Since Mike Ashley’s arrival as owner of Newcastle United, much emphasis has been placed on his drive to develop the club’s youth system.
Recent news has broken that Mike Ashley is has apparently given the go ahead to invest around £15 million in youth prospects over the next three years.
It is said that Ashley’s ambition for the club to scout Europe and the world and bring in affordable yet talented young players who can then be developed in our youth system for our first team, allowing us to compete on an even keel with some of Europe’s elite clubs.
What I am wondering, however, is has there really been much progression in the club developing these youngsters? Is this investment actually showing an improvement in return?
It has been around four years since Ashley’s arrival. In that time we have brought in a number of top youth prospects, but unfortunately, to my eyes, not many of them, despite their supposed potential seem to be making the grade.
Names like Wesley Baheng, Tamas Kadar, Ben Tozer, Nile Ranger, Samuel Adjei and Fabio Zamblera were all talked up as stars of the future, but for some or other reason have faded, and have either left the club or made little to no progress.
I tried to think of any success stories, and the name of Tim Krul came to mind, but it’s worth pointing out that Krul was in fact purchased under Freddy Shepherd’s regime.
Andy Carroll was another name that came through the youth ranks, and although we lost him to Liverpool, we managed to make the tidy sum of £35 million profit. He too though was with the club before any of these, new and improved youth investments were taking place.
Even some of our local boys who we felt were showing some talent,seem to have been halted in their progress.
Fraser Foster, Kazenga Lua Lua, Phil Airey, Brad Inman and even Shane Ferguson, who until the Brighton match seemed to have fallen out of the first team picture, despite impressing the season before.
Even the neat capture of young Everton prospect Dan Gosling which caused much excitement at the time, seems to have been overhyped, as two seasons later, Gosling himself barely features in the first team fixtures, although he looked good in pre-season fixtures.
There are a few positives – with the likes of Mehdi Abeid and Haris Vuckic, who were perhaps the stars of our pre-season tour of the States. Personally I feel young Sammy Ameobi doesn’t look ready for the first team.
Both Abied and Vuckic, have been in or around the first team squad this year, and looked good, but will need to improve, as they both reach that crunch time in their Newcastle careers, where it will soon be make or break.
There are players of the same age, like Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, Everton’s Jack Rodwell and Blackburn’s David Hoilett, who are already first team regulars, performing at a high standard.
The last thing we as supporters want to see, is money being spent in developing these young players from around the world, and then seeing them released or go stagnant in the reserves.
I feel in the past year or so, Mike Ashley and specifically Graham Carr have done a remarkable job at finding quality purchases at reasonable fees when it comes to already established players, but has their work in the youth set up been anywhere near as successful?
There has always been the odd success story, with names like Steven Taylor, Andy Carroll, Tim Krul and Shola Ameobi (choke) but surely with all this added focus on youth we should be seeing a noticeable improvement in the number of youths coming through to challenge for the first team?
To date, it doesn’t seem like many of the young hopefuls have made the grade. One can only hope Vuckic and Abied will be the first to buck that trend and go on to star in the first team for years to come.
Is the investment in the youth system showing improvement from where is was before the Ashley regime, or should we perhaps concentrate our investment on established players? Without of course neglecting the youth setup (Keegan style) which itself would be silly.