Oct 22, 2010

Quest for First Team Football, Part One: "Forever young"

By Daniel Soffa

In a Five Part Series, Daniel Soffa deals with the struggles associated with some of the most talented young players & their quest for first team football. In this first instalment, we tackle the issue of the "youngster tag" at big clubs, how it can limit first team opportunity, potentially rendering a player... "Forever Young!"

Football being the huge business it is today, the best youngsters are finding their way to the biggest clubs earlier & earlier.

Chelsea made the news by securing 11 year old Michael Gyasi who has yet to finish primary school from League Two club Northampton Town for an undisclosed fee. The decision to move to a big club usually transforms talented youngsters from a big fish, into a small one & after the initial perception that they've made it, frustrations soon surface as they realise "making it" only really comes once they have cemented regular 1st team football.

Jeffrey Bruma shocked Chelsea fans, when the youngster voiced his concerns on his lack of playing opportunities. The 18 year old central defender signed from PSV, won his first cap for the Netherlands in August, yet he's only managed to start one match for Chelsea this season, where Chelsea eventually fell to defeat in the Carling Cup against Newcastle.

Bruma said, "I will evaluate my situation with Chelsea before Christmas & it's possibly better for my development to be farmed out on loan". The feeling around the club is that at 18, Jeffrey should be patient, however he insists "playing 2 or 3 matches is not good enough for me. I've played reserve football for 2 years now & I feel that I am ready to play 1st team football on a weekly basis".

Wes Brown has yet to play a minute for Manchester United in the Premier League this season, Brown has recently celebrated his 31st birthday & his career has still yet to have fully taken off. I suspect like many in his position who have been brought through at a big club, there is a difficulty to shake off the "youngster" tag, that a young player who hasn't been brought specifically for the 1st team becomes accustomed to & that status usually limits regular first team opporunities.

Perhaps Wes Brown's United career serves as a caveat for fledgling youngsters like Jeffrey Bruma. Former Chelsea youngsters that were in a similar position to where Jeffrey Bruma is now are Glen Johnson & Carlton Cole, who eventually opted against perservering at the club, but are now England internationals... Carlton Cole talked about his Chelsea experience.

“I'm at a happy place now but when I was there, I wasn't that happy. I wasn't maturing there and I was seen as the little boy. It can be hard when you come through the ranks at a club, although JT has handled it all well. He came through the Academy there and has gone on to be a top England defender. For me, it was never as easy and I had to leave, to put down roots somewhere else. I would train well all week and know I wasn't even going to be on the bench at the weekend. There were so many stars there it was hard for me to make an impact."

Glen Johnson echoed Carlton Coles frustrations at Chelsea

"I was going into training knowing that I wasn't going to be in the team regardless of how well I did. Even when I got the odd chance in the first team I knew that even if I scored four goals and got man of the match I would be out for the next game."

Justin Hoyte is a familiar name to especially Arsenal fans, the former England Under-21 international Hoyte progressed through the club’s youth ranks after joining Arsenal at the age of nine. But with similar struggles in his quest for 1st team football, Justin & Arsenal parted company in 2008. He signed for Middlesborough, who today are not in England's premier division, leaving him seemingly a long way off from an England International call-up.

Justin Hoyte, Carlton Cole & Glen Johnson, like so many other talented youngsters had to permanently leave their big clubs in order to escape a career of being "forever young" like Wes Brown has endured at Manchester United, but, Wes Brown is a full England International, earning a very good wage, with FA Cup honours, Premier League honours & Uefa Champions League honours.

It's not an easy decision to make, not all players go on to be content with their decision to leave a big club in order to gain 1st team football. Some players fade into obscurity & there are also no guarantees that they'd make the 1st team even when dropping down a level. Dropping down a level also usually means they are less high profile & not as likely to play national team football. The majority of football players become professionals because they love to play the game, so regardless of all the add ons, for most players, the quest for 1st team football remains a priority.


Look out Tomorrow (Sat 23 Oct) for - Quest for First Team Football, Part Two: "Finishing School"

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