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Greg Dyke

The English Premier League has attracted negative attention due to the rarity of home-grown talent showing up on the field. Very few English players arrive at the first level by coming up through the club academy system.

The UK media were discussing the matter once again this week when Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English Football Association, called for more playing time for young English footballers in the top-tier squads.

When the matter is investigated more deeply, though, there are 29 different clubs in both the Premier League and Championship who are taking innovative approaches to nurturing England’s up-and-coming football talent.

The academies associated with these clubs have launched initiatives backed by data to improve their retention of promising youngsters and to allow those younger stars to reach their full potential.

According to the statistics, only a half of a percent of Under-9 footballers will be able to rise within a given club to join its first eleven.

The Gaping Hole

According to James Bunce, the head of sport science for the Premier League, in the long term the professional football industry has raised up hundreds of thousands of great players over centuries of the game. Yet despite all this experience, he says it’s still difficult — if not impossible — to identify the qualities that will make a given young player a professional or international-level talent. It’s a gaping hole in the system.

Steps are being taken to fill in that hole at last. Clubs are pushing very hard on this new data-driven approach to try and counteract certain idiosyncrasies in the training process. A prime example is the way that certain groups of players get overlooked due to their birth month; they enter into programs at a younger age with a lower level of physical development.

There’s a push on to collaborate between clubs so that data on physical development and the results of tests can be shared and reasonable standards can be set. The aim is to evaluate players based on their biological development as well as their calendar age.

According to Bunce, the ideal is for clubs to see more players rise internally though their own academies to reach the first team.