A recent article in The Sentinel tried to put a value on the graduates who had come out of the academies of this season’s Premiership clubs. Unsurprisingly the top three were Manchester United (with 238 million pounds worth of graduates, Southampton (192 million) and Arsenal (151 million) with five other clubs, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Spurs, all developing over 100 million pounds worth of players.
Whether all of these players ended up playing for their respective clubs, or even if the club recouped a proportion of the value their graduates are now worth, is surely worthy of further debate elsewhere. Southampton, for example, introduced the world to Gareth Bale but did not see anything like the 85 million pounds Real Madrid paid for him.
From a Stoke perspective one thing is abundantly clear from the table however, Stoke City have historically not been very good at identifying or nurturing talented youth players and to emphasize this point The Sentinel put together a Starting XI of current footballers who began their career with the Potters:
What is evident from the above team is that apart from Kris Commons (and debatably Karl Henry), none of the team has, of yet, made any impact on the upper echelons of the game. Yes I admit I am clutching at straws with these two, Commons only “made it” when he found the comfort zone of Scottish football and Henry made even less of an impression as part of a Wolves team who struggled in the Premiership.
Stoke’s total youth team graduate value of 10.2 million pounds may make you wince or you may try to argue that Stoke hasn’t got the pulling power of the big clubs but only Hull, out of this season’s clubs, has a lower graduate value of 9.6 million pounds. Yes, Burnley, Bournemouth and even West Brom it seems have better youth policies than Stoke.
Of course one side of the problem is identifying young players and persuading them to move to the Potteries but hopefully this seems to have been addressed, it has been well documented in the local press the number of young players from all over Europe who now play for Stoke’s various academy and youth teams. The other side of the problem is ensuring these players develop sufficiently enough that they are ready to play for the first team and then giving them the chance to do so.
The new rules, which now allow Premiership teams to be able to play an under 23 team in the newly branded Checkatrade Trophy, will allow Stoke’s youngsters to play in more meaningful games but the worry for Stoke fans is that Mark Hughes is beginning to imitate his predecessor in their reluctance to give youth a chance. A policy which was evidenced once more on Sunday with John Walters being squeezed into a right wing role that does not suit him and Ramadan Sobhi not even making the bench. I appreciate Hughes and his backroom team are facing a difficult time at the moment but reaching for the experienced option has not worked for the last dozen or so games so surely it must be time to try something else.
Looking around the other clubs in the Premiership, Iheanacho has been warming the bench at Manchester City and when called on has made an impact because he has been around and been part of City’s first team squad. At Everton, Holgate and Davies have been dependable when asked to play and at Spurs the impact of Alli and Kane has been well documented. Bournemouth have invested in Ibe, and whilst he has not recreated his Liverpool form, he has been given a chance. At Manchester United, Rashford, the list goes on and on but sadly it does not include Stoke.
So when I see Stoke are being linked to yet another up and coming young player, like the recent gossip surrounding Jakub Jankto from Udinese, I find it difficult to get excited because, even if they were foolish enough to sign, I doubt they would get more than a handful of games. And what would I say if I was asked by a young player being courted by Stoke?
Remember Ritchie De Laet, not good enough for Stoke but last season became the first player ever to win the Premiership and the Championship in the same season. He may not have been good enough to play for Stoke when he was with us, but then again he may have been. De Laet never played a league game for Stoke so I guess we’ll never know.