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
Wednesday 17 November 2010
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.
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