Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Would you Adam and Eve it?

I see that Watford defenders Lee Hodson and Adam Thompson have been called up to the full Northern Ireland squad for their game against Scotland tomorrow night. Obviously I’m pleased for them, and it’s further proof that our youth development system is working well. But what do their call-ups say about the state of British football?

Lee Hodson is a promising full-back, no doubt about it, and at 19, he’s got plenty of time to develop. He’s started 43 times for the Hornets – but most of those starts were last season. Yes, he’s in the team at the moment, but we all know that he’s only there until Malky can get Andrew Taylor back from Middlesbrough, or an alternative loanee who can play at left back so that Lloyd can move back to the right.

He looks like a wizened old pro, though, in comparison to 18-year-old Adam Thompson. I’ve seen Adam’s entire senior career, as it happens. It was the League Cup 2nd round game against Notts County at the start of the season. That’s it. One first-team game, in a team packed with similar tyros - and Northern Ireland think he’s ready for international football?

The thing is, that one League Cup tie is probably the only competitive match Adam has ever played against a team of grown-ups. Reserve team matches, as far as I can tell, are basically an opportunity for clubs to field a team of under-21s – the current youth team and recent graduates. The days when they were peppered with senior players trying to win back a place in the first team are seemingly long gone. So Adam’s entire career to date has consisted of games against players his own age, or a year or two older.

Like I say, this is no reflection on two talented youngsters who will hopefully have long and successful careers. I feel for Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington, though, whose talent pool is so shallow that he has to pick players with minimal experience just to make up a full squad. It’s a further indictment (as if any were needed) of the way the Premiership’s riches have largely gone into the pockets of foreign players, while reducing opportunities for talented youngsters from the British isles to play at the highest level. Heck, even Fabio Capello has been reduced to picking the odd Championship player. Where will it end?

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