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Is the FA Youth Cup a reliable predictor for future international success?

Soccer - FA Youth Cup - Final - Second Leg - Ipswich Town v Southampton - Portman RoadWith the advent of the Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) in 2011, ‘productivity’ has become a key word in Academy offices and club boardrooms alike. Are Academies providing players capable of transitioning from youth level to professional football? There have been a multitude of claims and counter claims as to the best method to measure this, with opposing methods presenting vastly differing results.

The aim of this series of articles will be to investigate various links between perceived ‘success’ of clubs at Academy level , and the career trajectories of their graduates. In essence, the constant thread connecting all articles will be this: is a successful U18 team (in terms of playing results) a reliable indicator of creating successful professional players? This particular piece will focus on the relationship between the FA Youth Cup, and those young players who have recently collected their first senior England caps.

The FA Youth Cup remains the premier U18 competition in English football, and therefore should be a relatively reliable barometer when attempting to quantify the top U18 sides in the country. Most famously, members of Manchester United’s class of 1992 (winners against Crystal Palace in 1992, and losing finalists to Leeds United in 1993) collected 364 England caps between them via Beckham, Butt, Scholes, and the Neville’s. In addition to this, Giggs and Savage picked up 103 Welsh caps, while Keith Gillespie also appeared for Northern Ireland on 86 occasions. While this feat is highly unlikely to ever be repeated, there is still value in further examining the journey from FA Youth Cup final to international debut.

To do this, the starting point was to collect information on recent England debutants. The data set used stretches from those players born in September 1987 onwards. To date (including Switzerland Sept 8th 2014), 35 players have debuted that were born during this time period. The U18 season for those players born between September ’87 and August ’88 corresponds with the 2006 FA Youth Cup final. Therefore, the finals from 2006 and up to and including 2010 will be used.

The 2006 FA Youth Cup final was contested between Manchester City and Liverpool, with a total of 23 players eligible for England named in the matchday squads over the two legs. Of the players born in the corresponding academic year, there have only been five full England debuts to date. The top 3 in terms of total caps (as will be the norm for all years discussed) are listed below:

BORN BETWEEN SEPT ’87-AUG ’88 (FAYC 2006)

Micah RICHARDS                                                    13 caps                                       FAYC FINAL 2006 (U18)

Adam LALLANA                                                        9 caps                                       FAYC FINAL 2005 (U17)

Fraser FORSTER                                                       2 caps                                       N/A

As shown, the most successful player born in the above academic year based on volume of caps (Richards) did appear in the FA Youth Cup final for Manchester City as a U18 player. Lallana also appeared in the final during the previous year as a U17 player for Southampton against Ipswich Town. If this year is taken in isolation, the evidence points to a strong correlation between playing in the FA Youth Cup final, and eventually progressing to international football. But what of the other years included in the data set?

BORN BETWEEN SEPT ’88-AUG ’89 (FAYC 2007) 

Theo WALCOTT                                                        36 caps                                                      FAYC FINAL 2005 (U16)

Tom CLEVERLEY                                                       13 caps                                                     N/A

Andy CARROLL                                                         9 caps                                                        N/A

BORN BETWEEN SEPT ’89-AUG ’90 (FAYC 2008

Daniel STURRIDGE                                                16 caps                                                         FAYC FINAL 2006 (U16)+2008 (U18)

Jordan HENDERSON                                             15 caps                                                         N/A

Chris SMALLING                                                    13 caps                                                         N/A

BORN BETWEEN SEPT ’90-AUG ’91 (FAYC 2009) 

Danny WELBECK                                                     28 caps                                                      FAYC FINAL 2007 (U16)

Andros TOWNSEND                                                  5 caps                                                      N/A

Jack RODWELL                                                         3 caps                                                       N/A

BORN BETWEEN SEPT ’91 Onwards (FAYC 2010)

Jack WILSHERE                                                        22 caps                                                      FAYC FINAL 2009 (U17)

Alex OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN                              16 caps                                                      N/A

Phil JONES                                                                  13 caps                                                      N/A

As demonstrated above, the relationship shown via Richards and Lallana in the first year of the data set appears to hold firm. All of the most capped players in each of the academic years have appeared in an FA Youth Cup final during their respective careers.

However, it is worth noting that the tables only include the most capped debutants in each of the academic years (15 in total). Given that there were 35 debutants in the data set, what of the other 20 players? In fact, none of the 20 players excluded from the above tables appeared in an FA Youth Cup final. This certainly dilutes any line of causation from appearing in the FA Youth Cup final to debuting for England.

Perhaps then, a more realistic conclusion would be that while there is limited evidence to support FA Youth Cup Final success with debuting for England, there appears to be very strong evidence that FA Youth Cup success precedes an extensive England career for the very top player in each academic year.

Will this trend continue beyond the end of the data set? The next article will look at those players who have featured in the 2011-2014 FA Youth Cup Finals, and try unpick which participants may be destined for future international glory.

By George Delves

@georgedelves

George has worked on a full time basis in professional youth football in the UK since 2009, and is also a current student on the FA Advanced Youth Award (12-16)

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About Tom Bennett

I'm a 21-year-old Multimedia Journalism student at Bournemouth University aspiring to be one of Britain's top sports journalists. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for contact and further information.

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