by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)
This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.
Former professional footballer and FA coach Noel Blake1 has a different outlook to that of the Director of Cardiff City’s academy, Neal Ardley (for further information on Ardley’s opinion see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/protection-part-one-archive/) – one he admits is selfish.
While academies and centres of excellence just want the best players regardless of nationality or racial origins, Blake wants more from them. He wants English academies to develop English talent.
“From a selfish point of view I wouldn’t want foreign boys to come to the academy anyway in all honesty, because this is England”, he told us exclusively. “Obviously I’ve got a selfish point of view. I want to see English players developed in England. At the appropriate time – senior level – fine, but I don’t think our academies should be encouraging young players from far afield, who can’t play for the national teams, to come to England. I don’t think it’s right.”
Developing Young English Talent
Blake wants English academies to concentrate on developing English players. “Forget that I was working for the FA, because I was saying this before”, he said, “I had a couple of foreign boys in the academy, but they played for their nation. The fact of the matter is as I have said previously and I stand by this statement, I wouldn’t like to see our academies or youth development programme flooded with non-English players, because for me we’ve got to get back into a system where the English players come through our academy system”.
His main concern is ensuring that young English talent comes through and benefits first and foremost from the academies and centres of excellence of English clubs. “My views are in terms of youth development programmes”, said Blake. “I don’t think it would be wise for young players from further afield to be allowed academy places, so I can’t sit here and endorse twenty or so foreign players coming to our academies”.
But Blake has nothing against foreign players in principle. English leagues have benefited from top foreign talent. Gianfranco Zola was one of the most skilful foreign imports, becoming a Chelsea legend in the process. He helped to bring through young players at Chelsea. Zola remembered when he was a young player in Italy and had the opportunity to learn from top foreigners that made Serie A the envy of Europe at the time.
Zola found himself denied opportunities at Napoli because he was behind two foreigners in the pecking order – one was the Brasilian, Careca. The other was one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game – Diego Armando Maradona. Zola makes no complaint about it. They were better than him at the time and he had the opportunity to learn from them in training. It made him a better player.
He eventually moved to Parma and was a great success there before being forced out of the club by Carlo Ancelotti – the Chelsea manager accepts that he made a mistake letting Zola go. Parma’s loss was Chelsea’s gain, but Blake’s concern over foreigners is not at first team level.
It is domestic talent in English academies that Blake wants to protect. “In terms of senior players that’s a different matter”, said Blake. “If the club then want to sign senior players at first team level, that’s down to them”.
But if a European club had the opportunity to sign a schoolboy Lionel Messi or Cesc Fàbregas, should they refuse? Barçelona didn’t and nor did Arsenal and nor would other clubs when offered the chance to sign such talent so cheaply. They could have waited, but the price would have been significantly higher and that’s the bottom line.
1After seven years as an FA coach including spells in charge of England Under-19 and Under-20, Blake left in June 2014. He joined Blackpool despite the chaotic situation at that club.