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Tony Cottee: Gael Kakuta affair highlights success of Tony Carr's way

PUBLISHED: 17:37 09 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:51 05 October 2010

The Gael Kakuta affair highlights the success of West Ham's youth academy under Tony Carr, says Tony Cottee

West Ham's reputation for producing young footballers is almost unmatched in this country so anything affecting the development of youngsters is an important issue for the club.

West Ham's reputation for producing young footballers is almost unmatched in this country so anything affecting the development of youngsters is an important issue for the club.

That's why this week's controversy over Gael Kakuta joining Chelsea could have a major impact at Upton Park.

The Blues have been banned from any transfer activity until January 2011 after they were found guilty of inducing the teenager to quit Lens and come to Stamford Bridge.

Now it looks as though the whole system of youth development will be under review and in my view it's about time because this has been a problem for a good few years.

Football has changed so much since the Bosman ruling came in and together with the academies system, it's completely changed the face of the sport.

The biggest outcome has been the massive influx of foreign players, not just in this country, but in all the major leagues throughout the world.

Football is a global game now and that has trickled down into youth level.

Clubs are scouring the globe for the best young talent and trying to lure them away from their local clubs without paying a penny.

That's not right and UEFA president Michel Platini is correct to look at bringing in a ruling that will protect the clubs that bring through and develop young players.

Clubs like West Ham put time, effort and a huge amount of money into bringing up players and it's not right that the biggest teams in Europe can whisk them away for nothing.

In my view, there are two simple solutions. First, you need to ban all transfers of players under the age of 18.

What that means is that at 12 or 13 years old, a young player has got to make his mind up about where he is going to sign and then he's got to stick with that club.

He'll do his two-year apprenticeship there and if he's good enough once he reaches 18, he'll either sign a professional deal with that club or choose to join another club for a transfer fee.

Obviously you need to be careful because in some ways it puts the pressure on at a younger age.

We don't want a scenario where kids as young as 12 are being harassed by agents or clubs.

The key thing has always got to be protecting the young players and their families and you don't want to find a solution only to realise afterwards that you've opened another can of worms.

But in some ways, forcing clubs to make earlier judgements about players might offer more protection for youngsters.

There aren't many children at 12 years old who are considered a sure thing because so many things can affect their development - will they grow? Will they stay committed for football? How will they react to playing against bigger or better opponents?

The other thing that needs to be addressed is the issue of foreign players in the academies.

In my view, you should not be allowed to sign players from abroad to play in your youth team side.

Look at Cesc Fabregas. There's no way he should be playing Arsenal because he was developed by Barcelona. But Arsene Wenger persuaded him to leave Spain and under current UEFA rules, he's considered a homegrown player.

That doesn't make sense. Clubs should be forced to develop British players or at least restricted to one or two foreign players in their youth team squads.

In turn, that will protect our national teams because British kids will get more opportunities to develop and progress at big clubs.

Of course, all of this only highlights what a fantastic job is being done by West Ham, and in particular Tony Carr.

We've already seen Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Junior Stanislas and Josh Payne play for the first team this season and the first three are Premier League regulars.

That reputation for playing kids and giving youngsters a chance will continue to be a big draw for us - and if UEFA impose new rules on homegrown players, that could be a major advantage.

You can throw all the money you like at your youth set-up - Chelsea have spent £62m on youth transfers under Frank Arnesen without any real success - but if the infrastructure isn't right, you won't develop top players.

Ultimately it comes down to the scouts and the youth team manager and how you bring up and bring through your young players.

Credit to Tony Carr, because we've obviously got it right. We're able to identify the right players and coach them in the right way, and while Chelsea and Spurs struggle to produce homegrown players, we are consistently developing Premier League performers.

Now all we've got to worry about is holding on to them once they're in the team.

Tony Cottee was talking to Jonathan Clegg.


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