Sowing seeds in the Lowe country: Roger Moore Scores

Last updated : 02 June 2008 By Roger Moore

From day one in football it was clear that Rupert Lowe didn't share the perceived wisdom that 'managers maketh football clubs'. Flying in the face of evidence at Old Trafford, Highbury, Barcelona, Juventus and elsewhere, Rupert set about his revolution refusing to use the 'M' word like a single man avoids talk of Marriage.

Instead, the talk was of 'Head Coaches' and a more 'continental' (for which read Dutch) style of football development; a system which sees youth development as a core foundation of the successful first team - breeding rather than buying talent.

It's a solution not without merit and certainly a club in the financial wilderness in which we find ourselves has to think creatively. But can it work?

My knowledge of Dutch football is limited but my knowledge of Champion's League finalists is boosted by reference to Wikipedia which tells me that it is 14 years since Ajax last won the European Cup, and 13 years since the same Dutch side was the last to hail from that country to appear in the final. By contrast in the same period six English clubs have appeared in the final, six Italian clubs, six Spanish clubs, four German clubs, one Portuguese and one French club have also appeared.

Now this is a rather dipstick view of how European club football is shaping up I grant you, and since the advent of the Premiership and Champions' League it bears no relation to international success. But it does suggest that if anything, perhaps adopting a Spanish, Italian or dare I mention the word, English, club system of football management might not be without a hope.
And while there are some notable Dutch successes playing around the world, I don't see Ajax attracting anywhere near the same international status as a Milan, Madrid or Manchester United. So can youth development really be an antidote to the money sloshing around the European power-house coffers?

And if it can, can the same elixir of youth enable us to fight from a position of financial weakness?

Truth be told, the best managers are not attracted to the prospect of having to grow talent in the same way that most wives would rather be financed to shop at Waitrose than handed some runner beans and pointed towards the allotment.

So perhaps, it's not Ajax or Feyenord's fault that they're not propelling a Dutch club model to the top of the European super-elite, whatever their international success. But if we're looking for a club model to copy, it doesn't bode well that the one to which we aspire is desperately lacking in recent success.

Instead, think for a moment about the reality of current competition and our situation specifically.

Two years ago, we watched Theo Walcott 'run through puddles without making a splash' as Lord Voldermort was wont to describe him. It was obvious after a brief run in the first team that he would fall (or jump) through the first available transfer window.

And so it came to pass with Walcott sensibly opting for development under the masterful Arsene Wenger than take his chances being kicked from pillar to post at Turf Moor or the New Den.

Never mind the infinite wealth of bigger clubs, the aspirations of every footballer and the desire to learn, earn and burn through their careers dictate that they will almost always select the bigger club over the smaller, less successful alternative.

The net result is that we become a so-called 'feeder' club - a breeding ground of talent that we are forced to watch flourish at Arsenal and elsewhere (worse, possibly down the road)! And thanks to the six-month transfer window, there's the agonising prospect of seeing talent ripped from the heart of the team twice in one season, heart-breaking for those of us who prefer consistency in selection.

But there is a possible third-way that, while not ideal, would see us benefit from our home-grown talent for longer.

Surely, it is possible that we could adopt a model whereby our best young players could be 'optioned' to clubs, but retained to play for us either under the existing loan scheme or some form of alternative financial instrument. If Rupert is keen to explore a more innovative model of football club management, then for my money, this is where the real opportunity lies.

By nurturing 'optioned' talent, there is a case for the optioning club to ask for certain assurances about where the player might play and how he is trained/developed, but surely no more onerous than the current loan scheme?

In time, we may find that our style and approach is more suited to some purchasing clubs than others, but if we're producing good footballers who are comfortable and confident on the ball, then they will always be in high demand across Europe.

Growing our own crop of saleable football assets is far from ideal, of course. But save for some elusive and substantive financial investment, what exactly are the choices? So football farming it is. Welcome home Rupert!