Coming off the back of a dramatic victory in extra-time in the FA Youth Cup yesterday, it is likely that the corridors of London Colney will be buzzing with excitement this morning, particularly in the youth department. That feel-good factor will be tempered slightly, however, by the news that Liam Brady will leave his position as head of the club’s youth development by the end of next season.
Brady, himself one of the finest players to come through the club’s original youth set-up in the early 1970’s, has been stationed in that role since before the Academy was re-formed in 1998, and has seen the likes of Ashley Cole, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs progress through the club’s hierarchy in that time.
This season has ben one of immense change for the club’s youth development, with Steve Bould and Neil Banfield being promoted to the first-team coaching staff, new coaches being implemented at both U21 and U18 levels and and the club competing in European competition at youth level for the first time. Along with David Court, who also came through the club’s ranks as a youngster, Brady has overseen Arsenal’s youth development since 1996, with one of his key roles being to decide on which players should be awarded scholarships each summer. The club have won the FA Youth Cup on three occasions during his tenure, but it has not all been plain sailing for the Irishman.
Mistakes have certainly been made in recent years, with the decision to take on 17 scholars in 2010 one that rather backfired whilst, in the past few seasons, many foreign talents have had to be signed to supplement the comparatively small number of home-grown youngsters making their way through the ranks. The signing of Jamie Edge, a player who had little to no technical ability and was subsequently released by West Bromwich Albion after leaving Arsenal, was rather bizarre. The Alban Bunjaku debacle, too, is perhaps best left forgotten.
For all that, though, Brady’s reign has, by and large, been met with success. It is true that only a very select group of players who were registered to the club at the age of 16 have enjoyed sustained spells in the first-team squad, but a glance at the squad lists of clubs in the Premier League and the rest of the Football League will demonstrate just how many players the club have produced over the past 15 years that are capable of playing at a relatively high level.
The next step, of course, will be to have more of those players carving out long-term careers at Arsenal. The club have been at pains to point out their desire for a British core to the first-team squad in recent months, with the likes of Wilshere and Gibbs a key part of that philosophy. The man who replaces Brady will have a massive task on his hands to fulfil that aim, but, at present, there are few clues as to who will replace him in the role. Patrick Vieira is doing a similar job at Manchester City at present, although a return to North London for the Frenchman seems unlikely, but whoever comes in will be fully aware of the scale of the task facing them.