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Where have all the kids gone?

by Thomas Rooney

Joe Lewis never played a senior game for Norwich City and after being denied first team football at Carrow Road he was shipped to League Two side Peterborough United. Since the move, he has impressed enough to earn a call up to the full England squad. Someone considered not good enough for Norwich is in the thoughts of England manager Fabio Capello – crazy times.

In recent years, Norwich hasn’t produced anything like as much home grown talent as we should do and now we seem to have let a shining light in our youth system leave without playing a game for the club.

Let’s focus on the first point to begin with – Norwich’s home grown players. Or lack of them. Looking at the players that were involved for us last season, it is only Jason Shackell that has emerged from our youth system in the last few years. Jamie Cureton and Darel Russell started their careers with us and have returned since, but that was a number of years ago now – 1993 for the former and 1997 for the latter. Should we be concerned about this? I think so.

The latest group to leave the club included seven home-grown players, highlighting the lack of talent coming through the ranks. Patrick Bexfield, Steven Arnold, Matthew Halliday, Bally Smart, Andrew Cave-Brown, Rossi Jarvis and Ryan Jarvis were all deemed surplus to requirements by Glen Roeder and will have to pursue their careers elsewhere. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is that it was not at all surprising that these players were asked to leave. Most of them didn’t even get a shot at the first team and those that were given the opportunity to impress, didn’t exactly make the desired impact. Their exit, along with Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin, has left Roeder with a depleted squad that won’t have anyone fancying Norwich as promotion contenders when it comes to Championship football betting.

This time last season, we thought we had found someone special from the youth team in Chris Martin. He was instrumental in helping Norwich gather enough points to avoid relegation and seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. However, a year on, he has a lot to do to ensure that he doesn’t join the likes of Smart and Halliday out of the club. It would be a crying shame if he didn’t sort himself out for next season – the boy has talent and he shouldn’t waste it.

So why haven’t our recent crop of youngsters made the conversion to first team regulars? It could simply be a case of not being good enough, but I think the way they are ‘nurtured’ into competitive football could also have an effect. Reserve team football seems about as competitive as a Formula One warm up lap and only provides 18 games for the second string per season. Hardly a perfect way to prepare for the toughness of Championship football.

Such problems though will, I think, change under Roeder. He will know how to get the best out of youngsters and has already considered scrapping the reserve league. Given the amount of young players he brought to the club on loan last season, he clearly didn’t fancy what we already have and that is likely to be the same again next season. Roeder couldn’t have much say in the way the Jarvis brothers and co were developed, but he can have a say in how the 13 and 14 year olds are prepared for professional football. They are, after all, the future of our club. They should all be aiming to be the next Craig Bellamy, Darren Eadie or Chris Sutton and they must have everything in place within the academy to allow them to do so. I just hope that in five years time, we are more positive about our youth team.

Final word has to go to Joe Lewis though. What a fantastic achievement for the lad to be called up by England. I really wish he had got the chance to impress here, but with a sell-on-clause as part of his transfer we may still get some benefit from his talents! More to the point though, who would bet on England having Lewis and Robert Green in a future England squad? Two Norwich produced keepers fighting it out to start in goal for the national team would be excellent to see. What ever happened to Richard Wright by the way?

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