First things first, this isn’t a rant against the academy system.
At Sheffield United, as the career trajectories of Kyle Walker, Stephen Quinn and Kyle Naughton demonstrate since progressing through the ranks, it works pretty damn well.
But elsewhere, because one size doesn’t fit all, is a completely different matter. While home-grown players such as Louis Reed and Terry Kennedy impress on and off the pitch at Bramall Lane, Saido Berahino and Jack Wilshere do their damndest, admittedly under the glare of a much brighter spotlight and for very different reasons, to prove footballing skills and social savvy do not always go hand in hand.
Then again, given that their first car was probably a Baby Bentley rather than a beaten-up Capri and teenage holidays involved six star trips to Dubai rather than a week’s B&B in Playa d’en Bossa, they can probably be forgiven for being less than, for want of a more impolite word, grounded.
Which is why, personally speaking, I’m always delighted to see those responsible for honing United’s next generation of talent look towards non-league football. Either as a resource for new players, as the recent arrival of both Che Adams and Kieran Wallace demonstrate. Or to help develop those who have taken what is now seen as a more conventional route into the professional game. Like Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has just completed a spell with Stalybridge Celtic.
A spell in the amateur ranks, where hammer-headed centre-halves enjoy kicking lumps out of precocious teenagers showing the first symptoms of megalomania, should be a prerequisite for every wanna-be footballer who stands a chance of earning a full-time living from the game. Because, for risk of sounding like the miserable git that I am, it’s bloomin’ character building.
Okay, remembering what I said earlier, probably not all. But some would certainly benefit from experiencing life outside the cosy confines of an academy.
The ease with which Adams and Wallace have adapted to life at United after leaving Ilkeston illustrates that clubs on the upper four rungs of the English pyramid are not the only ones capable of providing excellent sporting educations.
And, if nothing else, it would remind them of the opportunity and facilities they are privileged to have been given and make benefit of.