The Pompey lad fighting the corner of young talent

Dave Wright worked with England starlet Mason Mount during his time at Pompey Academy

The young lions in celebration confirmed England remains a hot bed of footballing talent.

The under-17 World Cup winners continued a year of glory for national age-group football in India on Saturday.

Dave Wright

Defeat of Spain followed world victory for the under-20s in South Korea in June – and there was local lad Mason Mount being named player of the tournament as the under-19s won the Euros to continue a golden summer.

It’s not new to see such success and plenty are now asking, with justification, why are those victories not matched at senior level?

The flak’s been flying in the direction of the game’s ‘broken’ youth system when it comes to apportioning blame – and it’s easy to see how that conclusion’s reached.

But there’s a man with royal blue in his blood who believes the much-maligned Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) continues to be relevant.

And the lad who grew up in Wymering and Copnor believes there’s every hope for his hometown team in their battle to continue nurturing talent.

Pompey are Dave Wright’s club. The former midfielder turned out on Farlington Marshes as a lad. He represented Pompey as a young player. And he served the Blues for seven years as an academy coach.

Conor Chaplin and Adam Webster both worked under the 37-year-old, along with the likes of Mount, Bournemouth’s Matt Worthington and Southampton’s Josh Sims.

Wright went on to head up Stoke City’s academy as they established themselves as a Category One facility in double-quick time.

Now, he works auditing youth set-ups on behalf of the Premier League for Belgian-based Double Pass. Wright feels that puts him in a strong position to debate the subject.

‘Doing the job I’m doing now and my background does give me experience,’ said the man who played for the likes of Solent United and Widbrook United as a youngster.

‘We are failing kids in that same, old area – the 19 to 21 bracket. They fall by the wayside but the talent is there. That’s proven with the success of the England age-group sides.

‘The argument’s gone the players aren’t good enough. They are good enough – they need someone to believe in them.’

Six-and-a-half years with Stoke gave Wright a strong insight into the pitfalls and hurdles talented young players face in their bid to make the grade.

It provides a lot of answers when it comes to the questions of a pathway from prodigious talent to experienced top-level performer.

‘To get young boys a chance in the Premier League can be nigh on impossible,’ Wright said.

‘You are looking for them to go in and cope with Premier League and European football. There’s also the pressure the manager is under.

‘If your club’s beliefs are like Southampton, Everton and Tottenham you can still do it.

‘But clubs won’t see that through. I don’t feel that’s EPPP related.

‘It’s almost easier to be a lower club and give those kids the opportunity.’

And it’s that ability to offer a promise of first-team football to the best young players which is giving Pompey hope in their fight with the circling vultures.

Facing a battle to compete with Category One clubs like Chelsea, Southampton and Brighton is a real concern for the Blues.

The evidence is there in the likes of Chaplin, Jack Whatmough, Adam May & Co for those doing the sales pitch to parents, though.

And wearing the star and crescent on your chest will always be an attraction to youngsters with a PO postcode.

‘You can get the time needed here,’ reflected Wright on Pompey’s situation.

‘Would Adam Webster and Conor Chaplin have got their chances at a higher level? That’s where other clubs are failing.

‘When I was at Pompey the sales pitch was the parents could see progression and a route into the first team. It’s the same now.

‘We were attracting kids more than losing them – and that was without the facilities. We didn’t have the training ground back then. It shows facilities aren’t the be-all and end-all.

‘When I went to Stoke, the infrastructure and how it worked operationally was a blank canvas.

‘It was a big job but I didn’t have to change the culture or mindset.

‘It reminds me of where Pompey are now.

‘It’s a nice position to be in to be able to shape it.’

So the game will continue to search for the reasons for the continuing failings at international level.

And all the time the likes of Huddersfield and Brentford are turning their backs on youth development, there will be concerns for clubs, too.

Wright sees the EPPP system as a convenient whipping boy on both fronts.

He said: ‘For me, it’s not a “broken” system. I’m an advocate of 90 per cent of EPPP and what it’s brought.

‘The EPPP has brought accountability which I feel is absolutely right when you’re dealing with young kids’ lives.

‘It’s been resisted in some areas I must say.

‘And there’s still a long to go – but it’s improved dramatically.

‘My take on it is, if your club wants to develop players you can do that – regardless of your category.

‘The onus has to be on the clubs.’

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