When I was nine, Bristol Rovers invited me to train with them twice a week and told me they'd help me become a better player.
I didn't belong to them and I didn't sign for them. It wasn't allowed at that age. The deal was that I had to do my schoolwork, otherwise they wouldn't let me go to training and the only pressure was competing against other lads.
Rovers had a development nursery in Bristol and another in Wales and they used to play against each other all the time. If there was a player in your position in Wales who was better than you, then you'd be bombed out. But that was fine, as you knew that.
All of which made me realise how much times have changed when Chelsea this week signed three brothers – 12-year-old twins and a 13-year-old – for five-figure fees. The deal could rise to £1m by all accounts.
Now I have a real problem with that. Not only is it ludicrous, it is potentially damaging to the health of the boys. As soon as you put a price tag on things, there is big pressure. Even Fernando Torres couldn't handle it so God knows how some young teenagers will react.
I grant you it can occasionally work out. When I was at Rovers, we had a 10-year-old kid who stood out like a beacon. I said, "Who's that kid?" and got told his name was Scott Sinclair. He is a success story but I could tell you about thousands of others who didn't make the grade.
I remember Rovers losing 8-0 to Bristol City in a youth game once and a lad called Williams scored six. He was like Pele but a couple of years later he dropped out of football. Then there are those like Bojan Djordjic, who we've just released at Blackpool. He was going to be the best Swedish player of all time. Manchester United signed him for a million quid at 16. But he never made it at Old Trafford.
It is OK having the skills but what you don't know is how a young lad will deal with things mentally.
I genuinely feel worried for the three kids at Chelsea because I know exactly what will happen to them – they will be stacked in the academy along with hundreds of other bright young things from all over the world.
I don't like that. The way to develop players isn't to hide them away in an academy set-up. England tried that with Lilleshall but it rarely works because you need to be in the real world. Good luck to Chelsea if that's the way they want to do things and maybe it will mean the rest of us might be able to pick up their cast-offs when these lads don't make the grade.
But will the kids be damaged from the experience? Do Chelsea have psychological coaches to help them deal with these things?
God knows where all this is going and I understand clubs want the best players possible. But we've got to think of the individuals involved and to put 12-year-old boys in a position where they are already under the spotlight seems wrong.
Owners need to wise up
If bankers are the most hated people on the planet, football club owners can't be far behind. Not all of them I hasten to add but certainly at the clubs which have been so mismanaged they could go out of business.
How sad it is to see Darlington and Northwich Vics struggling to stay alive. It is the fans who suffer and my heart goes out to them. But what we can't do is ignore the reasons they are in such trouble. I've heard people go on about the notion of the so-called Football Family and say, "Why don't United or Chelsea give Darlington 50 grand to help them out?"
Nice idea but wrong. That just encourages bad management. If you run a carpentry company and don't do very well, then it is your fault. You have to stand and fall by what you do.
I have experienced this at QPR. I took over as manager when they were put into administration. It was the club's own fault. They had given five-year-contracts to kids and academy lads and it nearly crippled the club.
I came in and had to be the grim reaper. Under the instructions of the administrators and the chief executive, I had to let a load of players go. Some of them couldn't believe it. They were 17 and they had four years left on their contracts.
The reason it got to that position was sheer bad management and that is what needs sorting. Like the bankers now, there needs to be more stringent rules for owners so they don't gamble with the club's future.
It is tough because I know what managers are like and how hard we push our chairmen. That's where it needs a strong one who keeps things under control. But leaving that aside, I hope no club goes out of business, for the fans' sake and for football.
Get off Beckham's back
I read an article slagging off David Beckham for wasting the latter part of his career by playing in America.
Wasted it, has he? Look at what the lad has won and how happy he and his family are in the States. I daresay he's not exactly kicking himself.
The lad has every right to play for whoever he wants and I think we in England should be immensely proud to have produced such a wonderful footballer and person.
Obviously he's done some things I'd never do myself. But generally I am delighted with the way he has conducted himself and it is typical of this stuck-up country that we feel we can tell him where he should be living and who he should play for.
We're in a recession, Thierry, so wake up and smell the coffee
Thierry Henry is finding out that the Arsenal team he has joined isn't as good as the one he used to be in.
Everyone saw his reaction to the Swansea defeat and his altercation with a Gunners fan. That was fine. Football without passion isn't football. Henry is totally pro-Arsenal. He wants to help, even after a bad result.
He was respectful and controlled in what he did – he didn't go all Cantona and kung-fu kick the bloke.
He is not used to anybody criticising Arsène Wenger or the team but he'd better wake up and smell the coffee because, when you haven't won a trophy for so long, people will ask questions.
There is more criticism than ever in football because, in the midst of a horrible recession, it is harder to find the money to watch. Your average supporter really wants to see you play well and win, and if he doesn't get it, there might be trouble.
Maybe Arsenal have made a rod for their own back with how brilliant they have been in the past. The more success you give people, the more they expect and the harder it is to produce.
I love Arsène, I admire Henry hugely and to me it is ludicrous that anyone would criticise Arsenal. But there are those out there that will – and the club have to learn to accept it.
Title rivals can strike a blow
Call me a fence-sitter but today's City-Tottenham game is too close to call. I can't wait to get in front of the TV and watch two brilliant, exciting teams go all out for victory. Whoever gets the three points will strike a huge psychological blow. Unlike United, who have been there and done it, neither City or Spurs are sure they can win the title yet, so it would be a huge fillip if they were to get three points off one of their main rivals and a massive blow to the club that loses.
Agents... stop calling me
Roll on the end of January. To say I hate the transfer window is putting it mildly. This week I was trying to get the heating fixed at one of my children's houses but I couldn't get anything done because my damn phone never stopped ringing. One manager called me six times, I had agents offering me players from Azerbaijan, Outer Mongolia and God knows where, players who I've never seen and who we couldn't afford, so what's the point?
Stop ringing me. You weren't ringing me four weeks ago, so why ring now?
The whole thing is madness and all because one idiot at Fifa says we must have a transfer window to keep us in line with the rest of Europe.
It is like being made to do all your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and who in their right mind would do that? Please let us make transfers all year round, like it used to be, with an end-of-March deadline, if only to save my sanity.Reuse content