adopted such rules to encourage the development of home grown talent and astonishingly enough, bearing in mind the lack of success of the England team since 1966 (when they won the World Cup), the Football Association has withheld its support for the measure to try and encourage clubs and countries to have youth development programmes for the future generation of professional players."

He added:    "The bitter truth is, of the 600 youngsters who join clubs at the age of  16 in this country, the fact is that five out of six of those will be out of the game by the time they reach 21 years of age. There is a vacuum between the ages of 18 to 21 when promising youngsters lack the opportunity to develop if they have not broken into the first team by then, as the quality of reserve team competition has diminished with the new first team squad rotation system. It is up to the FA and other Football League bodies to do something about it."

England is the most profitable country in the world in terms of football revenue, with billions being poured into the game from satellite broadcasters for the filming of Premier League and Football League games. Never has there been so much football shown on television.

Taylor believes this is starting to divert attention away from the football and yet this country lags behind the rest of Europe in the development of their young players. Every player of the Italy 2006 World Cup winning squad earns their crust on the mother land. Whereas just 33 per cent of England's top 10 teams, that's only 93 of the 281 first-team squad players, can play for England.

Taylor believes fans and club chairmen care more about their clubs than they do the national side. He said:  "Even without the great number of foreign players, there is still great animosity in the club verses country issue. It would appear that, albeit at times of World Cups and European Championships, everybody wants England to do well. The fact is that most fans seem to care more about their own club than they do the national team."

He went on:    "The difficulty for the FA is that ironically much of their International Committee is made up of chairmen of clubs who have led the move to bring in more players from abroad and this process has accelerated with the introduction of foreign managers such as Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez whose priority of course is to achieve success for their clubs and have often preferred to look to their homeland for the recruitment of young players."

   "Be that as it may, other issues such as the introduction of transfer windows brought in by FIFA in agreement with the European Commission in 2001, has seen a reduction in the steady stream of players who normally moved from the Football League into the Premier League in the way that in the past this proved such a good source of young talent with players such as Kevin Keegan from Scunthorpe, Ian Rush from Chester City, Phil Neal from Northampton, Peter Beardsley from Carlisle, Colin Bell from Bury and Neville Southall from Bury, to name but a few."

   "The pattern since the beginning of the Premier League in 1992 has seen an ever-growing influx of ready-made international players with clubs desperate to get into the Premiership and to stay there as the difference in income has become so extortionate and managers living from week to week have not had the security of tenure or patience to gradually introduce the next generation of David Beckham's or Ryan Giggs'."

"  This should give the FA a great deal of concern for the future success of the England team. A greater emphasis should be placed on youth coaching and youth development as a specialised profession and much greater consideration be given to a proper structure for Premier League and Football League clubs for those youngsters outside of the first team to have a proper development programme."

"  If a generation which has involved the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney cannot succeed at international level then it does not bode well for our international future. However, with the likes of England U-21 starlet David Bentley, playing so well for Blackburn Rovers, after being nurtured by Arsenal. Teenage sensation Theo Walcott, having been developed by Southampton and bought by Arsenal, the 17-year-old has already been to his first World Cup and David Nugent who moved from Bury to Preston, being the first Preston player to play and score for the England senior team since Sir Tom Finney there is young English talent out there."

   "It is still possible to unearth some jewels with a proper development programme, which is no better illustrated than the quality of work done by Dario Gradi over many years at Crewe Alexandra where, with proper planning, structure and an emphasis on young talent, he and his team of coaches really have produced a conveyor belt of top quality players with very limited resources and sows there is still talent available if it is given a proper opportunity."

Dario Gradi: Fact File It was in June 1983 that Dario took up his present post as manager of Crewe Alexandra. At this time Crewe had finished in the bottom three for four of the previous five seasons of the old division four. Over the next 20 years, under Dario's leadership, Crewe were promoted four times and are now two divisions higher than when he took over. In addition, the ground has been completely redeveloped and crowds have increased five-fold. In 1998, he was awarded the MBE for his contributions to the sport of football.

Dario's greatest achievements have been in the nurturing of young football talent. The Crewe Academy, now with extensive new facilities, is a model nationally and internationally. Dario, himself, still watches and coaches the young players. David Platt, the former England captain, was released by Manchester United as a youngster but was taken in by Crewe and developed by Dario Gradi into a player good enough to move on to Aston Villa, Arsenal, Juventus and England and star in the 1990 World Cup.

Platt is not the only well-known player to benefit from the system at Crewe. Others include England internationals Danny Murphy, Geoff Thomas, Rob Jones, and Seth Johnson, as well as Robbie Savage, Neil Lennon, Craig Hignett, Rob Whalley, Ashley Ward, and Dele Adebola.

* See also 'Fury over England's foreign stars', The-Latest, Sports section