DAYS when a young David Beckham would dedicate extra hours to developing his iconic ball-bending technique or Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand would spend hours practising in steel cages outside their childhood homes appear to be over.
And while the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan obliges the nation’s most gifted youngsters to undertake 10,000 hours work on the training pitch, from the ages of nine to 21, players are not doing enough in their own time to refine their skills.
That is the view of Charlton Athletic’s academy director Paul Hart, one of the country’s most respected figures in youth development.
The Addicks recently passed their EPPP audit to receive Category Two status and, while their long-term goal is to earn an upgrade, they are effectively open to a Category One club poaching the cream of their crop in the meantime.
Hart has no problem with the finest players possessing the desire to reach the very top, but believes it is often for the wrong reasons and that their moves contribute to the English talent pool being drained.
“Sometimes a young man has to ask himself why he is moving club. It’s probably because he’s getting paid £20,000 more a week,” said the former QPR and Crystal Palace manager. “It is difficult to separate ambition and those sort of figures when you’re moving up.
“The EPPP is very definitely designed for Premier League clubs to get the best players. Clubs do give boys their three or four nights a week and weekends, but then what we find is kids don’t practice.
“Days of unstructured coaching when you played against older and younger boys, played 11-a-side or five-a-side and learned from your peers doesn’t take place anymore.
“The EPPP is supposed to have dealt with that, but my 10,000 hours was done pre-16, unstructured, and I was out all day and all night playing football. It doesn’t happen anymore.
“There is another side to this. Managers’ tenures are reducing annually, so how can he be expected to play young players when you have to hit the ground running?
“If a manager is going to get the sack in 12 months time he isn’t going to be encouraged to play them, because he has to play his best side.”
Hart’s philosophy before taking players from another club to his own academy, as he did with two of AFC Wimbledon’s rising stars last season, is to determine not only whether they are good enough, but whether a move would be in their own best interests.
However, he believes that philosophy of caring for a player’s welfare is not shared nationwide and that the EPPP model will simply see youngsters fail to progress from top academies to Premier League clubs’ first teams.
“If they’re going to take all these boys, pay money for them, what is the point if they’re not going to play?” said Hart. “At Charlton we provide players with a pathway to the first team. You move and you could get lost. People don’t always act in the best interests of development. If someone came here to take one of our players I don’t think they would give a monkeys about what is best for that player in the long-term.”