The Last Word: Talk of revolt at folly of youth system

Suspension of NextGen series and worries over Premier League plans leave coaches up in arms

It was the future, and it worked. The NextGen Series was football's finishing school, in essence the Champions' League for Europe's best young players. A tournament featuring 24 teams drawn from 12 nations created excitement and expectation in the name of progress and education.

Over two seasons, a teenaged elite emerged. Current champions, Aston Villa, unearthed Gary Gardner, a midfield player of rare promise. Nathan Aké smashed the glass ceiling protecting Chelsea's first-team squad. Arsenal's Chuba Akpom announced himself as a natural goalscorer. Raheem Sterling broke through at Liverpool.

Tottenham's philosophy of cultivating mobile, technically adept youth players was embodied by Alex Pritchard, a small, two-footed attacking midfielder. Further afield, Viktor Fischer, at Ajax, and Sergi Samper, of Barcelona, were hailed as embryonic superstars.

Scouts were mesmerised. Coaches learned how their best young footballers coped with the rhythms and challenges, both tactical and cultural, of regular continental competition. Club executives saw, in the precocity of home-grown players, a solution to a new era of financial fair play. The initiative was too good for its own good.

Though Friday's announcement of NextGen's suspension for a year because of "a lack of definite funding" was largely lost in the small print of a new Premier League season, its significance lies in the political and commercial machinations which led to its demise. Aston Villa academy director, Bryan Jones, spoke for many when he condemned the situation as "shameful and hugely disappointing".

The usual suspects stand accused of blatant self-interest. Uefa, driven by the expansionist principles of their president, Michel Platini, sought to kill the NextGen project by unveiling the Youth Cup, a rival competition run on similar lines. The Premier League rejected the opportunity to support a counter proposal guaranteeing entry to 16 English clubs in an expanded 32-team event.

Their response, to offer clubs a series of weekly tournaments, featuring three games at a cost of £50,000 to each entrant, merely increased the sense of alienation with the £340 million Elite Player Performance Plan, which purports to be a blueprint for a better England team, supplied by a streamlined, strategically driven coaching system.

Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, hails it as "a huge breakthrough". Clubs are obliged to employ more coaches, who theoretically spend more contact time developing young English players in state-of-the-art facilities. Yet resistance to the plan, and scepticism about the viability of the new Under-21 League, are growing. There is a widespread lack of faith in Ged Roddy, the Premier League's youth director. Clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool are understood to have grave doubts about a system which is regarded as excessively bureaucratic and philosophically flawed. Villa and West Bromwich Albion are among those angered by the iniquities of the compensation system for players poached by rivals.

Crewe's Director of Football, Dario Gradi, the most respected figure in youth development, complains that coaches are spending too much time in front of computers rather than working with players on the training pitch. Several coaches of my acquaintance admit they have been distracted by obligations to supply PMA, the Premier League's new data system.

These are not natural agitators. They are educated, passionate football men. They understand the magnitude of the task and the extent of previous failures. They promise any revolt will be tempered by realism.

Perspective is stark. A Liverpool side containing Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson and Jonjo Shelvey, who all played in the England Under-21 team which thrashed Scotland 6-0 in midweek, was beaten 8-1 on aggregate by Sporting Lisbon in the NextGen Series. They lost 6-0 at home to Ajax. Clubs in Spain, Holland, Italy and Germany are light years ahead of their English counterparts. Smaller nations like Portugal, Greece and Belgium, where Anderlecht excel at youth level, are immensely more productive.

We are the poor little rich boys of Europe. Our future doesn't work.

Hero Hall deserves all help he can get

How far would you go to support your football club? Would you sacrifice the family home and face bankruptcy because of your commitment to tradition and the truth? Micah Hall has done so, in the name of Portsmouth.

Hall was one of the originators of the Pompey Supporters' Trust, which took control of the club in April following a four-year protest campaign. His investigative work, examining a series of shady owners, helped expose the flaws in football's fit-and-proper person test.

He was working unpaid for the Trust earlier this year when Malaysian bankers Pascal Najadi and his father, Hussain, who were involved in the unsuccessful takeover attempt fronted by financier Keith Harris, sued for libel. The court recognised Hall had no case to answer and ordered his costs, £20,000, should be paid by the complainants. Hall doubts this will happen, because on July 29 Hussain Najadi was assassinated. His son remains in Moscow on business and did not attend his funeral.

Hall, who sold his house to meet earlier legal bills, is dependent on a fighting fund started, in his name by Portsmouth fans. He deserves football's support, and gratitude.

Let's enjoy Mo

Mo Farah, touted as Britain's best-ever athlete, has the pioneering spirit of Sir Roger Bannister and the grit and grace of Sebastian Coe. His importance as a cross-cultural role model is unchallengeable. Yet, instead of pigeon holing him for historical purposes, let's enjoy him while we can.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
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

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz