Academy-product enthusiasm and transfer-market ennui

Currently, my club is embarking on something of an ideological shift.  They still deal in the transfer-market and the first-team squad is, and will continue to be supplemented with outside players but, for the moment, there seems to be a greater emphasis on academy talent.

That’s not the kind of direction which gets taken on a whim, because - to be more organic - a consensus is required across a football club.  Not only does the physical infrastructure need to be in place to rear homegrown talent, but the right conditions have to exist to facilitate the process: chairmen need the patience to tolerate maturation, managers require the conviction to blood raw talent and all the other surrounding technical staff have to work around that common aim.

The supporters love it, because it’s representative of something which was thought to be lost.  Long gone are the days when starting elevens would be entirely drawn from the surrounding community, but the novelty of watching just a few local players emerge and succeed on the Premier League stage is enormously gratifying.

Who knows why - maybe it’s because of the fairytale quality?  Or maybe it allows the modern fan a degree of comfort in thinking, sometimes naively, that the emotional future of his or her team is in good hands?

These kids ‘get it’.  They know what the shirt means, they understand how important success is to the fanbase, and they have earned the right to represent the side in a way that an imported player probably hasn’t.

Who knows if any of that is significant or true, because it’s only really important that we believe it to be.


This malaise has also coincided with a personal revelation of sorts: I think I’m bored of transfers.  Tired of the white noise, irritated by the rumours, and disinterested in the repercussions.

Pre-internet, we were all less cynical.  We believed what we read in papers and we tracked the end-of-season ins and outs with enthusiasm.  Now, not so much.  The same gossipy nonsense doesn’t engage me anymore and The Mirror, The Sun or whoever else can make as many outlandish claims as they like and I will still stare blankly into the distance.

My immediate question, on hearing of a potential deal, is no longer “how will that player transform my club?” but a more cynical “how quickly can I disprove this?”

It’s the sporting equivalent of learning that Father Christmas isn’t real or that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist:  once the illusion has been shattered, it can never be pieced back together.

But this goes beyond just how player movement is rumoured or reported.

Transfers, even those which are actually completed, are exhausting.  When a player joins a club, it fires the starting pistol on a ferocious fanbase ruck.  The new arrival’s best role will be debated, his fee will be questioned, and eventually the player’s shiny newness will be tarnished by in-fighting.  Additionally, because very few deals are unanimously successful, that disharmony spreads  - over time - to discussions of the player’s form, whether he’s settling-in properly and, if he struggles, how long you have to leave it before definitively declaring him to be a failure.

There are articles, counter-articles, Twitter debates and anger and, in some cases, these back-and-forths can occupy some of the emotional headroom usually reserved for the team’s actual form.

Graduated youth players don’t come with that kind of baggage.  This being modern football, they still provoke disagreements and discussions, but the rise of an academy star is generally accompanied by a warm goodwill.  They are forgiven for mistakes rather than vilified and their successes seem to carry a greater resonance.  It’s still football, but with less of the nastiness.

Simply put, supporters want to see these players do well.  Instead of dividing into factions and claiming little 90-minute victories from a new signing’s fluctuating form, they seem to briefly unify instead.  Sure, the team’s performances may add up to the same under-whelming total, but somehow it seems easier to tolerate - as if, in spite of banging fruitless against that glass-ceiling, you are somehow achieving a form of moral victory.

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1 Comment on "Academy-product enthusiasm and transfer-market ennui"

  1. Father Christmas isn’t real?

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