In this featured article I am going to provide some information on the youth setup here at Notts County. I am then going to offer my opinions on If I think it is good enough and compare it to a few different academies in the EFL. I think for such a big club in the lower leagues it’s an important factor within a football club to have a solid base in the academy stages of football.
On August 20th this year it was announced that Steve Chettle would be responsible for managing the club’s development side competing in the Central League North Division along with any cup matches that would be played. So far, we have played Wigan Athletic and Port Vale. We drew 1-1 with Wigan and lost 5-3 to a Port Vale side with the likes of Idris Kanu and David Worrall in it. Although it has not been the best of starts it’s important to remember that teams can field first team players in this competition.
For a number of years now academy products have struggled to break through into the first team. This season it was portrayed by ex-manager Kevin Nolan and Alan Hardy that youth was a big focus point this season, especially with the signings of Noor Husin from Crystal Palace in January and the latest arrivals of Will Patching from Manchester City and Tom Crawford from National League South side Chester.
The following is a list of all players within the registered first team that are 21 or under: Max Culverwell, Pierce Bird (19), Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (20), Declan Dunn, Noor Husin (21), Will Patching (19), Tom Crawford (19), Samuel Osbourne (19), Alex Howes (18) and Remaye Campbell (17).
Previously Notts have been accused have not been focusing on the academy and youth with the past departures of Curtis Thompson, Haydn Hollis, Jordon Richards and Dongda He. It is frustrating to see that we let players like this go for free transfers or released and then replace them with more players that need the same development. Nowadays young players need to be nurtured and guided into the first team.
The prime example of a quality youth system would be Exeter City. They have made millions from slowly developing players like Ethan Ampadu who now starts for Wales, as well as Ollie Watkins who left for Brentford for a reported 1.75 million. Ampadu’s fee was to be settled by tribunal but later reported to be around the 1.25 million mark.
Ampadu was at the Exeter City academy for 10 years while Ollie Watkins was there from the age of 9 being there for 10 years before moving into the first team. Exeter City have made their mark on the youth system and prove to be leading the way for fees received for youth players and what they have achieved is truly remarkable.
I think it is important for Notts County to learn from teams like Exeter and nurture players from the ages of 9/10 so when they do turn 18/19 they can become league players or be sold onto big teams like Watkins and Ampadu for massive figures which can pay for facilities and transfers in the future.
This season Notts have bought young players and chucked them straight into the development side which I can understand as they need developing but I disagree with paying fees for players that are young as it completely bypasses the whole grass roots stage of Notts County Football Club from the ages of 12 onwards.
What is the motivation for players like Alex Howes who was on the brink of first team football at one stage now being pushed back into the U21’s just for paid transfers such as Patching and Crawford to take his place. I think this is where were going wrong and instead of developing players properly and with the right coaching we just seem to bypass the grass roots stage and just buy young players with the hope of them being ready in a year. I am sorry, but I just don’t think academy football works like that.
Chettle now has a project on his hands and talking in terms of youth players I think he should deal with what he has got and nurture and develop these players into League proven players so that Notts can be a stepping stone for players such as Osbourne, Patching and Husin and then do what Exeter have done and receive huge sums of money which at our level could make or break a club quite literally.
It disappointed me when we let Dongda He go because I can only feel that Hardy was desperate for the cash at the time, I believe he was offered a pro contract behind the scenes as he was breaking into the first team. Dongda He could have been our first million-pound player but instead we cashed in early and just let him go.
At the age of 19 I feel strongly about the youth system at Notts as I can’t understand the sort of pressure that young players face in the modern football game as at the age most of them are it can quite easily send them down two career paths, one in football or one not in football. It’s only a matter of time before the likes of Osbourne, Campbell and Bird are picked up by teams in higher leagues for buttons.
I would like to ask the members of Pride of Nottingham to discuss this further as I think it is a topic within the football club which is shadowed by the performances of the first team. Let me know your thoughts and hopefully we can create a good discussion on such an important topic.