James Lawton: Blanc is right: It's too hard for kids to get Premier League break

A precocious player can be promoted too quickly, but too often in English football the opposite is true

Whatever else is on the menu at Wembley tonight, let's hope that the great Laurent Blanc has guaranteed at least one generous course of irony. The guess here is that he may just have done so with his advice to young French players to stay at home, play first-team football and put the chance of a successful learning curve before instant Premier League gold.

Ironic lashings would certainly come with an encouraging response from such as Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll and Kieran Gibbs to Fabio Capello's acceptance that he finally has to dip into the slender resources provided by those young Englishmen who have forced their way into the lowest, by a shocking margin, home national representation in any of Europe's major leagues.

That Theo Walcott and Gibbs and the injured Jack Wilshere have arrived from an Arsenal production line which for long appeared to be devoted exclusively to the development of exceptional foreign talent can only underline the sense of a new challenge and epoch for England's national team.

However, it hardly invalidates the thrust of Blanc's argument.

The new French coach's case was impeccably mounted as he singled out the becalmed status of 19-year-old Gaël Kakuta. Blanc's compatriot is still widely rated his nation's most dazzling prospect, despite making just four Premier League appearances after Chelsea lured him away from Lens and created an international incident that carried them perilously close to a ban by Uefa from future transfer activity.

Kakuta's soupçon of experience is in sharp contrast to that enjoyed at the same age by the French demigods some believed, when he signed his fat contract and moved his family to England, he had the raw talent to emulate one day.

Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry were 17 when they started playing regularly in the French league and Zidane's first goal for Cannes was rewarded with a new car by the club president before he moved to Bordeaux en route to Juventus and Real Madrid.

It might also be remembered, especially if there is proved to be serious foundation to the idea that Kakuta is indeed gifted enough to be one of the great players, that Pele was 15 when he first appeared for Santos and just a year older when he won his first Brazil cap.

Diego Maradona was also a mere 15 when he made his professional debut for Argentinos Juniors, not long after an alert uncle had saved his life by fishing him out of the open sewer that ran through their barrio, and, like Pele, he was an international inside a year.

These may be ancient if extraordinary facts but they do serve to support Blanc's argument.

Sunderland's Henderson is, understandably, being currently singled out as an example of fine development, but then he can scarcely be said to have been fast-tracked to his new prominence. Halfway through his 21st year, he has made it to the international field with fewer than 50 club appearances after his first game as a substitute two years ago. It may be that a precocious player can be promoted too quickly, but too often in English football the opposite is true.

The sidelining of Wilshere, at an age when Henderson was getting his first taste of senior football, is such a blow because he has claimed his place by indisputable right rather than circumstances. Groomed at Arsenal and toughened by his loan experience at Bolton, Wilshere promised something even beyond the pyrotechnics expected of the tearaway Carroll.

It was the compelling and rare prospect of a young – a really young – English player superbly prepared to take his great chance.

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
and  

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

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada