Paul Newman: Catching 'em young can bring profit and pride for small clubs

The Football League Column: Crystal Palace continued to support their academy through the club's most difficult financial times

If you forget the misfiring Fernando Torres, Spanish footballers can hardly do any wrong these days. Barcelona and Real Madrid were emphatic winners of the first legs of their Champions League quarter-finals last week, and the national side bask inglory as European and World champions. Everyone else seems to want to do things the Spanish way, pointing out that a key to their success is the fact that many of their best performers grew up playing alongside one another as juniors both at club and representative level.

Nevertheless, 12 days ago Spain's under-17 team were beaten 2-1 by their England counterparts in a qualifier for this summer's European Championship finals. Spain only needed a draw to go through, but were knocked out by second-half goals from Nathan Redmond and Adam Jackson as England progressed to the eight-team finals, which will be held in Serbia.

An overdue triumph for the Premier League's big guns over their rivals from La Liga? Hardly. Of the 18 players on duty for England, none play for the Premier League's top two, Manchester United and Arsenal, while seven are with clubs in the Football League. Two more, Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Manchester City's Alex Henshall, were recruited from Football League clubs – Queen's Park Rangers and Swindon respectively – last year.

The current crop of England juniors are by no means the exception. On average, around half of the players who pull on an England shirt at any level began their professional careers at Football League clubs.

The under-17s on duty against Spain included three players from Crewe Alexandra's production line – Nick Powell, Max Clayton and Ben Garratt – as well as representatives from Portsmouth (Sam Magri), Charlton Athletic (Jordan Cousins), Middlesbrough (Adam Jackson) and Brighton (Jake Caskey).

Investing in youth can be costly, but Crystal Palace, for example, continued to support their academy through the club's most difficult financial times and have shown that such commitment can be worthwhile. Their academy has produced a steady flow of first team players, while transfer fees received for the likes of Ben Watson, Victor Moses and Tom Soares have helped the scheme to pay its own way.

Nathaniel Clyne, an England under-21 international, has been the only ever-present player in Palace's first team this season, while five other products of their academy have also appeared in the senior side during the current campaign, including 17-year-old Wilfried Zaha, a skilful forward who is said to be a target for some of the biggest Premier League clubs.

For the youngsters themselves the decision on how long to stay at a club like Palace remains a tough one. While there is temptation to move up in the world, is it always the right choice?

There appears to be no teenager in greater demand at the moment than Connor Wickham, but the 18-year-old striker has just signed a new contract at Ipswich, another club with a fine record for developing young talent. On Saturday Wickham was outshone by an even younger colleague, 17-year-old Josh Carson, who scored both the goals in a 2-1 victory over Palace.

Perhaps Wickham was mindful of what has happened to John Bostock, who appeared to have the football world at his feet just four years ago when the midfielder, at the age of 15 years and 287 days, became the youngest player ever to appear in Palace's first team.

Nine months later he joined Tottenham Hotspur, a tribunal ordering the Premier League club to pay an initial £700,000, amid much protest from Palace's then chairman, Simon Jordan. In November 2008 Bostock became the youngest player to appear for Tottenham in a competitive match –16 years and 295 days.

For the last two years, however, the midfielder has been treading water. A loan move to Brentford last season lasted only nine matches while an agreement to spend the whole of the current campaign at Hull City, where he made a headline-grabbing start with a spectacular goal in his first game, was ended in December. A recent contribution to a Tottenham fans' website began with the question: "Could the boy who has everything end up with nothing?"

people And here is why...
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?