Football: Exiles across the sea ready for a rethink: Phil Shaw on a flawed search for a promised land that could bring two young English footballers home

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KEVIN SHARP and Jamie Forrester, the 17-year-olds from Blackpool who caused a stir when they turned their backs on the English game after graduating from the Football Association National School, revealed yesterday that their careers were at the crossroads in France. Like many a motorist in that predicament lately, they want to come home.

Sharp, a midfielder, and Forrester, a striker, joined Auxerre last summer, to some disquiet in FA circles. They made their first-team debuts in a League Cup tie against Le Mans, and were in the squad for a league game against Nantes, but have now decided that their futures lie on this side of the Channel.

'It was a marvellous experience, and if we stayed we might well break through,' Sharp said. 'Auxerre could not have done more for us, and I know my technique has improved. But they want us to sign for another three years or not at all, and at our age that's a long time to commit yourself to.'

'We're sorry, but it hasn't worked out,' Forrester said. 'We're just homesick.' The news is likely to interest several of the clubs who entertained hopes of recruiting the pair last July.

Ironically, Sharp and Forrester expressed their unhappiness moments after their successors at the School, the seventh intake, had received their England Under-16 caps from the Leeds United manager, Howard Wilkinson, in a graduation ceremony at Lilleshall, Shropshire.

Wilkinson warned the 16-strong class of '92 about the 'real world' that awaits them in the professional game.

'I hope this afternoon is not the highlight of your career,' he said. 'Enjoy the day and cherish the memory, but remember that history doesn't pay the mortgage.' He recalled that of the 60 full-timers and apprentices he encountered on his first day at Sheffield Wednesday was one who received a free transfer, went into non- League football and business - and became a millionaire.

Leeds have never taken on a graduate of the School, although they are currently giving a trial to Scott Camm, one of the first graduates, who has been released by Wednesday. 'The idea behind this place is very sound,' Wilkinson said, 'but the trouble is that the numbers are too small to address big problems like the shortfall in technique. If you had 160 boys instead of 16, you'd have a chance.'

FA NATIONAL SCHOOL GRADUATES: Goalkeepers: N Hopper (Southampton), A Woods (Oldham). Defenders: T Challis (QPR), D Faulkner (Sheffield Wed), P Feltham (Oldham), D Hinshelwood (Nottingham Forest), N Murray (Newcastle), B Thatcher (Millwall). Midfielders: J Frost (Oldham), C Holland (Preston), C Serrant (Oldham), J Walker (Nottm Forest), B Worrall (Swindon). Forwards: C Beech (Manchester City), R Irving (Manchester Utd), R Smith (Nottm Forest).