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.

News
i100
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
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

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn