Opportunity knocks for home-grown talent

David Cuffley The subject of home-produced players emerging from the Academy system - or the lack of them in recent years - was one of the talking points of Norwich City's annual meeting at Carrow Road on Tuesday night.

David Cuffley

The subject of home-produced players emerging from the Academy system - or the lack of them in recent years - was one of the talking points of Norwich City's annual meeting at Carrow Road on Tuesday night.

Of course it's not strictly true to say that the current first team squad includes no one to have come through the ranks.

Two regular members of the senior side in action against Preston North End in last week's Championship match were big youth team successes with the Canaries. The only problem is, one of them is 33 years old and the other is 28.


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Striker Jamie Cureton's days as a prolific goalscorer in City's South East Counties League and FA Youth Cup teams are so far in the past that the youngsters, like the first team at the time, were still playing and training at Trowse rather than Colney, when the only time one heard the word “academy” mentioned in football was in rosy-hued references to West Ham.

And a decade has elapsed since midfielder Darel Russell appeared regularly for Keith Webb's side.

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Cureton appeared in the youth team in a vintage period in the early 1990s when he lined up alongside future Premiership players such as Andy Marshall, Darren Eadie, Danny Mills, Andy Johnson and even, just briefly, Chris Sutton.

His most regular striking partner was Ade Akinbiyi, who has commanded transfer fees totalling nearly £15m in the course of his career, and was still making headlines this week when he scored Burnley's equaliser against Chelsea in the Carling Cup at Stamford Bridge, setting up a memorable penalty shoot-out victory for the Clarets.

Cureton's City youth team-mates also included Shaun Carey, who played 76 times for the Canaries, and Ali Gibb, who never made the first team at Norwich but has since played more than 500 Football League games in his career with clubs including Northampton, Stockport and Bristol Rovers.

By the time Russell began to make his mark, the Colney conveyor belt had slowed down a little, but his arrival in Webb's squad in 1997 still overlapped with the tail-end of the youth team careers of Wales internationals Craig Bellamy and Chris Llewellyn, as well as Darren Kenton, and he went on to play much of his youth and reserve team football in the same side as England goalkeeper Robert Green.

It is something of an irony that, having developed both Cureton and Russell as teenagers, the Canaries are still roughly £1m out of pocket on the two players.

Former manager Peter Grant spent considerably more to bring them back in the summer of 2007 than the club had received when they were sold to Bristol Rovers and Stoke, respectively, in 1996 and 2003.But those players who have worked their way through from the youth team into reserve team football and the senior squad in recent seasons have found it much harder to establish themselves as first team players - and, indeed, most have now moved on.

The most successful in terms of appearances, defender Jason Shackell, was sold to Championship rivals Wolves in August after playing 131 senior games, the last of them at MK Dons in the Carling Cup in City's second game of the season.

Broome-born goalkeeper Joe Lewis joined Peterborough United in January without ever getting a first team game after manager Glenn Roeder accepted a £400,000 bid from Posh. The Norfolk-born Jarvis brothers, Ryan and Rossi, like Lewis, both England internationals in various age groups, were casualties of Roeder's summer clear-out and now appear for Leyton Orient and Luton Town, respectively.

And striker Chris Martin and defender Michael Spillane were handed their own roles in football's version of Mission Impossible when they were farmed out to Luton on season-long loans to try to help the Hatters overcome their crushing 30-point penalty and avoid relegation to the Conference.

With players who were once seen as potentially City's next generation of first team footballers scattered to all parts, there will almost certainly be a gap before the next batch of likely lads are ready to stake their claim for regular senior football.

Declan Rudd, Korey Smith, Damon Lathrope, Kris Renton and Luke Daley have all been awarded professional contracts since Roeder's arrival as manager but currently they have only three first team appearances between them - all Renton's - though Rudd and Daley both made it on to the bench for Championship games last season.

Roeder added to their number this week when 17-year-old midfielder Tom Adeyemi signed a three-year professional deal and was hailed as a star of the future.

“Some clubs keep their young players as trainees until they're 18,” said Roeder. “But my thinking is that if they've quickly earned the right to turn professional by their ability, their endeavour and determination, why wait?

“Once they prove to me and the coaching staff that they're good enough to be Norwich City professionals, I see no point in wasting time. Tom has done that this year by making a very good start as a trainee and his reward is a three-year professional contract.

“He's a nice footballer, very kind to the eye, but he's also quite a tough boy on the pitch, make no mistake.

“His goal this year, for me, would be to get on the pitch for the first team for at least 10 minutes, but that is probably April time.”

Roeder told shareholders that, with the one-hour travel rule hampering City's ability to recruit for the Academy - a restriction that could have put players such as Bellamy, Eadie and Cureton out of bounds in years gone by - it was essential for the club's future that local talent such as Adeyemi was not allowed to slip through the net.

As a safeguard for the future, that is common sense, but in the here and now, Championship season 2008-09, City are unable to bolster their senior squad from week to week with home-produced talent, because it is too soon for them.

With money too tight to mention - chief executive Neil Doncaster said after the annual meeting that this season's transfer budget was already spent - the immediate future of loan players such as Ryan Bertrand, John Kennedy and Leroy Lita unclear, and summer signing Dejan Stefanovic out for the rest of the season, the second half of the campaign promises to be just as difficult as the first.

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