By 90Min
July 04, 2018

Just one Newcastle United player this season can be truly considered a homegrown talent, and that's a problem Rafa Benitez has sought to fix from day one.

The issue rests solely with the poor state of Newcastle's academy and Under-23s set-up.

That is not to undermine the work that the coaches currently in that set-up do, but given recent track records it has fallen well short of what is required of Premier League academies and youth pathways - and not entirely through their own fault.

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A lack of significant investment in the youth side of Newcastle's football has meant that the academy has fallen by the wayside - in an area where it could really be a driving force.

Newcastle now find themselves in a unique situation. They're the biggest club by a vast distance, the only Premier League representative from the north east, given Sunderland's rapid decline.

That means that there is a huge local talent pool that the club could harness. The youth clubs in the area, the likes of Wallsend Boys Club, are widely renowned and boast a long list of current and former professionals as alumni. 

There is little argument that the players are there, but without investment and improvements the club will continue to fail to find and develop these potential future stars.

Long gone are the days of the 1980s where Newcastle found themselves providing the backbone of the England squad, with the likes of Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne representing the Three Lions.

Look at the personnel at the academy - recent controversies aside - and it doesn't even appear too much of a problem. Academy director Joe Joyce and Under-23 coach Ben Dawson are both highly regarded.

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However, a cook cannot produce good food with broken tools.

In much the same vein, these highly regarded academy figures cannot produce first team ready players without the investment needed to improve the facilities and standards up to a level competitive with the other Premier League sides.

This is what Rafa Benitez has been calling for from day one when he talked about a total overhaul of the club's youth structures.

They're groundbreaking changes, and ones that take time, but ultimately they're ones that could decide whether Newcastle are able to stay in the Premier League.

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Beyond Paul Dummett, the only Newcastle players likely to ever play for the club's first team that the academy has had an impact on developing are Rolando Aarons, Freddie Woodman and Adam Armstrong.

Aarons and Woodman were both signed as teenagers too, rather than coming through the club as youngsters.

Aarons' career at Newcastle has faltered in recent years, and after a failed loan move to Italy he looks likely to leave the club sometime in the next few years.

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Woodman is a huge prospect, but is nowhere near at the level required to challenge Martin Dubravka for the goalkeeper gloves, whilst Armstrong - for all his promise and talent - is beginning to look like he'll never reach Premier League levels.

Benitez has spoken in the past about how he does not feel there is the depth below for him to supplement that with youngsters should he need to rest players or have injury problems.

That can lead to fatigue among his first team players, and it also prevents the heightened competition Benitez likes to see across the board.

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It also hurts the club financially. When you think of the top Premier League clubs, particularly Chelsea and Tottenham, there always seems to be new young faces who have come up through the academy breaking into the team.

One or two of those players each year might be good enough to become first-team regulars, saving the club on having to bring in transfers, whilst others that don't quite make the grade can be sold on for a profit.

Since those players have been developed in-house rather than bought in, all of that money is pure profit for the club.

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For a club like Newcastle, and an owner like Mike Ashley, the words 'pure profit' should instantly encourage them to financially back the academy improvements.


According to the club's owner, Benitez is limited to every penny the club generates. Well, if the club is producing talented young players to utilise or sell on, then it will generate a lot more pennies - and many of them will likely make their way straight back to the owner.

It's once again - as it so often seems to be with Newcastle - a case of spending a little now to make a lot later.

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And the club have proved in the past it's not just fiction. With Andy Carroll, the club managed to earn an unbelievable £35m for a homegrown player, all of it therefore profit.

With investment in the youth set-up, the club could be doing this - even if not to the same fee - every year. Even if players only sell for £2m or so to EFL clubs, if the academy produces five or six players to be sold each season, then the transfer kitty for the first team looks so much healthier.

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Benitez regularly uses the analogy of a train to explain how he believes a successful football club functions.

Ensuring the engine, which is the first team, is strong must be the first priority. Then the carriages - which represent every other department at the club, including the academy and Under-23s - will be bolstered and improved upon too.

After achieving Premier League survival relatively comfortably last season, the engine has shown it is starting to get into gear.

Whilst it will need tinkered with and improved each year, now is the time to rapidly increase the speed at which those carriages are improved alongside it.

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For Newcastle fans, too, it seems there may actually be positive signs on this front.

As rare as it is to see demands like investment happen at the club, a total of 18 Under-23s players were released this summer, suggesting that a large-scale youth overhaul could finally be starting.

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