This feature comes from Canadian contributor Caleb Cousens. Caleb is 22-years-old and is a Barcelona fan. He had previously wrote for In Bed With Maradona and World Soccer and now brings his writing to The Youth Radar.
Sunday’s match between Manchester United vs Arsenal pitted two young sides against each other. The average ages of each team’s starting XI was: 23 years (Manchester United) and 23.63 years (Arsenal). This is a rare thing to find in a match between two top teams and points to a bright future for both respective clubs as well as English football in general. I feel that it is important to point out that while the Arsenal, Barcelona, Manchester United, and Real Madrid’s of football usually get the credit for the development of these immensely talented youths, the praise is only, in many cases, half deserved. The case of Cesc Fabregas is a perfect and poignant example. Cules are proud of the success that he had in England as he was a “La Masia graduate”, a product of Barcelona’s extensive youth system. This is true to an extent, however Fabregas joined Arsenal at the age of 15 meaning that while the lad started in Catalonia much of his development took place under the tutelage of Wenger in London. Arsenal have had as much (if not more) influence on his development as FC Barcelona. All the top teams take credit for their young stars and much credit is due, but maybe not as much as they would like to think. The likes of Tom Cleverley (Bradford City), Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Anderson (Grêmio
/Porto), Aaron Ramsey (Cardiff), Theo Walcott (Newbury/Swindon Town/Southampton), and Francis Coquelin (AS du Bourny/Stade Lavallois) were all developed by clubs other than Arsenal and Manchester United for the start of their career. You might have heard of half of the above clubs but, and this brings me to my point, it is these smaller clubs that do much of the leg work to provide wealthier teams with youngsters.
One of these teams is Premier League hopefuls Ipswich Town FC. The Tractor Boys hope that they can crack into England’s top flight having been close multiple times over the last few years. Ipswich have joined a select group of English clubs to act as the youth academy to the entire English Premiership. Premiership clubs, in general, are more concerned with spending on foreign talent rather than developing local players. This coupled with the ongoing debate about the potential implementation of “home-grown” player quotas in Europe and domestically means that clubs with developed infrastructure in their youth academies may have the advantage in the coming years. Ipswich Town FC has proven over the years that it is one of these clubs.
Ipswich were last in England’s top flight during the 2001/02 season but have a long history of success which has a lot to do with their academy. Ipswich Town FC’s best years (to date) came during the 70’s when the likes of “Mick” Mills, Terry Butcher, and Kevin Beattie (all English Internationals and graduates of the academy) lead The Blues to an FA Cup and UEFA Cup title in the span of three years (1977-1980).
With the amazing talents of Darren Bent, Keiron Dyer, Titus Bramble, and Darren Ambrose having graced the Ipswich Academy and Portman Road, success in the form of Premier League promotion might not be far off. Of course all the above players are plying their trade elsewhere now but the Ipswich scouting staff and coaches haven’t been idle and a new generation of youngsters are graduating from the academy to help their club or move abroad.
21-year-old defender Tommy Smith
The 21 year-old defender joined the Ipswich Town senior team at 17 and has since made over forty appearances for the club intermingled with loan spells. He has plenty of experience at the senior level for such a young defender and also played in every minute of New Zealand’s foray at the World Cup Finals in South Africa. He had previously represented England at the U17/U18 levels but decided to play for the country in which he lived from age 8-16.
Smith’s 6 ft 2 in frame makes him a danger in the oppositions’ box and last season he scored three goals in twenty-two appearances from defense for The Tractor Boys. Some serious injuries, including a broken ankle, have stalled his progression at Ipswich but if he can stay healthy, the next year or so will be important to his development, he is certainly one to watch.
Carson has a very bright future ahead of him, and I fear he is not long for Portman Road. The 18 year-old, diminutive attacker has already featured for Ipswich Town. On his third match for the senior team he showed why Ipswich had signed him to a two year contract. Carson, who was seventeen at the time, scored a goal in each half against Crystal Palace at the end of last season. He has two senior caps for Northern Ireland but his yet to score his first international goal. There will likely be many to come for this confident young man.
Connor Wickham has recently moved to Sunderland but nevertheless Ipswich Town have played a huge part in his career
Unfortunately he was signed by Sunderland this summer but he deserves a mention as one of the brightest talents to come out of Ipswich’s academy in recent memory. His development got a boost under Roy Keane who was keen (bad, I know) to give the youngsters chances in the first team. The English striker has had a prolific scorer already in his short career. At 18 there was a reason a Premiership club like Sunderland signed him up. Wickham is built like an old fashioned center forward at 6ft 3in and with thirteen senior goals to his name already England and the Stadium of Light have much to look forward to.
He hasn’t been capped with England’s first team yet but has eleven goals in twenty-two appearances in all youth levels. He won a U17 UEFA European Championship with England in 2010 and has already a small trophy cabinet worth of honours to his name. A great start for such a young player and another example of the great work Ipswich are doing in developing local players.