New football academies `block schoolboy talent'

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The Independent Online
NEW FOOTBALL academies are preventing England's most talented schoolboy footballers from playing for their schools, head teachers are complaining. The heads have made a series of protests since the academies, set up at 31 leading clubs to nurture a new generation of world-class talent, opened their doors two months ago.

The Football Association guidelines, which restrict boys at the academies to 30 games a season to protect them from injury and burn-out, are also under fire from the English Schools' Football Association. Some academies are asking that all or most of these games be against other sides in the new academy league or junior teams from top foreign sides.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We feel football clubs are being unreasonable. They are not taking into account the needs of schools or the overall development of young people."

Each academy is planning to take up to 260 boys aged eight to 18, coach them two or three nights a week and arrange matches for Sundays. A place to do homework is provided and boys' academic progress is monitored.

Alan Heads, a teacher and a council member of the English Schools' Football Association, said it was wrong for clubs to try to stop all boys playing for their school. "The charter from the association says that how much a boy plays for his school should be an individual decision. It is up to parents to decide. If any academy introduces a bar on school football, I hope we can take the club to the FA."

But Kit Carson, the director of Peterborough United's football academy, said that boys at the academy would be asked not to play for their schools: "The academies are an elitist system set up for highly talented people. Is it best for a child's footballing development that he should be playing for St Blobsworth secondary under-12s when he could be playing a team from Ajax?

"Some heads think their school's image is lessened if they don't win local cups."

A spokesman for the FA said: "Some players are clocking up 80 games a season. There's a danger of burn-out. Academies will liaise closely with schools to explain what they're doing."