Casual observers of the Academy set up at Newcastle may have been
forgiven for asking just what has been going on within the club’s junior
ranks in recent months.
Tabloid newspaper stories of internal rifts between players and coaching staff
before Christmas were largely ignored by the local press and the club made no
comment, only for midfielder Neale McDermott to walk out on the club in favour
of Fulham on transfer deadline day in January.
Since then more tales have
appeared in the national media, with rumours continued to circulate about the
departures from United of more highly-rated young prospects.
And fuel was added to the
fire when former Newcastle and England midfielder Terry McDermott went on the
record via the official Fulham website with what amounted to an attack on the
Newcastle setup that his son swapped for life in London.
McDermott senior was quoted as saying:
”I’m very happy for Neale
because now he has a great chance and he couldn’t be at a better place as
far as I’m concerned.
am flabbergasted with the Academy set up here, it is fantastic. I can’t
believe how open and honest the Club is and that hooked me straight from the
like a big happy family here and that’s all credit to everyone from the very
top, to the Manager and down to the Academy lads. Everything here is exactly
the way an academy should be run.”
The implication of those words is that things were anything but professional
within the United ranks. And while McDermott junior had failed to impress this
season in the five games he started, the old “no smoke without fire” maxim
does make one wonder what is going on behind the scenes in toon.
Previous articles in this series have mentioned England youth midfielders Ross
Gardner and James Beaumont as being two of Newcastle’s brighter prospects.
Unfortunately that duo were both named by the Sunday People in mid-February as
being in dispute with the club and “poised to quit the club.”
That paper named Aston Villa as being interested in Beaumont, while a number
of Premiership clubs have been tracking Gardner as he’s represented England
in recent months. Those scouts haven’t had much chance to do so in club
football, where Gardner hasn’t been sighted in academy U19 squads this year
and appeared on the substitutes bench for the reserves in recent weeks.
Ordinarily that would be cause for satisfaction - that he was following the
likes of Hughes and Ameobi from the youth set up in the direction of the
However for the locally-born 18 year-old it seems more a reflection of the
divisions in the academy and the breakdown in communication between staff and
Another Academy player of undoubted potential seems also to have fallen foul
of the current regime at United and for Republic of Ireland winger Alan
O’Brien, this season has been one of frustration when so much was expected
Anyone who saw him torment Coventry in November 2001, when his exuberant wide
play saw him run defenders ragged and help striker Lewis Guy grab five goals,
will have been excited by this prospect.
However, he too is said to have fallen out with the United hierarchy and
although he’s now back in the U19 first team pool after what were officially
nagging injuries that didn’t seem to prevent him representing his country,
he’s struggled to recapture the form that made him stand out previously.
Almost inevitably the shadow of former Academy Director Alan Irvine falls over
the current administration at Newcastle, with the England midfielder trio of
McDermott, Beaumont and Gardner first coming to prominence under his
seem to have arisen since Irvine departed with that group of players and while
it’s tempting to write them off as “bad apples”, the sad fact is that
murmurs of discontent are coming from elsewhere.
It’s in the nature of football that parents will always have high
expectations for their sons, to the extent that they become unrealistic and
counter-productive. However, having seen problems that beset older players,
when similar events start to affect younger Academy members then alarms will
start to ring.
The success of Wayne Rooney at Goodison has undoubtedly made Everton a
desirable destination for aspiring youngsters across the country and Newcastle
is no exception. It remains to be seen when anyone follows Irvine from
Tyneside to Merseyside, but it would almost be surprising if someone didn’t.
Back to the Sunday People, who maintain that “chairman Freddy
Shepherd opted to stand by his staff.” By implication then, those youngsters
unhappy with the current coaching set up either have to knuckle down or pack
Perhaps significantly, Newcastle then made a well-publicised bid for three of
the youngsters who had come through the Ipswich Town youth system and faced
United in a two-legged U17 playoff final in May 2001.
Striker Darren Bent and midfielders Darren Ambrose and Matthew Bloomfield are
all 19 years old and contemporaries of Newcastle products Michael Chopra and
Richard Offiong within the England youth structure.
While the bid from Newcastle was rejected by an indignant Portman Road board,
it’s fairly obvious that our intention, if successful, was to graft in
part-finished talents from elsewhere on to our existing resources – the
fruits of someone else’s labours.
There’s no disgrace in that, and with Ipswich it’s a well-trodden trail
that has put cash in their coffers and Dyer and Bramble in the Champions
League, while other clubs have banked sizeable sums for the likes of Viana and
Jenas. But the message this attempted
three-way swoop sends out is that our academy has failed to produce the
required talent in midfield.
Going back to that May 2001 playoff, in
midfield we utilised Tommy English (now at Livingston), Craig Robson (at
Carlisle on loan to Bishop Auckland) plus current players Chris Moore and
Damon Robson, both of whom have just started to feature in fringes of the
Newcastle reserve side.
By contrast, in Ambrose and
Bent we sought to bring in two players who had recently broken into the
England U21 squad and were playing regular Division One football.
It’s a dilemma that is yet to be fully addressed at a club like ours, where
the chequebook isn’t yet locked in the drawer. How do the youngsters come
through and mature when they don’t need to be pressed into first team action
through financial necessity?
Ask yourself if Jermaine
Jenas would have got a first team chance if he’d come from Newbiggin rather
than Nottingham. As an untried youngster there’d have been justifiable
outcry if he’d been included at the expense of Speed, but is he really that
much better than players who came through the Newcastle youth setup only to be
farmed out to the Nationwide without ever making the first team?
Currently our reserve side
features Republic of Ireland youth fullback duo Stephen Brennan and Joseph
Kendrick, with the former currently shading it in terms of looking the part.
Who knows though whether they’ll force their way into the reckoning, or see
their path blocked by a high-profile signing or two who happen to have the
edge in first team experience somewhere like Crewe?
It’s perhaps churlish to
seek to criticise a club whose first team are deservedly taking the plaudits
both domestically and internationally and fast winning a reputation as one of
the most exciting in Europe.
However, much as Manchester United have failed to reproduce the golden
generation of the Nevilles, Beckham, Scholes etc. in succeeding seasons, then
we’re in danger of seeing youngsters dissuaded from joining us because they
don’t see any possibility of “making it.”
And with more and more youngsters chasing fewer contracts, it’s no longer
enough to have the name of Newcastle United on a footballing CV. Former
juniors such as Kevin Gall, just signed by Conference side Yeovil, are the
lucky ones – many of his contemporaries have drifted out of the game
Alan Shearer had to leave Tyneside and be brought back at great cost before he
took his place in the Geordie Hall of Fame. History could well end up
repeating itself, as youngsters who have been brought up to wear the black and
white shirt find themselves forced to look elsewhere to build careers.
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