Karren Brady reckons everyone involved in youngster’s life has a responsibility to help keep them on straight and narrow
WEST HAM set a record never to be broken, I suspect, when in 1965 they won a European trophy with a fully English side — an English breakfast of a team with no fewer than eight players locally sourced.
Fifty-two years later Everton might well have fielded the best we can expect this season, when eight men from our country kicked off in the Premier League at the Etihad, no doubt the product of club academies.
We have come a long way in that time, from a £100-a-week wage for some of the best players in the world to as much as £20,000 a week now — and, by the way, that’s for a teenager.
England’s World Cup captain Bobby Moore’s academy was the playground of the Tom Hood School in Leytonstone.
Although the young Hammers of the late Fifties did have what was generously called “a youth set-up” that each week turned out as many as half a dozen teams in the leagues around London.
Today we spend £4million a year on our academy and, while there is plenty of talent in the area, polishing up one gem a year would be seen as a success, much enjoyed by our supporters who love to see a local boy make it.
These lads are not only honed, trained and taught, they are attended by physiotherapists, psychologists and lots of other-ists in an attempt to keep themselves, as Boy Scouts are supposed to be, “clean in word, thought and deed”. Well, you can only hope.
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Even so, the ones who seriously stray are rare, much rarer than when I first came into football.
The naughtiest I came across, in terms of public misbehaviour at least, was Jermaine Pennant, whose parole from jail for drink-driving offences provided me with the dubious pleasure of supervising him at Birmingham.
Jermaine, who at 34 has just signed for Billericay Town, says this about his problems: “Obviously, I made many mistakes. But I was young and it was exciting.
“You have a lot of money at such a young age — as well as the responsibilities and pleasures.
“You’re in the public eye and I was just enjoying it and not realising I was also a role model. But I’m different now.”
There was nothing wrong with him that a good mum and sensible discipline wouldn’t have put right.
But Jermaine’s mother died of cancer when he was three and his father was then something of a rolling stone.
With that history he has had a decent, if chequered, career with, among many others, Liverpool and Stoke. Quite probably football itself has been his guiding light.
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Whether today’s improved academy education would have transformed him into the exciting international he might have become is quite impossible to gauge.
Except that Jermaine was taken from his Nottingham home as a 15-year-old boy and even Arsene Wenger’s enlightened regime at Arsenal was unable to contain the brainlessness that soon followed.
Young men with big money are notoriously attractive to hangers-on, nightclub owners, flashy girls, drug pushers, suspect financial advisers and gamblers.
I’m no great supporter of agents in general but good ones have a tremendous part to play in developing the character of lads with highly competitive instincts and enough testosterone to inspire envy in a Russian athletics coach.
Ultimately, though, the moral obligation is to clubs to provide sensitive care.
And while the market dictates that we pay very well, at West Ham we contract outstanding youngsters for five years on a basic wage, plus incentives.
Overall, a talented young pro should enjoy the best years of his life.