Sir John Hall once dreamt of Newcastle United fielding 11 Geordies during the Entertainers era. The emergence of Sean and Matty Longstaff show how important it is for the club to invest in the academy.
Had Paul Dummett made an appearance from the substitutes bench against Manchester United, Newcastle would have had 4 academy graduates on the pitch - Not quite the 11 Sir John Hall once dreamed but certainly a promising sight. Improvement to the academy and training facilities is something that Rafael Benitez craved, he saw the importance of it and how the club were falling behind the rest of the Premier League.
Lee Charnley told the Chronicle in August that spending money on facilities would mean there would be less to spend on transfers. While Newcastle choose not to improve their facilities, the likes of Bournemouth, Leicester City and Wolves have all revealed plans to invest in their respective training grounds and facilities.
Newcastle insist the facilities are adequate, though no major improvements have been made for a number of years. Benitez wanted the club to show some ambition, something that has been lacking for a long time and has allowed the likes of Leicester and Bournemouth to stride ahead of Newcastle. It is also something that has been a sticking point for any potential takeover, with investors unwilling to match the asking price after factoring in the amount of money that would need to be spent on Newcastle’s facilities.
Benitez made the the under 23’s train away from the first team as he wanted them to see it as an honour and a privilege - Not something that was handed to them on a plate. It is a long journey for any young player making their way up to first team level, without adequate facilities it becomes even harder.
The likes of Dummett, Andy Carroll and the Longstaff brothers have proved that first team opportunities at Newcastle are there for the taking for younger players. Making improvements to the facilities makes business sense, as a businessman Mike Ashley should be made aware of the many positives to come from it. In the long term it would mean the club would save money. Improvement in facilities would result in better development for the academy players and more chance of breaking into the first team.
It is not just the facilities that are preventing Newcastle’s youngsters from progressing through the ranks. Newcastle have sent younger players on loan to clubs that have halted instead of helping their development which has been a recurring theme. In comparison, Chelsea who are renowned for having so many young players out on loan are reaping the rewards this season. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all become key players for Frank Lampard. With the exception of Hudson-Odoi the players mentioned all had successful loan spells after Chelsea had carefully sounded out the right clubs for the players to go on loan to.
Improvement to the training ground and facilities isn’t something that only Benitez had wanted, in fact it has been a long standing problem for previous managers. Alan Pardew told the Chronicle in February 2013: “That underlines what I have been saying here. This club must concentrate on the underbelly of this team. It’s about the development and the youth here.” Another former manager, Graeme Souness believed that the standard of the training pitches were the cause of so many injuries at the club.
Benitez said of academy players after Sean Longstaff scored during a 2-0 win over Burnley: “Having a young lad from the academy is a great example for people to follow. It is ideal for any club to have players through academy because they are cheaper and they give you more.”
As Sean and Matty Longstaff showed against Manchester United, there is no better sight than academy products thriving in the first team. The performances from the Longstaffs should be a big indicator to Ashley that investing in the academy can lead to success on the pitch.
In November 2013, former director of football Joe Kinnear revealed plans to drastically improve the training ground, which would include a 20 - metre swimming pool, hydrotherapy and fitness pool and specialist equipment to aid injury prevention and recovery. The aim of the club was to complete the work by May 2016.
Kinnear stated: “This is a hugely exciting development for Newcastle United. We have one of football’s great stadiums and we are delighted to now be announcing plans for a training complex which will rival any in Europe.
”Top players and top teams need top training and medical facilities. Our current training ground has served the Club very well but the new complex will give us all of the ingredients that we need to continue maintaining and enhancing the performance of elite footballers.
”It will also be an added attraction when we are looking to recruit players.”
The proposed plans were scrapped in 2015 due to Newcastle’s precarious league position. Newcastle want to be a self-sufficient football club, spending money they generate. Though, if the likes of Bournemouth and Wolves can improve their facilities there is no reason why Newcastle cannot do the same. The positives of doing so far outweigh the negatives.
Newcastle must move with the times, Premier League clubs have elite facilities the longer Newcastle delay improvements the further they fall behind the rest of the league. Not only will improved facilities help the academy players, it will also be a huge selling point to potential transfers. There is no hiding that Ashley has wanted to sell the club for a number of years now, had the Sports Direct tycoon invested in the training ground and surrounding areas over the years, there is no doubt he would have found it a lot easier to sell the club.
Newcastle’s failure to acknowledge investment is needed in the facilities show just how short sighted the club are. Liverpool are spending around £50 million to improve their training facilities and Leicester £100 million.
The lack of investment will continue to be a sticking point for any potential sale of the club. It causes issues in many areas of the club such as impacting on youth development, injury prevention and improvement in the first team to name a few.
The majority of clubs in the Premier League have either submitted plans to improve their facilities or have already made significant improvements over the last few years. Until the club take the necessary measures to improve the facilities, they will continue to fall behind.