Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
England’s Premier League has a long-standing reputation as one of the world’s most competitive domestic divisions. The planet’s richest league has become a mecca for star names and headline acts, though the continuous flow of expensive, overseas talent has often washed away the hopes and dreams of one particular demographic.
While the Premier League is famed for producing exciting football with unpredictable results, the division has achieved notoriety in equal amounts for the lack of first team opportunities afforded to younger players.
Players aged 21 and under that feature regularly for Premier League clubs are among the least spotted species in football.
The reasons for this have been debated back and forth ad nauseam for over a decade, with multiple deductions and postulations thrown around in an attempt to explain the overall reluctance of Premier League clubs and managers to take a chance on kids.
In basic terms, the Premier League has just about the toughest glass ceiling in top level football. Let’s take a look at how it compares to the rest of Europe’s major leagues when it comes to blooding kids.
Premier League compared to the rest of Europe’s “Big 5”
So far in 2018/19, 35 players aged 21 or under have feature in some capacity for clubs in the Premier League. Spain’s La Liga is within touching distance, with 45 players aged 21 or under getting minutes so far this season, though the rest of Europe’s other “Big 5” leagues are out of sight.
Ligue 1 in France leads the way with an incredible 98 players aged 21 or under featuring for French clubs in some capacity this season.
The German Bundesliga comes in second with a healthy 79 players under the same age threshold getting on the pitch this term and 70 budding stars of the same vintage have gained experience in Serie A this season.
Comparatively, Premier League clubs look positively negligent when it comes to managing potential. In England’s top flight, it seems kids shouldn’t be seen OR heard.
It would be churlish not to acknowledge that financial factors and the difference in resources available to Premier League clubs and their counterparts across Europe have a considerable influence on the numbers.
While all Premier League clubs now have the clout to identify and sign players that are immediately fit for purpose, the majority of clubs in Europe’s other top divisions have to be much more considered in their approach.
For many clubs, developing their own players isn’t just a choice – it’s a necessity. It makes sense then that more youngsters are blooded by teams who can’t afford to sign high-priced alternatives.
Premier League Breakdown
Leicester City have given more minutes to players aged 21 or under than any other Premier League club in 2018/19 so far. James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi and Ben Chilwell have racked up 2611 minutes between them for the Foxes this season.
Maddison and Chilwell are two of just three players their age to play every minute of Premier League football since the new campaign got under way. The Leicester pair have played 900 minutes of league football each, along with 21-year old Wolves schemer Ruben Neves.
Everton are quite a way back in second place having had players aged 21 or younger on the pitch for a combined 1950 minutes this season. Brazilian Richarlison accounts for 33.89% of those minutes on his own with Jonjoe Kenny, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman making up the rest between them.
Diogo Jota, Ruben Vinagre, Morgan Gibbs-White add their combined 844 minutes to Ruben Neves 900 to make Wolves the third most frequent deployer of greenhorns this season.
Liverpool have defensive duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez to thank for their high ranking in the table. The fledgling pair have played 1473 minutes between them for the Reds.
The Merseysiders are followed closely by West Ham, who have divvied out 1432 minutes to Declan Rice, Issa Diop and Grady Diangana this season.
Traditional champions of youth development, Manchester United have been a little miserly when it comes to trusting fresh faces this season. Jose Mourinho has given a total of 528 minutes of first team football to players under the age of 21 in 2018/19.
372 of those minutes belong to Marcus Rashford, while Scott McTominay, a full 11 months older than Rashford, has worn United red (and pink) for 156 minutes this term.
68% of the 433 on-pitch minutes given by Manchester City to players aged 21 and under have gone to Gabriel Jesus, with Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko left to feed on crumbs and seconds.
After Man City, who occupy 11th spot in our table, the Premier League minutes given to young players fall off a cliff.
Huddersfield, Burnley, Tottenham and Watford have given an incredibly low 175 EPL minutes between them to players aged 21 and under.
The Terriers involved Abdelhamid Sabiri, Juninho Bacuna and Ramadan Sobhi for a combined 91 minutes this term, while Spurs and Watford gave a shameful 2 minutes of action to Luke Amos and Ben Wilmot respectively. At least they got their appearance fee eh?
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Propping up the rest are Brighton, Cardiff, Chelsea, Newcastle and Southampton who haven’t given a single second of Premier League football to a player aged 21 or under this season.
For the Saints in particular, that number will be especially galling. Southampton’s south-coast academy was long considered one of the most productive development centres in England.
Gareth Bale, Alan Shearer, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are among the long list of established stars that were schooled on Southampton pitches, though the talent well has run dry in recent years.
Of Southampton’s current squad, Jack Stephens, Matt Targett and James Ward-Prowse are home grown members, but even though Stephens January 2017 Premier League introduction was relatively recent, Targett and Ward-Prowse made their league debuts all the way back in 2014 and 2012 respectively.
It seems depressingly fitting that one of the last genuine bastions of youth development in England now rank among the worst clubs in the Premier League for giving young players a chance.
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