Matt Holland: The academies have never been busier

Sunday 12 January 2003 01:00

The desperate financial state that Ipswich admitted they are in last week when they sacked another 20 backroom staff demonstrates two things. The crippling effect of being relegated and the fact that all the clubs' assets are up for sale. That means the players. Will I go? I don't know and apart from the recent rumours that Sunderland was interested, I have heard little.

However, the reality for us at Ipswich is that we are all in effect up for sale because £30m is an awful lot of debt. Jamie Clapham left us last week for Birmingham and I will be surprised if he is the last out the door during this shop-window month.

I have always maintained that I want to play in the Premiership but equally it must be the right club for me. Clapham has joined a Premiership club but, come May, Birmingham could be relegated. In fact, the most interesting aspect of the January window so far has been the inactivity. The main trades have been huge gambles by the clubs at the bottom of the Premiership. Birmingham, or more accurately the owners who have dipped into their own personal fortunes, have bought and West Ham have bought – famously or infamously depending on your own personal preference – Lee Bowyer.

The short-term nature of the Bowyer deal makes economic sense in the current financial climate. He is not trapped if they go down, they equally are not trapped with his wages, and if they do stay up he gets a large bonus. But if they do survive the size of the bonus will be dwarfed by the size of their retained income from television. I suspect that deals will be more tailored from now on with clauses and stipulations to protect the clubs.

One good thing has happened, though, and that has been the emergence of youth players at many clubs. Lower wages, ambition, hunger and a lack of cynicism have pushed them towards first-team squads and in some cases on to the teamsheet and even the back pages. Two have received so much attention recently that they only need surnames for recognition – Rooney and Milner. But there are others. Are they being picked because they are good enough or because the clubs have smaller squads and therefore their promotion is necessity rather than reward? Quite frankly, what I have seen has told me that their selections are due to their ability but I believe that we are entering a period where home-developed players will be the cores of most clubs. On the most basic level it is because they are cheaper and we could easily see lower division clubs become extended academies or feeder clubs for the big Premiership boys.

When I was at Bournemouth it was almost a finishing school for youngsters from West Ham, including me incidentally, and it helped both clubs. Such arrangements could easily develop across the league. Consider Ipswich and our excellent academy full of talented youngsters. They need to play league football to develop and gain experience. Only when they have done that are they likely to break into the first team at Ipswich but the club desperately need them.

Since relegation we have released about 10 players and only brought in one, Paul Gerrard on loan, and at this moment he is back at Everton. Our squad was never big and is now, well, very compact. The releasing of players reduced the wages, a must as we all know, but also the headcount and with so many games that could well cost us in the run-in when we could be pushing for a play-off spot and the ultimate financial holy grail – promotion.

No one knows when or how often the curse of injury will strike so get the youngsters at lower league clubs and filter them back as they progress. The years of importing big-name and big-money stars have gone but for a few élite clubs. The rest of us will just have to make our own or loan and swap.

Maybe the effect will be to reduce the number of professional footballers, or to shorten careers by stopping players hanging on to contracts when they are past their peak. I don't know what would happen but I am pretty sure that the situation cannot continue as it is now. Too many clubs are saddled with too much debt.

Thank goodness the FA Cup bit into the egos of some of the big clubs and the mind of the public. Everton and Newcastle humbled while Farnborough, Shrewsbury Town and Wolves go through. A few shocks never hurt the game and although I don't for one second believe Arsenal would have lost at Farnborough, it is a pity that the game has been switched to Highbury where their victory is as good as guaranteed.

I would have loved to have seen how the Ferraris of Arsenal would have coped on the cosy, undeveloped and bumpy ground of the part-timers. Reality has hit most clubs and a little dose of hardship would not have harmed Arsenal.

Matt Holland was talking to Iain Fletcher

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