Could Academy Football In England Become A Casualty of Coronavirus?



Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a major effect on the way we live our lives with the country entering its third week of lockdown. On Friday 13th March 2020 the Premier League and EFL announced that football would be suspended until Saturday 4th April.......that now looks likely to be suspended until Saturday 6th June 2020 at the earliest when football could return to our screens in a very different format to the one that left us before the virus began. It is expected that Premier League and EFL will resume in June behind closed doors, but we examine in this article how the deadly Coronavirus could kill off Academy football within England.

Academy football within England has always been one of a contentious issue, are they effective? Do they produce the players required for first team football? Are they a financial burden to clubs up and down the country in the hope that they can unearth that one Wayne Rooney like star that can earn the clubs millions? In all honesty Academy football appears to become more prevalent the further you go down the football pyramid, however COVID-19 is likely to effect that when football returns this summer.

In 2016, Championship side Brentford become the latest side to scrap their Academy, citing that players it did produce were snapped up earlier and earlier by bigger teams so it opted to install a B team to sign players to that hadn’t quite made it at those bigger clubs. Statistically according to Richard Allen the FA Head of Talent Identification ““only 0.5% of those signed by a professional club aged Under 9 will go all the way through to play in the club’s first-team.”

It is this stat that will play on the mind of chairman up and down the country as they return to their clubs in dire need of cutting costs. Former Stevenage and Newport County Boss Graham Westley has always been critical of the set-up of Academies within England, “I watch my 11-year-old playing football on a Sunday and he doesn’t really know whether he’s won or lost the game, what he knows is that he’s done some nice things with the ball.”. It is alongside this criticism and Allen’s warning about players not making the cut along with recent studies that revealed EFL clubs are spending on average £100,000 per year (depending on size) on their Academies that could result in clubs deciding that they will close their Academies as soon as they return this summer, potentially leaving 12,000 upcoming players with nowhere to ply their trade professionally.......the mental health implications could be seismic.

Of course for every discussion that will revolve around the closing down of Academies across England there will be the counter argument that clubs may turn to their Academies in the coming years to shed some of the larger wages and therefore accept, regardless of the players talents, that they could potentially save more money by using the Academy players and shedding some of their bigger stars.......this scenario is more likely to be used the further down the pyramid you go as the players are young, talented and free. There is little to no risk involved for a club to sign them. If they don’t develop then they can be released and find their place in the footballing pyramid. If they do develop they are a free first team player or can be sold for massive resale value. A huge return on investment.

Football will have a major part to play in helping the country rebuild after this pandemic and it will return with its usual excitement and entertainment that we love, however there is an interesting situation evolving as to what measures clubs will take to save costs and whether the Coronavirus could cause the death of Academy football within England.

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