With Arsenal looking at bringing in at least three new foreign players in the next window, are young English players getting a chance at the highest level or are they pushed away?
I had a look at 100 English players born between 1996 and 2000 who have been capped by England from u17 to u23 level. A few of them have gone to play for the Lionesses. One player has also switched to Wales in terms of their National team.
Where do they play now?
It seems up to three of them have retired from football with no football club listed for the last six to twelve months. There is one player who plays her football in France D1 Arkema (Dear).
There are 19 playing for US universities in the NCAA, obviously at an excellent level combining football and study. The remaining 77 of them still play in England, with 44 of them in the FA WSL.
That’s less than 50% of the total number of players surveyed.
In the USA
19 players are all playing in the top tier in the NCAA.
One has been capped already by the Lionesses (Russo) and another one has been invited to a senior camp a couple of times already (Patten). Three of them have been called up for the u23 team, also referred to as the u21s by the FA (Wubben-Moy, Cashin, Parker).
Now, if we specifically look at respective tiers where those 77 players are playing, 44=are playing in the FA WSL.
26 play in the Championship, six are in the third tier the FA Women’s National League North and South and there is one in the fourth tier. We can also note that there is a small number of FA WSL players currently on loan in Championship sides.
There are 44 players currently playing in tier1 in England the FA WSL.
The top team in terms of numbers is Tottenham with seven. They have come up through the tiers and obviously had to recruit players who were good enough for this level. They brought in a mix of experience and those English players.
Second are Everton and Birmingham with six players each. Both clubs have a solid tradition of bringing homegrown players through their youth teams to the seniors and it is absolutely not a surprise to see them high-up in the table.
Bristol City and Liverpool are next with five. I think this policy is a mix of a smaller budget that does not allow the purchase of big players too often combined with a willingness to give youth a chance whenever possible. Shopping for bargain and up-and-coming players is also needed within those clubs and those England youngsters are certainly in the latter bracket rather than the finished products the top three teams look for.
Manchester City is next with four players who are top quality, one of which is an exceptional talent. They clearly only take top level English youngsters.
Man United have three players, but they have sent a few on loan to the Championship, so that number might be a bit higher once those players have acquired more experience.
Reading, West Ham and Brighton have two players from the 1996-2000 generation, although those clubs do have experienced English players. All of them also recruited a good number of foreign players to complement their team. At the end of the day, the number of top quality English players is finite, so it is a tough market for buyers and going abroad might actually be easier than pursuing those Lionesses or Lionesses-in-waiting.
At the bottom of the list are Arsenal and Chelsea with just one player from that age group.
It is quite obvious that Champions League-chasing teams like those two do not really promote players from inside the club and try to bring top quality internationals instead.
Leah Williamson, who came through the ranks at Arsenal, and Jess Carter at Chelsea who came from Birmingham are the only two. In that respect, Man City, the other Champions League chasing team are doing a better job.
It is important to note, however, that both London clubs have used Academy players to supplement their first team squads when rotating to rest players over the last two seasons, but they were mainly 16-to-19-years old, so younger that the age group I am analysing in this post
Where do they come from?
Another interesting statistic is the number of players that came through a certain club during their youth career. There are a few who moved from club to club, so I had to assign them one team only.
I selected the clubs they played for in the latter part of their youth career, mainly at u17 and u19 level. That’s why Charlton, who had so many players in the younger age groups, are not in there.
Arsenal with 22 and Chelsea with 14 are clear leaders.
In third position are Birmingham with 10, a traditional club with a well-worn pathway to the first team for their youth players. Then comes Aston Villa and Millwall with six and Sunderland with five. That’s no surprise as those three teams are a stronghold in youth football and bring young players through on regular basis. Sunderland have provided many Lionesses through the years.
England caps at Senior and youth level
From our 100 player sample, seven are currently with the Lionesses.
That is quite a small percentage and it is normal as it is the elite football level for English players. There are also six who are on the verge of senior football, have been invited to camps or have been capped previously but not called-up recently.
The huge majority of the players have been called up at u23 level (39) but not many are able to make the next step for obvious reasons ie quality and skill. There are also many players who stopped being called up at u19 level (37). The remainder are those who went up to the u20 team (9) and those who did not make it further than the u17 teams (2).
It is quite obvious that access to the top teams is restricted for young English players, especially at the top of the table. Out of the 44 players, 13% are playing for the top three teams. 36% play for the bottom three sides who are fighting to avoid relegation, while the remaining 50% are playing for mid-table teams.
I think the youth system in England works well until the players reach 19 or 20 and then there is a development problem as players need game time to carry on improving and developing further.
Some clubs will certainly offer opportunities as identified above, but others will look abroad for finished products as they need to get results rather than gamble on developing a youngster.
It shows in the number of foreign players in the FA WSL as per below:
There is no doubt that only exceptional players will make it to the top at a very young age like Lauren Hemp or Georgia Stanway. But it is not that easy for players like Rianna Dean or Poppy Pattinson, for example. They could become top quality players in a couple of seasons but are maturing at a slightly slower rate and although they have played for a big three team they did not get a consistent chance and had to go somewhere else.
This is the dilemma for clubs. They could keep those youngsters as understudies to starting players and then phase them in progressively in order to have them ready in a couple of seasons. Or buy the finished product in order to “guarantee” immediate results.
At the end of the day, it all depends on the clubs and their manager’s philosophy regarding youngsters, as well as business opportunities and budget limitations.