When Lord Coe spoke about inspiring a generation, it felt like a watershed moment for UK sport. The Olympic Games in 2012 provided success on the grandest platforms, arguably the country’s finest sporting showpiece since the 1966 World Cup.
From the hot and humid Olympic Park to windswept Weymouth, the youngest of bright athletes showcased their skills in front of millions. Rebecca Tunney, 15, performed her gymnastics routine with a 20,000 crowd cheering her on in the background. The process of choosing athletes for the Olympics gave her a platform to prove that she was good enough on the world stage.
There is a truth to every sport. A purity, an intensity and a spirit which makes it irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch.
And that was evident when the England U-20 football team beat Venezuela earlier this month in the World Cup Final. Upon the final whistle, players collapsed to their knees, astonished at their achievement.
For the first time in 51 years, England had won a major trophy on an international stage, and although the tournament in South Korea felt distant, a lot of the sporting community cheered the team on in front of their TV sets.
There were two messages. The obvious first was congratulatory but the second and perhaps most important was the fact that these players had to be given a platform in the future by Premier League clubs, whether that be first team football or a loan deal.
You see that’s the underlying truth that plagues domestic football in this country. Most commentators who have watched, observed and studied the nature of the Premier League have witnessed it lurch year on year towards ever increasing globalisation.
Of course, a continuing expansion of the league benefits fans across the world as they get to view the blockbuster action of Manchester, Merseyside and North London derbies. Added to this is the fact that the Premier League is unbelievably competitive, with Crystal Palace’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge last season probably the best example.
There is a major problem, though: money. The recent TV deal agreed in 2015 stood at £5.136bn, a figure nearly five times higher than the package agreed with the Premier League in 2009. No surprise then that at £93.5m Sunderland last year, who finished bottom of the league, received more prize money than Bundesliga winners Bayern Munich, Ligue 1 champions Monaco and Serie A victors Juventus.
Shrouded by a wash of swashbuckling sums, Premier League clubs now face a critical juncture regarding the development of youth talent. There can be a reactionary need for clubs, especially those trying to survive the drop and gain Champions League qualification, to break the bank in an attempt to achieve that goal.
The major risk to this approach is younger players who develop through the youth system do not get enough playing time because the league is so competitive that every match takes on significant importance, from Swansea against Burnley to Chelsea against Tottenham.
And the trend is not pretty. In 2005 the percentage of minutes played by under 21s in the Premier League stood at 10.4% but in 2015 this dropped to 5.3%. In contrast, Ligue 1 saw under 21s feature more heavily, with them playing 12.1% of the minutes of the 14/15 season.
Monaco’s template to provide their academy prospects with a chance paid off last season when they won the league title, and 34.6% of those minutes featured under 21s. In fact, the Premier League registered the lowest total out of all the major European leagues.
There is a certain irony in holding a proficient, productive academy when the probabilities that they will contest first team football is limited. Dominic Solanke scored in the quarter and semi-final yet hasn’t played a minute for the Chelsea senior team even though he signed for the club in 2014.
Josh Onomah has edged towards the Tottenham Hotspur side yet managing his development is more likely to be spent on loan, while Sheyi Ojo at Liverpool has mainly spent his time on the benches even after two loan spells at Wigan Athletic and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Examples of successful loan deals include Jesse Lingard at Derby County and Birmingham City and Dele Alli at Milton Keynes Dons, and these clubs provided them with a template to develop their game and showcase their raw, unnurtured talent.
Bristol City stayed up largely thanks to Tammy Abraham’s 23 goals in 46 appearances for the club, and he now must either receive another loan deal or Chelsea must offer him opportunities for first team football at Stamford Bridge.
On the other hand, it is refreshing to see Spurs, Southampton and Everton creating the right atmosphere for young talent to flourish at clubs and that template must be copied by sides if they want to see long-term success.
Unfortunately, this remains unlikely. Instant achievements make or break a manager, and it is that person who decides on transfer targets, offers under 21 players chances in the first team, sanctions a loan deal for them or leaves them in the reserves.
The issue now is that a majority of managers in the Premier League feel insecure about their job and they will likely take the attitude of using their financial war chest to avoid instant relegation at the fear of losing the sacred prize money that the TV giants of Sky and BT offer.
It’s why it was so refreshing to witness footballing purity when England’s under 20s expressed their talent in South Korea in front of a world audience just a few weeks ago. It is now up to Premier League clubs to give them and others their age a chance and take a moral responsibility in making sure they achieve their potential. Inspiring a generation? Not a bad idea at all.


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