Whilst it’s news that Birmingham City fans perhaps won’t want to hear, it’s something that should pique the interest of Aston Villa fans.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Aston Villa’s local rivals Birmingham City are discussing plans to restructure their academy – potentially moving away from developing youth and moving to a ‘B Team’ approach, used by the likes of Brentford – likely catalysed by the departure of academy manager Kristjaan Speakmean.
This ‘B Team’ approach has served Brentford well to date, but would mean that Birmingham City would likely scrap youth development sides (meaning that Under 18, Under 16 sides and further down would no longer exist).
With Brexit looming, this proposal has likely fallen on welcome ears for the likes of Mark Harrison, the academy manager at Aston Villa. Early in his tenure, the former West Bromwich Albion man previously stated that it was all about ensuring that Aston Villa poached the best young talent from around the Birmingham and greater West Midlands area – something that would be made a lot easier by having one less club to contend with.
You may wonder what Brexit has to do with this. Well, the elephant in the room for the past half a decade or even longer, will make waves amongst English football, and English youth recruitment.
When the United Kingdom leave the European Union in just a few weeks, the recruitment strategies adopted by top clubs will be forever altered. From January, no youth players under the age of 18 will be allowed to sign for a British club after regulations approved by the FA, Premier League and EFL were signed off by Downing Street.
This adds context to the signings of Oliwier Zych, Lamare Bogarde and Sil Swinkels from abroad this summer. All three players have gone into the Aston Villa Under 18 side – with Bogarde appearing for the Under 23’s too this season.
With the club no longer able to sign similar hot prospects of similar ages for similar prices, they chose to target specific youngsters and beat a number of huge clubs to their signatures in a last ditch attempt to bring in exciting, foreign youngsters to nurture at Bodymoor Heath. Granted, they may be able to do so in the future – but these players would be required to pass a similar points system that Wesley and Douglas Luiz were scrutinised under – likely raising the price of said player and the wages offered to them and making their arrival a much larger gamble.
The proposed closure of the Blues academy signals an opportunity for Aston Villa. Whilst it may mean that more hopeful young footballers will not get opportunities at Midlands clubs of a certain stature – which is somewhat of a travesty, it also means that Aston Villa are now able to cast their nets and potentially pull in a number of talents that could have been previously overlooked, or who may have decided that their chances were better at Birmingham City.
The Claret and Blue youngsters in the Under 18 side are currently enjoying an incredible season in their league competition, leading their league under Sean Verity and winning seven of their opening nine league games. The planned changes and growth for the academy have only just begun – but could be bearing fruit earlier than expected if fine form continues.
And whilst the plans have only just begun, things are seemingly falling into place further in regards to Harrison’s vision should the other side of the Second City progress with their academy closure.