A couple of years ago grassroots football faced a dreary future. Sport England cut the publics FA funding back by £1.6million.
There are many challenges that grassroots football face, with money being just one of many. Poor facilities alongside coaching standards and lack of interest have cast doubts over where the future lies.
With the upheaval and shenanigans going on at the top of the footballing ladder over at FIFA, what’s going on at the heartbeat of english football.
It’s 11 o’clock and I’m currently watching Derby County’s academy train at Moor Farm. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen professional footballers in action outside of a match day, and I was highly impressed.
The facilities where impeccable, they were disciplined and very well organised. There’s a variety of grass pitches, high quality changing facilities and a development centre.
More than fifty players have progressed through the Development Centre at Derby to sign for Derby County’s Academy. This keeps players in and amongst the club, to then ultimately lead them up to the academy and then finally the first team.
I managed to speak to a few of the academy directors and head of coaching. Tom Curtis said “Our Academy vision is to continue to provide talented, well balanced young professional footballers for Derby County’s first-team squad and become recognised as the ‘Academy of Choice’ for young players within our local area and beyond.”
Between the ages of nine and sixteen you sign a schoolboy form, which keeps you at the team you’re contracted too, whilst still being put through education.
And interestingly, you must live within an hour’s travelling distance from the club you’re signing for. This prevents clubs poaching young players from across the UK, giving local clubs a stronger foothold in the game.
When a footballer reaches 16 its then down to the club to decide weather or not to keep you on and offer you a professional contract. Some of the top elite clubs across Europe have development groups which can start as young as seven.
With that being said, the success rate of footballers making the cut is slim. its a harsh reality, but thats football. You have to be pragmatic with the industry being as demanding as it is.
And whilst the stories of successful young players hit the headlines like Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, and more recently Marcus Rashford, these are definitely rare examples.
The bottom line is you could be looking at a career change at the age of 18 in football, quite a daunting truth. This season, due to injuries and troubles on the pitch, we have seen Manchester United being forced into fielding a youthful team.
But how often do we see teams like Chelsea and Arsenal buy young english talent? Here’s more from Tom Curtis:
Featured image by Jack Allen.