Sanchez Watt is garnering a bit of attention in the media, not least because he is, well, a bit of a name-dropper. Oh, and had a half decent game against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday. Apparently, he was given some advice by Thierry Henry. As well as keeping away from Absinthe, Henry told him:
be calm in front of goal and when the ball is moving, you don’t have to keep making long runs. Make it short and sharp and just take it from there’. I was about 14. But it’s about my career and not many people get the chance to talk to players like him, so I just took it as a good opportunity
Pretty good advice. In an industry noted for its selfishness, the assistance that experienced professionals pass onto the younger players is often forgotten. It does not, after all, sell newspapers when the story is X is a bloody nice bloke. The only time that journalists ears prick up is when you add, “who enjoys a nice roast on a Sunday“, their disappointment tangible when the story unfurls how the player likes nothing more than to spend a Sunday with the wife and kids and the carving knife. Actually that would probably make them even more interested. Never mind, you get the point.
Sanchez Watt is a prime example of how good local scouting works. It is a benefit but it also the point which holds English clubs back. Years before UEFA and FIFA got their corporate knickers in a twist, the Football Association introduced rules to protect the lower league clubs from the predatory Premier League, 90 minutes travelling time essentially the limit before any English club must walk away from a young player.
Wenger is understandably upset at the reluctance of the English authorities to repeal this rule. As he put it, if he cannot sign someone from another continent, surely he should have free reign over this country? The issue highlights graphically with pan-European protectionism; if there are rules imposed from a higher authority, the FA has to drop its own rule otherwise youth football is going to be further damaged in England.
Sir Trevor Brooking observed earlier this year that the Academy system in England is still not working. That is not surprising. English clubs tend to either go into these things full on or particularly half-arsed. The good clubs – Arsenal, Crewe, Middlesbrough – generate a number of professionals who even if they do not make the grade at their clubs, forge careers at other teams. Arsenal, of course, has its global network and a fair percentage of non-English players.
The rules being considered by football’s authorities are suitably contradictory in nature. Whilst FIFA / UEFA ban youngsters moving countries, the EPL accommodates this with homegrown players. However, the Iberian nations will still plunder former colonies, able to grant passports to non-nationals from South America and Africa seemingly on a whim. All the youth player has to do is apply for nationality before leaving his country of birth, a path the clubs will no doubt smooth, and hey presto, they are no longer a problem. Presumably, the French will have similar rules to circumvent UEFA and FIFA.
Protecting the smaller continental clubs, whilst admirable, is going to present the governing bodies with a severe problem. Immediately, it is not hard to see that there will be a case made for restraint of trade as small clubs seek to tie promising players to contracts with extortionate release clauses. FIFA could deal with this by having an effective valuation system that provides due reward to clubs if they produce the talent. At the same time, an effective disciplinary code for transgressors would act as some sort of deterrent.
Whilst the sledgehammer is being applied to the latter and banning clubs such as Chelsea was as eye-opening as it was surprising, no attempt is found to provide a solution to the former, an option that would surely lead to a diminishing of the number of cases falling foul of disciplinary codes?
The simple solution for English clubs is to buy local talent. Unfortunately, that inflates the market prices and aside from two or three clubs, there is no bottomless pit of money, too much of it spent servicing debt. Ivan Gazidis has given an indication of the Board’s view on transfers, a position unchanged from any stance in the past:
We believe transfer spending is the last resort. That’s a sensible view to have. Re-signing existing players is a far more efficient system. What Arsene will not do is spend money on players that do not add something of real value.
It does not preclude Wenger from spending. The emphasis is that the players have to be better than those already at the club. That surely is already his modus operandi? The question is whether the Board are able to generate the funds required to buy world class players. They do not come cheap as Arshavin proved. Even Vermaelen was hardly a snip. Even taking into account Wenger’s emotive language, he is going to find himself shackled by the smaller transfer funds he has compared to his rivals.