This article appeared in "True Faith" Fanzine
Teenage Kicks 1
While Bobby Robson continues to scour the footballing World for affordable talent to bolster his bid for senior success, on the hired pitches of Durham University, the process is being repeated for the next generation.
Under the guidance of Youth Academy coaches Alan Irvine and Kenny Wharton, Newcastle are now acquiring and assessing talented young players from areas undreamed of under previous regimes. While the traditional breeding grounds of Northern England and the Home Nations still supply many young hopefuls dreaming of wearing the black and white, Bobby Robson's influence has now seen an influx of players from as far afield as New Zealand, Norway, France and inevitably, South America.
Despite lacking purpose-built facilities (with their proposed Academy site in the Byker area of the City still a wasteland) the search is now on for the next generation of potential Shearer's and Tino's. While the future of the whole transfer system remains uncertain, the financial excesses of Kevin, Kenny and Rudi now seem as much a part of our history as standing on the Gallowgate or winning at Wembley. Investment in potential is now the path being followed.
Ironically, while Keegan virtually ignored the junior sides and dismantled the reserve team, his successor did much to establish the present setup. Dalglish appointed Alan Irvine on the strength of the progressive youth policy he masterminded at Blackburn. Significantly, he also reformed the reserve side.
The much-maligned Gullit also played a part during his spell at United, giving promising youngsters experience of training with the senior squad, as well as being at the helm when the present two-level Premier Academy leagues were established to replace the old Northern Intermediate side.
Now with the arrival of Uncle Bobby, the first fruits of the Irvine-led operation have become evident and the whole outlook of the club now seems more youth-oriented - a far cry from the days of messrs Rush, Barnes and Pearce. While Robson has no hands-on role in the youth setup, his subsequent promotion of young players such as Kerr, Ameobi, Coppinger and Steve Caldwell can only encourage their contemporaries to force their way forwards by catching the eye of reserve team coach Tommy Craig.
The next few years should now see a steady flow of youngsters graduating to the first team from the Youth Academy via the reserves, and while the Geordie XI John Hall dreamed of may never now be realised, at least our lads will have been moulded into professionals on Tyneside. That's got to be preferable to signing yet more cheques for over-priced players with over-inflated egos to bleed us dry.
Five to watch:
1. Peter Ramage - Whitley Bay-born
central defender, who this season is captaining the under 17 side and
developing well, not only as a stopper but also a threat in the opposition
box at set pieces.