How big is the jump between youth football and the first team?

With Chelsea’s youth team winning their respective FA Cup and Champions League this year and multiple trophies over the last few years, it has baffled the footballing world as to why none of them come through to play for the first time. Ruben Loftus Cheek has come closest to becoming a first team regular making 16 appearances in all competitions this season scoring 2 goals, the 20-year-old certainly has the potential so what’s stopping him? Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham scored 71 goals between them in 2015. This season Dominic Solanke was sent to Vitesse on loan where he’s scored 7 goals in 25 appearances while Tammy Abraham spend another season in the Chelsea youth teams and made 3 appearances in the final 3 Chelsea premier league matches… is that it? But maybe it’s just a Chelsea thing, let’s talk a look at a few other players.

Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford was part of the Man Utd team that were beaten 5-1 in the FA youth cup this year by a Chelsea, so how did he go from losing to Chelsea in the FA youth cup to being included in the England provisional squad for the Euros? It should be mentioned that United have a history and philosophy of bring through from their academy and Chelsea do not but is Rashford better than those Chelsea strikers. There’s no doubt about it Rashford had luck on his side as you could argue without Rooney and Martial being injured he wouldn’t have been in the squad let alone starting. A debut against Midtjylland also played into the young man’s hands, would Van Gaal risk such a young unproven player in a more meaningful game or would he have done so well against tougher opposition? Probably not but scoring two goals at senior level is an accomplishment for any players no matter the opposition. Federico Macheda did something similar a few years ago but he hasn’t lived up to the hype put onto him and but Rashford continued by scoring twice against title challengers Arsenal and that’s when we all started to pay attention. He could turn out to be a great striker, he certainly has the potential and only time will tell.

Raheem Sterling

I remember a mate of mine who is a Liverpool fan kept banging on about 15-year-old Raheem Sterling and showing me a video on YouTube and if I’m honest he did look really good. So why was his assertion to the Liverpool first team so ‘simple’. Firstly, at the time there wasn’t a Liverpool right winger who had the spot nailed down. The only wingers Liverpool had at the time were Stewart Downing who is pretty much at left winger and Maxi Rodríguez who was 30 and coming to the end of his career. Liverpool could have gone out and spent but they had faith and with Liverpool never really being big spenders, their faith in Raheem paid off. In the Liverpool youth team, he was clearly one of the stand out players but he didn’t have amazing stats like those of Domonic Solanke and Tammy Abraham but the talent was there. The pressure at Liverpool comes from the fans but realistically they’re not expected to win the league and a top 4 finish is seen as a great season, the managers and chairman know that so having that faith and taking the risk to start at 17-year-old had less effects if it didn’t pay off.

Paul Pogba

Probably one of Sir Alex Fergusons biggest regrets was letting Paul Pogba go. Pogba joined the Manchester United in 2009 when he was only 16 and played for the U-18’s up to the 2011-12 season where Sir Alex seemed to promise Pogba as well as a few other youth team players they would be joining up with the first team

Club philosophy

It is clear that in some teams brining through youth players is not only encouraged but praised. There are many reasons why teams are so adamant at brining through youth players. How much have Barcelona saved by having Messi come through the ranks. Smaller teams also can’t afford to buy new players year after year and their youth teams eventually become the first team.

The managers

Jose Mourinho has never been known for bringing through youth players since the start of his managerial career at Benfica.

Pep Guadiola himself rose through the ranks at Barcelona, not just a player from La Masia but as a manger by first coaching the Barcelona B team. Pep knew the set up and philosophy of Barcelona and during his time managing the club he stuck to this, playing youth team players and happily integrated them with the first team. The first season Guadiola signed he gave debuts to then 19-year-old Sergio Busquets, 20-year-old Pedro and 17-year-old once golden child of Barcelona Bojan played 23 games. All three players came through the ranks at Barcelona and weren’t judged based on 5 or 10 minutes’ substitute appetences, these players stayed with the team and were given fair chances especially with the amount of games Barcelona played and the considerably weaker opposition of some of the Spanish teams there were clear chances to play youth players but Bojan played 18 matches, Pedro played 6 and Busquets played 31 games. Even through his 3 years at Bayern Pep even though it has come to an end, the emergence of 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich and on loan midfielder, 19-year-old Kingsley Coman have flourished under Guardiola.

Loans

Loans are a great indicator of how a player will perform, It’s highly doubtful that Thibaut Courtois would be the player he is now without his loan to Atletico Madrid instead of sitting on the Chelsea bench while at the time a better Petr Cech played the majority of games. Álvaro Borja Morata couldn’t get a game at Real Madrid but has done amazing since his sale (with a buy back option) to Juventus. Patrick Bamford won championship player of the year last year but still couldn’t get a game at Chelsea so again it depends on the talent and club.

Just play them

At the end of the day, no one knows how will these kids will do until they’re tested in real premier league match, rather its good luck or faith from the manager. This does not include a sub appearance in the final 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes if you’re lucky. These kids need a good run in a team but with it all on the line in the top flight of football, would you risk it all with an unproven player, especially if this means not only risking results but leaving a

These kids bring heart and the spirit of the club, not only have they been at the club for 10+ years with their dream solely to play for the club but they know opportunities don’t come often.

Of course some players are just happy to be in and around the first team but after a certain point they stop being youth players and players with potential, they become players that simply haven’t reach their potential and it’s on to the next crop of youth players. Every year fans pick their favourite youth players who they believe should be in and around the first team but if the manager doesn’t see it and the chairman isn’t pushing for it, certain top clubs will simply go out and spend 30+ million on a player without considering the youth. How many times has a big money player flopped but their price tag ensures at least 20+ games? Would Kevin De Bryune have been given more of a chance if Chelsea spend considerably more than £7m especially when he could be considered better than Oscar who was bought for £20m but Oscar was chosen over De Bryune. Torres at Chelsea could of hindered youth players, Roberto Soldado at Tottenham delayed the emergence of Harry Kane and one could say the £36m paid for Martial could of hindered Rushford’s career if it wasn’t for injury.

Unless the player is sent on loan to a club or league where he can be tested against top quality opposition and he flourishes in that team it’s clear he will be part of his parent clubs plans. Sometimes it can come down to luck or what club you happen to play for or the manager or your price tag but one thing that will remain is that if a player is good enough it doesn’t matter how old they are.

Naturally youth players need to grow and mature and most need to bulk up a bit but technically if a player is good enough to stand out at youth level this is an indication that he can have a pretty good professional career and it seems that the different between youth football and first team isn’t as big as we may think. Also it could be switched the other way, if a first team players is sent to the reserves and doesn’t rip through those teams, does that make him a bad player, absolutely not.

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