One of the most disappointing pieces of news My Old Man Said has heard during it’s time, was when UEFA formed the UEFA Youth League the season after Aston Villa’s youth team were crowned European Champions in the NextGen tournament in 2013. Entry to UEFA’s Youth League would be restricted to youth teams from clubs who had qualified for the Champions League. As a result, Aston Villa’s youth team would never get a chance to defend its position as the best in Europe.
In a wider context, the move further enforced the notion of the status quo in football being kept; if having a good academy was the only way a club with limited finances could be competitive, suddenly the premier competition to allow those young players to flourish was stripped away from them.
Villa had beaten Chelsea 2-0 in the NextGen 2013 final, coming out on top against all the best European youth teams. Yet with the tournament dissolved to make way for the UEFA Youth League, the Villa team wouldn’t get a chance to retain their title. They wouldn’t even get a chance to play against Europe’s best again, unless Aston Villa 1st team could finish in the top 4 of the Premier League. It seemed mightily unfair.
From MOMS chats with the Villa CEO at the time, Aston Villa as a club were not happy with UEFA’s decision. As MOMS reported at the end of 2012, Villa’s academy was one of the best in the land, ranking third in England and 24th in the whole of European football.
The NextGen tournament win was an astonishing achievement. They dispatched Celtic, PSV, Sporting Lisbon, Ajax,and Olympiacos before beating a Chelsea team in the final, who had beaten Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal in the knock-out stages.
Rise of Jack
Jack Grealish was part of the team that lifted the cup in Lake Como back in 2013, but the reality of youth football is very few players make it in the Premier League. While some of the players are still on the books at Villa, several of Villa’s youth winners now ply their trade in the lower leagues.
Since the NextGen was dissolved understandably Villa’s youth team has slipped out of the limelight somewhat, but it can still hold its head high. Still since 2010-11, Villa youth graduates have made more Premier League debuts than any other club bar Manchester United and Watford.
A total of 11 academy graduates have gone on to feature for a Premier League first team in that time, that’s almost the combined amount of Manchester City and Chelsea’s youth academy’s who have both produced six each.
Premier League debuts for youth graduates since 2010-11
14: Manchester United
11: Aston Villa, Southampton
8: Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham
6: Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City
5: Bournemouth, Sunderland
It’s easy to give a youth player five minutes as a substitute at the end of a game as a taster, but that’s not really a clear indication that an academy is producing a decent level of player that can sustain themselves at the top level.
Like the table from 2012, Villa again come up strong when you look at the players who have made a more solid impact in playing 25 first team games in the Premier League since 2010-11.
Villa actually lead the table.
Youth graduates to play 25 games since 2010-11
5: Aston Villa
3: Tottenham, Newcastle, Southampton
2: Arsenal, Liverpool
1: Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Everton, Leicester, Man United, Stoke, Swansea, Watford, West Brom
0: Chelsea, Man City, Norwich, Sunderland, West Ham
Of course, some of the introduction of academy players may have been on Villa’s reliance on youngsters to fill holes in a under-nourished squad due to Randy Lerner’s cost-cutting in the past few seasons. With the likes of Bannan, Albrighton, Clark, Baker and Weimann getting a lot more game time than would be normal in a Premier League team at their ages.
Still, it’s a big plus. Academies cost money and at least Villa’s is giving the first team manager some options and food for thought. Jack Grealish will be the next player in the over 25 game club to break from the academy and great things expected of the player.
Tim Sherwood is also a manager who’s DNA is very much in the development and promotion of youth, so the potential for Villa’s academy to carry on being a vital cog remains.
Follow MOMS on Twitter – oldmansaid