Home Grown Talent
Where have all the young ones gone?
A question. Who was the last home-grown player developed through the Blues Academy who went on to play over 100 league games for the club? Before reading the rest of this article stop and consider who you think it might be. The answer is shown at the end.
It may come as a surprise that that player made his debut for Blues over 30 years ago. Yes, that’s right, no Blues Academy player has come through the ranks in the last 30 years and gone on to make 100 or more league appearances for the club.
The picture is illustrated in the diagram above which shows players with 100 or more league appearances for Blues by decade of Blues debut, split into home-grown and non home-grown players. So, for example, there were 11 home-grown players and 10 non home-grown who made their Blues debut in the 1960s and who went on to play 100 or more league games for the club.
The first thing that’s apparent is that the number of home-grown players making 100 or more appearances for the club declined slightly from the 1960s to the 1980s, and then fell off a cliff to zero from the 1990s. Blues were still getting non home-grown players appearing 100 or more times for the club, but the home-grown ones had dried up.
The reasons for this seem manifold. In the 1990s the club only blooded 4 youngsters who went on to play 25 league games or more, and none of them reached the 100 mark. When the Golds and Sullivan took over the club there was a lot of focus on transfer activity – especially under Barry Fry – and very little opportunity for youngsters. More generally, there was a trend for more movement of players than there had been in say the 1960s and, in particular, increased opportunities to sign foreign players. This trend was exacerbated in 1996 when the Board decided to dismantle the youth development system following the Bosman ruling. When Trevor Francis took over as manager he insisted that this was reversed, but arguably the damage had already been done and it took time for the system to recover.
In the 2000s the picture got worse with the club only blooding 3 youngsters who went on to play 25 league games or more and, again, none of them reached the 100 mark. This decade corresponded largely with the Premier League years where the bar for a successful career in the first team was arguably heightened and, again, increased access to foreign markets presented plenty of opportunities to recruit quality foreign talent.
In the 2010s a couple of things happened to improve the chances for youngsters. Firstly, the club spent the vast majority of the decade in the Championship and, arguably, giving more opportunities for youngsters to make the grade at a lower level than the Premier League. Secondly there seemed to be more focus on the youth set-up, particularly as money became tighter for wages and transfers.
The club gave debuts to 7 youngsters during this decade who went on to play 25 league games or more but, yet again, none of them reached the 100 mark. The fact that none of them reached the 100 mark is partly due to the wider economics of the game and the financial situation at Blues. Nathan Redmond, Jack Butland, Demarai Gray and Jude Bellingham were all sold to sides in the top tier of their respective countries, often to help improve Blues finances and also to help meet players’ aspirations. Each of these could easily have gone on to be long term fixtures in Blues side if circumstances had been different. However, it’s encouraging that the Academy is now developing such high quality players.
Turning to the current decade, the Academy now has Category 1 status and several players, most notably Jordan James, have made their debut this season. It is to be hoped that the club continue to invest in and develop the Academy further so that we can return to the situation of a few decades ago where youngsters can do what most fans would want and develop a successful career in the first team. Demarai Gray currently holds the record for the most league games for a Blues youngster who debuted this century with 72 appearances. Let’s hope this is beaten in the next couple of years.
And that player that was mentioned at the top of the article? It was Paul Tait. He was the last Academy youngster to go on and play more than 100 games for Blues.
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