Football fans were treated to a feast of football on Sunday afternoon. Eyes were immediately drawn to the two derbies; the Wear-Tyne derby between Sunderland and Newcastle and the Manchester derby as United hosted City. For all four teams involved, these two fixtures would have been the one that players’ and fans’ eyes were immediately drawn to when the fixture list was released. Derbies are one of the pinnacles of any season for a supporter and a win makes it even sweeter. The one thing missing from these two matches, besides goals in the Manchester derby, was a lack of local talent and academy graduates.
Out of the 56 players that featured in the two derbies, only four were local to their respective areas or came through the club’s academy. Just two of them started with the other two coming off the bench. For this to happen in what a many people claim to be ‘the best league in the world’ is ridiculous. These two fixtures were huge, not just at each end of the table, but they were and are huge for the identity and history of each club and their supporters.
Fans live for derbies. On paper they may not be the biggest matches but in terms of local pride, bragging rights and emotion they definitely are the biggest matches. They unite thousands upon thousands of different people who possess a shared love for their team and a shared hatred of the opposition. They provide emotion of the highest levels with fans behind every pass and feeling every crunching tackle. The only way that the emotion can be taken to a whole new level is with more and more local talent and academy graduates getting the opportunity to get greater first time opportunities.
Every fan loves seeing an academy graduate come through the ranks. At the beginning of this season, West Ham’s Reece Oxford made the leap into Premier League with ease and was heavily praised throughout the footballing world for his composure and quality.
Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and Harry Kane have all come through the Spurs academy and have become regulars and developed under Mauricio Pochettino.
On top of that, Southampton have their famed academy with James Ward-Prowse featuring heavily for the Saints at the start of this season. There’s an extra buzz around the ground and amongst supporters when they see an academy graduate on the pitch and doing well. As well as their youth and exuberance, these young players bring a hunger and passion for their side that only supporters of the club can relate to. Those young players that have been brought up in that club have that fierce rivalry instilled into their personal make-up.
Despite coming through the Sunderland academy, Jack Colback started for Newcastle in the Wear-Tyne derby on Sunday. There was an extra spring in his step and a level of hunger for the ball that others just couldn’t match. Not only is that because Colback is an energetic player, but it is because he’s a Geordie. He knows what it means to be a Geordie and what the match means to the Newcastle supporters.
We’re all well aware that our beautiful game is a global phenomenon and its global outreach is increasing each and every day. But as football keeps stepping up onto the global stage, it is being taken away from the local areas that hold it so close. It’s just another example of the biggest games for real fans being taken further away from them.
This weekend saw us excited for and eventually let down by a stalemate in what was dubbed as the most expensive Manchester derby in history. The two line-ups and benches were scattered with humongous price tags with the total value around £550m. Let’s not forget that the two sides and that enormous total were without the expensive quartet of Luke Shaw, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.[interaction id=”562a226cbece044e145ec6de”]
The only two academy products to feature in the 170th Manchester Derby were Jesse Lingard and Kelechi Iheanacho who both made cameos off their respective benches. These are two clubs that are global superpowers in terms of wealth, facilities and a global fan base. These juggernauts of world football have the facilities and finances to produce spectacular talent but still seem reluctant to introduce youth into their teams. There has been an improvement as of late and obviously, it’s harder to introduce youth into a side when you’re a side at the highest level. However, teams at the top across Europe’s other big leagues still seem to be able to do it better than our clubs.
This Sunday, we felt lucky to have a huge triple helping of Premier League action on our TV’s. Admittedly, on paper they seemed a lot better than what they turned out to be. However, whilst we get engrossed in the aftermath of discussing whether Fabricio Coloccini’s challenge warranted a penalty let alone a red card, discuss the disappointment of a bore draw Mancunian derby and got caught up in Klopp-mania, there are hidden issues that need serious addressing. The two derbies further emphasised the need for change in terms of homegrown talent coming through club’s academies. This isn’t just the responsibility of the FA to implement laws and regulations. This is the responsibility of each and every club to do their bit for the good of our game. As the eyes of the footballing world descended onto the spectacular lineup of games on Sunday, it’s hard not to be drawn to the cracks within our game.
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