Tough Luck

One of the most disappointing pieces of news My Old Man Said has heard during it’s time, was when UEFA formed the UEFA Youth League the season after Aston Villa’s youth team were crowned European Champions in the NextGen tournament in 2013. Entry to UEFA’s Youth League would be restricted to youth teams from clubs who had qualified for the Champions League. As a result, Aston Villa’s youth team would never get a chance to defend its position as the best in Europe.

In a wider context, the move further enforced the notion of the status quo in football being kept; if having a good academy was the only way a club with limited finances could be competitive, suddenly the premier competition to allow those young players to flourish was stripped away from them.

Villa had beaten Chelsea 2-0 in the NextGen 2013 final, coming out on top against all the best European youth teams. Yet with the tournament dissolved to make way for the UEFA Youth League, the Villa team wouldn’t get a chance to retain their title. They wouldn’t even get a chance to play against Europe’s best again, unless Aston Villa 1st team could finish in the top 4 of the Premier League. It seemed mightily unfair.

From MOMS chats with the Villa CEO at the time, Aston Villa as a club were not happy with UEFA’s decision. As MOMS reported at the end of 2012, Villa’s academy was one of the best in the land, ranking third in England and 24th in the whole of European football.

The NextGen tournament win was an astonishing achievement. They dispatched Celtic, PSV, Sporting Lisbon, Ajax,and Olympiacos  before beating a Chelsea team in the final, who had beaten Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal in the knock-out stages.

Rise of Jack

Jack Grealish was part of the team that lifted the cup in Lake Como back in 2013, but the reality of youth football is very few players make it in the Premier League. While some of the players are still on the books at Villa, several of Villa’s youth winners now ply their trade in the lower leagues.


Since the NextGen was dissolved understandably Villa’s youth team has slipped out of the limelight somewhat, but it can still hold its head high. Still since 2010-11, Villa youth graduates have made more Premier League debuts than any other club bar Manchester United and Watford.

A total of 11 academy graduates have gone on to feature for a Premier League first team in that time, that’s almost the combined amount of Manchester City and Chelsea’s youth academy’s who have both produced six each.

Premier League debuts for youth graduates since 2010-11

14: Manchester United

12: Watford

11: Aston Villa, Southampton

10: Arsenal

8: Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham

6: Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City

5: Bournemouth, Sunderland

It’s easy to give a youth player five minutes as a substitute at the end of a game as a taster, but that’s not really a clear indication that an academy is producing a decent level of player that can sustain themselves at the top level.

Like the table from 2012, Villa again come up strong when you look at the players who have made a more solid impact in playing 25 first team games in the Premier League since 2010-11.

Villa actually lead the table.

Youth graduates to play 25 games since 2010-11

5: Aston Villa

3: Tottenham, Newcastle, Southampton

2: Arsenal, Liverpool

1: Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Everton, Leicester, Man United, Stoke, Swansea, Watford, West Brom

0: Chelsea, Man City, Norwich, Sunderland, West Ham

Of course, some of the introduction of academy players may have been on Villa’s reliance on youngsters to fill holes in a under-nourished squad due to Randy Lerner’s cost-cutting in the past few seasons. With the likes of Bannan, Albrighton, Clark, Baker and Weimann getting a lot more game time than would be normal in a Premier League team at their ages.

Future Youth

Still, it’s a big plus. Academies cost money and at least Villa’s is giving the first team manager some options and food for thought. Jack Grealish will be the next player in the over 25 game club to break from the academy and great things expected of the player.

Tim Sherwood is also a manager who’s DNA is very much in the development and promotion of youth, so the potential for Villa’s academy to carry on being a vital cog remains.


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  1. what MON did was bad news. But its in the past. THe closure of next gen was not bad luck. The G18 were terrified Villa won it, so we got banned. And took all the non G18 clubs out. Pure manipulation. Chelsea can’t bring through kids, nor even man u nowadays

    Sherwood is right, but Grealish must be protected. I don’t want him in the first team as a regular. Hodgson should sling his hook on making a choice of country. Still not established in the first team, Hodgson is out of order

    Sad he played Delph when he wasn’t fully fit, but all the more reason for keeping Grealish away from him. The choice being Hodgson or O’Neill neither of whom impress, can we get our young players to find a grandparent who came from Tierra Del Fuego?

    Trevor Fisher

  2. I’ve got mixed feelings about this article as some of it I agree with but what I don’t agree with is blaming Lerner . As the problems go back further than the cost cutting ! I was warned by a Hibs supporter that our youth would not do well under MON and thus it came to pass when he fielded what was almost the whole of our trophy winning reserve team in Moscow and allowed them to fail in a contest of men versus boys !
    But even since then and before the youth win in EUFA I watched a Chelsea v Villa match on Chelsea TV where the commentator spent the whole match apologising for their poor performance against a Villa side captained by C.Clark & his excuse was — “Villa are the champions” , and that Chelsea team had several players in it ,who within 12 months became 1st team regulars .But that did not happen at Villa . The young players were not rotated into the 1st team to gain the experience required to progress . Instead they were used as reserves thrown in at the deep end to bolster a failing 1st team . And for that I blame MON and his starting eleven + reserves philosophy which eventually lead to Lerner pulling the plug on the excessive spending but no real success
    But that hopefully is behind us as Sherwood has introduced integrated training for the 1st & U21 teams . Grealish has already made the step up even though he’s not yet the finished article , and few more have had cameo performances . But unfortunately injury has prevented us seeing more of them . But also with all the new signings who need to gel as a team/squad that may slow the introduction of the youngsters

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