As worshipful master of my lodge I cannot easily drop out of Masonic dinners, even when they clash with a Fulham game. So, last night, I was resigned to missing the Youth Cup Final between Fulham and Chelsea. The dinner finished at 9.00pm, so I jumped into a taxi to catch the second half on ITV4 with a client at nearby Wimpole St.
He was rather in despair as we were losing 1-0 with 30 minutes to go, Dembele having missed a penalty. My presence seemed to galvanise the team as we scored three times. Dembele atoned for his error with a commanding header from a corner; Emerson Hyndman went on a powerful run and his shot deflected in; and Cameron Burgess added the third with a well-worked free kick manoeuvre. Chelsea pulled one back leaving the tie intriguingly poised.
Youth football is now highly competitive. The talent is scouted at a young age and much competed for. For example, one of our young stars Patrick Roberts is already attracting the attention of the big boys and not just in the Premier. It makes sense, as the cost is so much less than an established player in his twenties. Indeed it is a an interesting market, as we showed by buying Kacaniklic from Liverpool as part of the Konchesky deal. He was valued at £750,000 and would be worth be at least 5 times that now.
The issue is how many of these youngsters will actually make the grade? All sorts of factors come into play, not least their heads potentially being turned by the money they make. One story doing the rounds is that the repainting of the club car park bays is to accommodate the massive vehicles of the youth players.
Dembele, Roberts and Woodrow have all started for the first team and one of the few benefits of the relegation that now seems likely is they will have the platform to establish themselves in an easier division. Southampton, who have an outstanding academy, did this very successfully and are now a more than established Premier side. It’s been such a rotten season, but next Monday at Stamford Bridge for the second leg we might well have something to celebrate.