Gary Neville believes English football has reached a "tipping point" with youth academies at the Premier League's elite clubs flooded by foreign recruits and short-term demands in the domestic game effectively blocking the progress of local talent into the first team.
The former Manchester United defender, who combines punditry for Sky with his duties as a coach within Roy Hodgson's England set-up, witnessed the national Under-21s and Under-20s finish winless at their age-groups' respective European Championship and World Cup finals this summer. While promotions to the seniors and injuries did restrict the junior sides' options, their failings exposed the dearth of young players who boast regular Premier League experience.
Neville put that lack of opportunity largely down to the clubs' desire for instant success. "You can't be definite on this, no one can, but my gut feeling is we've maybe reached a tipping point where the pathways are now being blocked," he said. "I always felt the cream would rise to the top. I've always believed that, if you are good enough, you will get the opportunities. We were always told that as kids. But I'm not quite so sure any more. I'm not sure that, if a player is good enough, they will actually have a chance of getting through because if everyone wants instant success then they haven't got time to develop.
"I just think, at this moment, we are in danger of everything becoming too immediate, too fast, too instant. You can't blame the [club] owners for wanting instant success because they have spent a lot of money and want to make sure they get as much success as they can. And it's not the managers' fault: everyone I speak to on coaching courses wants to work for the long term, to build something over a period of years as Sir Alex Ferguson did at Manchester United. But 63 of the 92 league clubs changed their manager last season, so they're not getting enough time.
"So we have this tipping point when I see academy staffs being ripped out of clubs who are having to change their identity every two years because, if the manager goes, the new one brings in a whole new staff with him. And then the academy staff go. It just can't be right. It is almost a change in the structure of football that is needed where you accept the manager and head coach might get sacked every two years, but leave what is underneath unchanged so it stays stable."
While the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have strived to offer some continuity of coaching in their junior set-ups despite regular managerial upheaval at first-team level, there have still arguably been trends of recruitment from abroad that have reflected the changes at the top. Indeed, the influx of foreign youngsters has similarly blunted the locals' chances of progress into the senior ranks. Neville has long championed the qualities foreign imports have brought to the domestic game, but he retains concerns about the long-term impact they are having on English talent.
"If you are a British player, you have to fight your way through that system," added Neville. "We are a global game. The Premier League is watched all the way round the world and we love everything to do with it in terms of the games we watch. But, as an Englishman, every time you suggest you want more English or British players you are accused of being xenophobic. Well, why? It is nice to see local people coming through and playing for the club they have grown up supporting. Doesn't everyone agree with that? Barcelona have seven or eight players who have come through their academy. It is a great story.
"I always look at the very best teams and they have a core of players who believe in that club and who have grown up with that club: the great Milan sides; Ajax if you look back; the Barcelona team we see now; the current Bayern Munich team have got three or four homegrown players; and of course United who, over the years, have been the most dominant club in the Premier League. In England there are two or three clubs who are capable of emulating that and have the set-up for it.
"I do hope the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham, with all the emphasis they are putting on these new wonderful academies, start to see homegrown players coming through. They are all established now as Premier League challengers, so hopefully they – together with clubs like United, Liverpool and Arsenal who will generally try and bring through players – will achieve that. That's not a criticism of the others because they are [operating on] a different model. They're having to establish themselves first and then look to the long term.
"So I'm hopeful that, in the next few years, it can come back a little bit towards the development of homegrown players and we can start to push a few more [locals] through the academy system. I hope it will happen. But I wouldn't put my house on it."
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