Should more young English players go abroad for chances?
By Joe Harker
Borussia Dortmund player Jadon Sancho is top of the assist charts in Europe with his tally of six. Mostly used as a substitute, Sancho seems to have a knack for producing the perfect final pass to set up a teammate. He has been so good that the talented youngster has been called up to England's senior squad for the first time. Others looking to make the grade could see Sancho as an example to follow, particularly as he has done something few English players do, go abroad.
Once the jewel in the crown of Manchester City's youth teams, Sancho made the incredible decision to reject a new contract and moved to Dortmund. City had offered the player a new contract but the player reportedly didn't trust the club's assurances that he'd get time on the pitch. Taking on the number seven shirt at Dortmund, he has become something of a super sub at the club.
Other players have enjoyed success without heading abroad. Phil Foden is the new wonderkid at City's academy and he is sure that staying put is the right decision, even if he would play more often elsewhere. Foden is happy to be training alongside the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne while working under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola. Sancho felt he needed to play, Foden believes he still has much to learn and is prepared to wait.
However, the decisions of the two players will not pay dividends for several years. Sancho's move appears to be working for him and Foden is happy to stay put, only time will tell whether they made the right choices. If Sancho doesn't progress beyond the role of super sub at Dortmund it could be said that he should have waited a little longer before heading out to get his chances at senior level.
Conversely, if Foden never becomes a regular at City and ends up being yet another promising youngster who never quite realised his potential then people will be queuing up to tell him he shouldn't have stayed at City, whose much touted academy is yet to produce a regular first team player. There are hopes that Foden will be the first one to make it.
Man City are not the only club with a reputation for having a star studded academy but little to no opportunities for talented youngsters to progress. Chelsea have a multitude of players who have been touted as the next big thing and their youth teams have been wildly successful in the past few years, but that hasn't translated into a slew of academy stars making the step up.
The real problem many young players face is the lack of a pathway from their slot in the youth academy to the senior team. Without a plan for the future development of a player and the dedication to stick to it many prospects will do well at a youth level before hitting the wall when the times comes to make the step up. Those who are identified as good enough for the club need to have space made for them, even if it comes at the expense of a senior squad player. If a player is good enough but acting as backup to the backup then they will not get enough time to prove themselves.
A lack of opportunities can also be detrimental to progress in the national team. Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek earned himself a place in Gareth Southgate's England squad for the World Cup and made several appearances, but Southgate has not picked him for the upcoming Nations League games against Croatia and Spain.
The Three Lions manager has made it clear that his players need to be playing, having been picked before is no guarantee of making the next squad. If players want to break into the senior team at international level they need to be somewhere they are getting regular football.
Clubs need to be wiser to the possibility of their brightest talents moving abroad to secure playing time. After all, no club wants to have the next big thing leave their youth academy and blossom elsewhere.