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Interview: Ex-Premier League players on the Problem with Young Footballers

Outside of the Boot had the opportunity to speak with ex-Premier League players – Manchester City’s Paul Dickov, Leicester City’s Gerry Taggart and Everton’s Graham Stuart, earlier this week. Our conversations largely revolved around young players, and more specifically, the problems with the modern day version of them.

Brendan Rodgers put it across perfectly a couple of weeks back “Lots of young players these days look good, they smell nice, but they don’t put the work in. They don’t play. It’s about working to play for the first team”. Rodgers, who besides being a manager has earned a reputation of developing young players with his pure coaching skills, was warning youngsters of being vary of the riches of football.

“Do hardwork first and get to everything else later” Paul Dickov told Outside of the Boot; the now 44-year-old came through the youth academy at Arsenal and played for a host of clubs in England making his name at Manchester City and Leicester City, at a time where young players weren’t as glamorous as they are these days; a time where youngsters put in the hard work first and became celebrities later.

“Some players, not all of them, but some”, ex-Leicester City defender, Gerry Taggart, tells Outside of the Boot, “they love the social media aspect of being a footballer, they love the glamour”.

Former Scottish international, Paul Dickov, even has experience managing lower league clubs with Oldham Athletic and Doncaster Rovers; and during his stints there he sent the hardwork message across to the more junior members. But the money was ultimately going to trickle down wasn’t it?

“We now even see League One youngsters coming in to training in a Range Rover Sport” says Paul. “Do you blame the clubs for giving them too much money? Possibly.”

It’s a tough situation for the clubs as well isn’t it? Young players realise that they have the cards to play (and maybe rightly so); unless a club gives it’s young player what he’s demanding, they’ll move to different pastures and still get that Range Rover Sport.

This BBC article from just over eleven years back in 2006 analysed wages of Premier League footballers; their research suggested a young teenager in his early first team days earning 24,500 pounds a year. Fast forward a decade and a teenager on the fringes of first team football with mainly substitute appearances, can earn more than that in a single week.

That doesn’t sound like a negative for a footballers career though; and it really shouldn’t be. Ultimately footballers like every other sportsperson and non-sportsperson in any industry is trying to maximise their financial situation. So a footballer, even a young one, being rewarded early is a sign of a progressing society and should be commended.

“No one has a problem with good young players earning good money,” ex-Everton player, Graham Stuart told Outside of the Boot. “The problem is when you have average players earning good money”.

And that’s the case in point about football wages that has to be controlled. The problem which this article is alluding to, and backing up what the ex-Premier League players are stating, is that ultimately a lot of young footballers are playing the game for those good early bucks and are consequently hampering their development with a lack of hardwork.

Graham Stuart, who played over 400 games for Chelsea, Everton, Sheffield United, Charlton Athletic and Norwich City, hits the nail on the head. When an average footballer earns an above average wage, the motivation to go the higher distance naturally fades away.

“You have young players roaming in a Bentley after two games in the first team and a couple of substitute appearances” continues Graham.

The problem with high wages at an early age, as even pointed out by Brendan Rodgers, is that it opens up the world of young footballers to a life of glamour – one which is hard to ignore, and one that ultimately leaves them satisfied without wanting or having to push on in their career.

As Paul Dickov said, “When we were young players, coming through the youth teams, we used to clean our own boots”. While Paul isn’t making a claim to roll back the years in that aspect, the essence of hard-work is what is being highlighted here.

Though again, none of these ex-players are suggesting an unethical state of the game. As Graham Stuart further pointed out – the current England U20 team that won the U20 World Cup in the summer, are a testament to good young players developing through. “Good top English kids need to be nurtured, they need to be developed into the first team”, he says. These are the good players, as stated by him earlier, that deserve the good money.

It’s key that Graham has pointed out ‘nurturing’  in his comment. Often when we speak about developing young players we assume (and possibly coaches target) their footballing development. While it’s key that young players are developed from a footballing sense, the onus is on youth coaches to nurture them outside the football field as well. Clubs and academies need to ensure proper mentoring is provided to these young players outside of the sport.

Gerry, who played nearly 600 games for six different clubs including the likes of Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City (besides Leicester), further expanded on Graham’s earlier point: “I don’t know how much education they are getting. Especially when they’re going to get so much money at a young age after signing a contract”.

You obviously remember the first pay-check you received in your first job, or atleast the first significant one. At a young age it was a fairly decent sum of money which you didn’t possess a month prior. And now suddenly you have the opportunity to go out there and buy yourself something nice.

Now imagine being a young footballer, who is given a few hundred thousand every week. The inclination is to spend it, on that Range Rover Sport, on that Bentley – but ‘nurturing’ from the clubs/academies in a holistic sense is key. And this ties directly back into their footballing abilities. The young players need to be nurtured that despite their now obtainable fancy toys, it’s good hard work that’s finally gonna see them sail through.

“Discipline and respect”, Paul says “This is what we were taught. Life skills. I don’t know if they get that anymore”

This, unfortunately would be the bitter truth and the unethicalness of the modern game. If footballers aren’t given this at an early age, it can certainly lead to a hampered footballing career and some unrealised potential. When you further note that some of these young players are already living a glamorous lifestyle after that first professional contract, nurturing them becomes all that more difficult.

Ultimately, a successful start to a young footballers career is simple.

“Forget the talent, forget the technical aspects”, Gerry continues “Hunger. And Desire. These are the most important things. Have that, and it will paper over whatever other cracks there are”.

Paul, Graham and Gerry were part of the Premier League Live event in Bengaluru.

Sami Faizullah

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