With the current success of Tottenham Hotspur, the calls for more top clubs to give players from their youth systems a chance has never been louder.
But is it as simple as doing exactly that? Giving them ‘a chance’.
“A lot of managers don’t work with the under 21s so they don’t see the progress or what they’re getting”
According to ex-Spurs coach, Premier League legend and current QPR technical director Les Ferdinand, it should be no great surprise that so few English talents are given regular opportunities.
Ferdinand, who was part of the coaching set-up at Spurs which saw current golden boy Harry Kane become a regular, believes that for these youngsters to get a chance, managers must be afforded more time at their club.
“When a manager takes over, unless you’re an Arsene Wenger or a Sir Alex Ferguson you know your tenure is going to be somewhere between a year and two years, and that’s being generous.” Ferdinand told me.
“In that time you’re going to play your most experienced players. You’re not taking a chance on an under-21 when you don’t know what his capabilities are.”
So why then, when Ferdinand was afforded a first-team role in the coaching staff alongside manager Tim Sherwood after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, were players like Harry Kane and Nabil Bentaleb given an opportunity?
“It is a concept that makes a lot of sense yet it so rarely acted on. To give the youngsters a chance, the manager must be given a chance”
“The reason we were able to give these youngsters a chance was because we worked with them for five years at the academy, prior to Tim Sherwood. So with myself and Chris Ramsay becoming more involved with the first team, we knew what we were getting.
“A lot of first team managers at clubs don’t work with the under 21s so they don’t see the progress or what they’re getting. They don’t know them well enough.
“How managers view these young players now about sending them out on loan so they’ve played ‘men’s football’ and can then judge them from that.”
It is a concept that makes a lot of sense yet it so rarely acted on. To give the youngsters a chance, the manager must be given a chance.
Was Ferdinand sure then, having worked with the academy at Tottenham Hotspur, that when given a chance, these players would flourish?
“When I was at Spurs the young boys we had, we felt if we gave an opportunity to, they would do well.
“Old-school managers go with old-school players. Their though process is to go with the most experienced players because I know they’ve been there and done it.”
Fast-forward two years, and Ferdinand – a renowned striker for clubs including Spurs, QPR, Newcastle, Besiktas and Leicester (as well as for England) – is now technical director at QPR, temporarily putting his coaching career on hold.
Despite his change in job, ‘Sir Les’ as he is popularly known, is just as determined as ever to see academy players given a chance at his current club.
Of course, QPR have long been a club looking for stability, both on the pitch as well as off it.
“For a club of QPR’s size, we need to have a steady stream of players coming through the system and playing in our first team”
Constant changes in managers and first-team players have seen the West Londoners yo-yo from Premier League to Championship in recent seasons.
However, it is one statistic in particular that sticks out like a sore thumb for Ferdinand.
“For 16 years now, QPR have not had anyone come through the academy system and play for the first team on a consistent basis.
“This is one of my bugbears and one of the things I want to get right.
“For a club of QPR’s size, we need to have a steady stream of players coming through the system and playing in our first team. I am hell-bent on getting the academy structure right.”
As I look at Ferdinand, who still has the physique of a 25-year-old Premier League striker by the way, it is obvious he means what he says and that he will do all he can make these changes in his new role.
But does he see himself as being stable in that role for the foreseeable future, or can he see himself go back into the coaching world?
“If I can implant any bit of knowledge from my time playing onto someone else that improves them as a footballer, then I get a lot of joy out of that”
“I like being a director of football, despite the amount of stick I’m taking at the moment!” he said.
“I did enjoy coaching, and I’m sure I will get back into it one day. I’m out there on the sidelines at training every day, have a little bit of input now and again and I do enjoy it.
“For me it’s all about making people better, and if I can implant any bit of knowledge from my time playing onto someone else that improves them as a footballer, then I get a lot of joy out of that.”
It is at this time that our interview was briefly interrupted by a fan wanting a picture with Ferdinand.
If he can help turn QPR into a more stable club and provide England with top-level footballers for the future, requests for selfies might become an even more regular occurrence.
Who knows, perhaps ‘Sir Les’ could even become a reality, rather than an endearing nickname.