Academy Intake Reflects Changing Youth Football Culture

Credit Graham Burrell

Amongst all the clamour for new senior players, some of you might have missed the recent news around the intake of new first-year scholars.

We’re all excited about Chris Maguire, Lewis Fiorini and whoever else Michael has up his sleeve, but the future may well see players coming through from the youth team to impact the first team. We saw it with Ellis Chapman and Sean Roughan, and who knows, maybe Sam Long and Hayden Cann this season.

I always think the academy has a tough job. Only one kid in a million is a Phil Foden, and for every Sean Roughan, there are probably fifteen or twenty lads a year that don’t make it. I think we’ve done well to promote so many to the first team set up: Makama, Cann, Roughan and Long, making four last season. Hopefully, we might see a couple of others around the squad and maybe out at Gainsborough getting some experience.

The new scholar list made interesting reading, and we’d like to welcome all nine of the new faces to the club. Sam Green, Nathan Kabeya, Darryl Powell, Osei Boffah, Oisin Gallagher, Harry Dale, Theo Mussell, Kyrell Wheatley and Tayo Alexander-Tucker will join the existing players for the coming season, all hoping to be the next Sean Roughan.

Credit Graham Burrell

What is striking is the clubs that some of these players have come from. Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Luton Town, Wolves, and Chesterfield have provided players for our current academy intake. This could cause a problem for a few traditionalists, who I’ve seen asking if there are any ‘local lads’ being taken in by the club.

I wonder if there will ever be a situation where a club in League One takes in local players to any quantity, especially one like us in a limited area. Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham might find it easier in terms of population density, but for Lincoln, I cannot see how we could find nine young players with the quality to go on and become League One standard. That’s not me being scathing about the youth around here, by the way, more a reflection of our level and the youth game.

Let me put this to you. Do you think there’s a player at under 15 level right now who has not already been asked to train elsewhere? Perhaps we sign someone as a much younger player, such as Theo Mussell, who has been with the club since 2014. It is unlikely that a player with obvious talent at 12 will be available for us to grab at 16.

Credit Graham Burrell

When I was playing local youth football, the scene was very different, but two players in our boy’s team were offered trials elsewhere, Norwich being one club heavily interested. In the end, one of the young lads in the group did end up at Lincoln, but after two years, he left and that was that. One of my mates now played for the Imps as a young player, but it didn’t work out again. I don’t doubt we will take a local lad on if the chance is there, but I think football tends to work differently now. If there were a lad in Lincoln smashing it, Forest, Leicester or someone would surely be in before us – they’re clubs with the means to invest heavily not just in the top end of the academy but further down the age groups too. Football is (I’m afraid to say) a lot like farming, where bigger clubs buy up talent, harvest it, watch it grow, and speculate. As they deem a player not to be suitable, or a player decides the club isn’t a fit, he looks elsewhere, and that’s where we come in.

I also think it is worth noting Oisin Gallagher’s background – he’s come from Derry City, and I like this influence we have in Ireland. Sean Roughan has come good, and there’s every chance Bobby Deane could be next. If it doesn’t work out for these players, they’ll still have been given their Irish education, and their successors may feel more confident coming over here to continue their education on and off the field.

A good academy doesn’t happen overnight, nor do you reap the rewards after a single season. Instead, an academy is built up like a business, small at first but constantly evolving into something more significant. It may not provide regular players until long after Michael is gone, but fans must be patient and accept the small victories as they happen. If we want to sustain ourselves at this level or the next, we need an academy like the one at Crewe, which churns out good footballers yearly. That doesn’t happen overnight, and I’m afraid it doesn’t happen if you limit your search to players living within a 25-mile radius of the ground, however romantic it may be when one of our own does emerge.