Looking at top football team squads around the world, almost every club has a prize asset, a player that they paid top money for, a player who is the top earner by some distance. Clubs with finances through the roof can afford this kind of flashing of cash, but for smaller clubs, youth is becoming more and more important.
Few clubs around the world take the approach of focusing on youth as a more affordable and effective way of producing top talents for their first team, most notably Manchester City with their brand new academy set-up, as well as foreign examples like AFC Ajax and FC Barcelona.
Setting up a full youth system with teams at every age group can be a long process that requires commitment and patience, but the rewards can be huge. Graham Foxall, secretary and groundsman at Evo-Stick First Division North outfit Trafford FC, disclosed more about the project of building a youth system and how it can benefit a club with little resources:
“We’ve started a youth section which is mainly juniors, two under-nines teams and one under 12s, they’re called Trafford Youth. They’re run as a separate entity with a different committee, but they’re still answerable to us and they come to the meeting every quarter to tell us how they’re doing.
“You’re looking at six or seven years before we have a full complement of youth teams.
“At the end of the day you need a bit of loyalty and local lads might have an affinity because they love the club. If you’ve got people coming up through the youth teams from when they’re seven, eight or nine and they go on to play for the first team, you’d hope they’d stick with you.”
As well as benefiting the club in a sporting sense, Graham also explained how the infrastructure of a youth system can help the club financially.
“If a youth player has been at the club since they’re seven or eight, their parents have probably put a lot of money into the club, so there’s a bigger picture. They also come to games which has been good for the club financially.”
The project of building a system can take years, but clubs can also benefit hugely. From a financial point of view clubs can benefit as they would not have to buy as many players to fill the squad, and if a player excels, they could be sold for a total profit, and from a sporting point of view, as a youth player excelling obviously only means good things for a team.
After the success of young players in the Premier League, like the fairy-tale story of Marcus Rashford, the young Mancunian who has been a wild success at Manchester United at the age of 19, it is clear that putting effort into building a youth system can be massively beneficial to clubs, big or small.