Date: 31st May 2011 at 9:50pm
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Blackpool’s youth system’s productivity over the past few years can be best described as ‘sparse’. Very few players have come through the ranks and made the grade with the Seasiders or indeed other Football League clubs. Indeed, just three youth team players on the club’s books have been offered professional contracts this summer; Adam Dodd, Liam Tomsett and Tom Barkhuizen.

There are of course many reasons for this; from not being able to attract players because of bigger clubs on our doorstep to the coaching network not being adequate to the quality of players generally just not being good enough, and so on.

BFC are of course not alone in this; many clubs in England have shockingly low success rates when it comes to developing young players through their academies. The likes of Crewe are exceptions; hence why Dario Gradi is so revered.

This has long been a problem in the English game, and determined to rectify that, the Premier League and Football League are making changes to way that youth football is structured in this country; hence the revamp announced today.

As the club’s official website states, the club’s Under 11, 13 and 15 sides are to be disbanded with the best players in those teams moving up to the team above.

Several coaching staff are also set to leave the club, and are being replaced by some familiar names, such as ex ‘Pool left back Alan Wright, with Head of Youth Jamie Shore reportedly eager to bring a real BFC feel to the Centre of Excellence (the club already have the likes of Phil Clarkson and Jamie Milligan on the books as coaches).

At face value, this appears to be a positive move by the club; the standard of coaching should improve, whilst they’ll also be able to concentrate on developing the better players within the youth ranks, while continuing to feed on scraps from bigger clubs.

That doesn’t mean that our youth system is perfect by any means; for example, what would happen if a keeper in the U13s gets released this summer because the club don’t feel he is tall enough, but then he grows another six inches over the next twelve months? A hypothetical scenario of course, but one that just shows how hit and miss bringing youth players through can be, even if you pump millions into your Centre of Excellence. Indeed, the likes of Manchester United spend millions of pounds a year on their youth set-up, yet haven’t really produced a steady stream of talent who have stepped up the rigours of first team football since the mid 90s.

In his recent meeting with AVFTT members, BFC chairman Karl Oyston stated his belief that the club’s youth set-up should be more community orientated and geared less towards developing players for the first team, but today’s plans and associated quotes attributed to Jamie Shore appear to contradict that. Indeed, why would Shore have been brought to the club last Christmas unless the club were looking to develop players and bring them through the ranks?

It is clear that the club rate Shore very highly (as entrusting him with these reforms show), and hopefully he can improve the fortunes of the youth set-up at the club.

One thing is for certain though; he’ll have to improve on the results he has achieved with our youth team since taking over the job.

Prior to him taking over, the youth team had played eleven, won ten, and lost one. After his arrival however, they played thirteen, won one, drew one and lost eleven – a remarkable reverse of fortunes.

There have been some claims that his methods have not got down well with some of those within the youth set-up. We don’t know whether there is any truth to this or not, but is it clear that star striker Tom Barkhuizen’s injury did affect the team (he had scored twenty goals in fourteen appearances prior to his injury).

That said, those who have defended him by stating that he wasn’t able to select his strongest side (Barkhuizen aside) for the majority of his games in charge are misguided as the points below illustrate:

(N.B. The BFC youth website does not list line-ups or results for any game strangely, so am I using the stats listed within the first team programme from the last home game of the season against Bolton, which only fails to include the line-ups against Bury, Oldham and Wrexham, and the results against Stockport or Wigan, all of which are games that Shore was in charge of).

*Pre-Shore, either Kettings or Tarney started every game in goal. Post-Shore, either Kettings or Tarney started every game in goal, with the exception of the Shrewsbury game, where Gardikiotis started.

*Pre-Shore, out of a possible eleven games, the following players regularly started games in defence (appearances in brackets) – Challinor (11), Roberts (11), Mitter (11), Youanda (9). Post-Shore, out of a possible ten games, the following regularly started games at the back – Challinor (9), Roberts (9), Mitter (9), O’Connor (5), Youanda (4). As you can see, the only real difference is Biko Youanda only making four appearances (with O’Connor starting five of the games Youanda didn’t), otherwise the back four was essentially as consistent as it was post-Christmas.

*Pre-Shore, out of a possible eleven games, the following regularly started games in midfield – Thomsett (10), Thompson (10), Reynolds (10), Dodd (9), MacDonald (8). Post-Shore, out of a possible ten games, the following regularly started games in midfield – Thomsett (9), Dodd (8), Reynolds (8). MacDonald started just five times (but was on the bench twice), whilst Thompson appeared just three times. Still fairly consistent, though.

Hopefully the results and stats above simply mark a transitional phase for the youth set-up and Jamie Shore, and the changes made today will allow him demonstrate why he is regarded so highly.

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