West Ham United player Mark Noble took to Twitter recently to highlight research that is suggesting late bloomers are being discriminated against by some academies in England. Some of the stats and findings make for some interesting reading.
Mark Noble is the latest in a growing line of current professional footballers to air concerns that some academies in England are taking size into account within development levels of the game.
Sir Alex Ferguson initiated research work during his time at Manchester United that would go on for several years at the club. The research recently published by Journal Science and Medicine in Football makes for some interesting reading. The study of 293 footballers between the ages of 9 and 16 showed that late developers (ie small in height etc) were twenty times, yes twenty times less likely to be selected by the time they reached 16 years of age than footballers who matured physically more quickly. The study revealed something even more concerning for late developers....
In 2010 Manchester United enrolled 62 kids into it's U16's academy. Of all 62 of those kids only one of them was considered to be a late developer. The study also shows that children born later in the school year were disadvantaged, although skeletal development was the biggest discriminating factor.
We spoke recently to several scouts representing English clubs asking for comment on the subject of late developers being discriminated against, are clubs really turning a blind eye to players based on size at young ages. Only two of the people we requested comments from shared their thoughts and neither were willing to reveal their name or club. Scout A told us that first and foremost now day and age he is tasked with preferences to search for when scouting for footballers, he described strength, speed and power as a major advantage for any footballer in the modern game but went on to state that it would be irresponsible to overlook any exceptionally gifted talent whom he came across regardless of height. The scout claimed that height is only taken into account for certain positions on a field where height is regarded as a major asset. Scout B told us that size only truly becomes an issue from the age of 16 although he did give reference to a number of cases in which players as young as 10 and 11 years of age have left academies because it was believed they would not develop into the height requirements set by the club, regrettably for legal reasons we cannot post a trial brief written by a professional football club who set a 6 foot 1 limit for U14 goalkeeper trials last year.
Of course clubs now day and age will completely deny any discrimination against late developers as this would result in poor publicity for them. The truth is, so many stories continue to crop up with footballers being released based on height or strength. Is it that these stories are born out of bitterness for the decision taken by the club to release the player, or is it that clubs really are discriminating against late developers. If clubs are discriminating against late developers it doesn't bode well for the future of the game. Players like Roy Keane or more recently Jamie Vardy have in their early years been told that they would be "too small" to be a professional football player. Even Lionel Messi early in his football career was told he was to small to be footballer, how many more gifted players are we risking being allowed to slip through the net if discrimination is allowed to continue within development stages, how many Jamie Vardy's, Roy Keane's, Xavi, Scholes have we already lost from rejection and disappointment due to physical preferences outweighing footballing ability. This is a brain game at risk of turning into a game which is won and lost in the gym!