Earlier this week Ryan Gauld completed a move from Dundee United to Sporting Lisbon for a minor fee of £3 million but the interesting part of the deal was the 6 year contract he signed and the £48 million release clause that went with that contract. Now this sort of release clause is what you would expect for a player who has just been signed in a multi million £ deal not an 18 year old. Gauld will be hoping he has made the right choice, I’m sure he had a number of suitors in the Premier League but he chose to join the club that developed the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. The deal got me thinking where really is the best place for the development of British talent, is it through the youth set up we already have here or is it abroad.
Owen Hargreaves was born in Canada and then moved through the youth system at Bayern Munich playing for Bayern Munich II and then the first team before making a big move to Manchester United. Had it not been for injuries he would, I believe, have developed into one the best midfielders of that era. At Euro 2006 he was Englands best player by miles and all of this for a player who had never played in an English youth system, clearly it did him no harm.
Dale Jennings is a name that may not ring many bells but in July 2011 he signed for Bayern Munich from Tranmere at the age of 18, he was moved into the reserve team (much like Owen Hargreaves) and much like Mr Hargreaves it was an injury that did damage to his career. In October 2011 he suffered multiple ligament tears in his knee and and although he attempted a comeback he was never able to break through into the first team and has since moved back to England and to Barnsley. Now the impact that Bayern Munich had on him may not be known but maybe it was too little too late as he played youth football for Liverpool but was released, for whatever reason, as a schoolboy.
Eric Dier is a name that will be familiar to you if you have played Football Manager or had a conversation with me about the future of English football. He is a 20 year old defender who has represented England from under 18 to under 21 level and has spent his entire footballing career at Sporting Lisbon. His entire career expect one season that he spent at Everton which was ‘an opportunity for the athlete to grow in a more competitive and demanding environment’. Maybe this hints at a self perceieved weakness in the development of players by Sporting but since then he moved up to their first team and featured in 12 league games last year. He has also been linked with moves to almost every English team this summer so again the impact a continental youth system has had on this English players is yet to be seen but I think that in the future he will become Englands starting centre back for many years.
Sometimes players move abroad at later stages of their careers and this can have drastically different effects. Jonathan Woodgate for example joined Real Madrid for £13 million and went on to be voted the worst signing of the 21st Century in Spain whereas Steve McManaman played nearly 100 times for Real Madrid and has been voted the 3rd best British player to play overseas. Both of these players came through English youth systems and for me they show the key aspect of why young British players may fail abroad, the ability or lack of ability to adapt. This is why Hargreaves and Dier (I believe) will develop better as they don’t know any different.