The nonsense fodder that is the Daily Mail this morning published one of the stupidest articles I've ever read, claiming that Bolton Wanderers are one of eight league clubs that 'failed to start a game with a single young and home-grown player in the opening four months of this season.'
The 'story' claims eight sides haven't named a starting eleven that included a player that was 21-years-old or under on June 30th this year. It also 'praises' Coventry City for accumulating 74 appearances by players 21 or under, which has earned them a place in the League One relegation zone and a 4-0 hammering by Cambridge United in the FA Cup last weekend.
What the article fails to mention is that two of Bolton's best performers this year, Zach Clough (who was 21 in March) and Josh Vela (who'll be 23 next week), are local lads who joined the club at the age of 8 and 9 respectively.
Then there's the fact that youth academy product Rob Holding (who's 21) joined Bolton when he was 7 years old, made his debut around a year ago and went on to be our player of the season before being sold to Arsenal in the summer, and excelled on his Champions League debut on Tuesday evening.
It also fails to mention that Wanderers only have one non-British player in their entire squad - Spaniard Derik Osede - and our starting eleven has been entirely English for the majority of our matches this season.
Now compare that to sides like Arsenal, who regularly start matches without a single English player on the pitch, and Manchester United, who only started two English players last weekend at Everton - one of which was 35-year-old Michael Carrick. The likes of Liverpool started their laughable loss at Bournemouth with only two English players, one of which was 30-year-old James Milner out of position at left-back, while Stoke City named just two English players in the side that beat Burnley last weekend - 33-year-old Lee Grant and 32-year-old Glen Johnson.
Then there's Premier League leaders Chelsea, whose only regular English starter is Gary Cahill - now let me think where he became a half decent central defender. That's right, Bolton Wanderers. Something to chew over, Daily Mail.
The cost of youth development
Developing young players that are capable of reaching first-team football is not an easy feat. It's also a very expensive process - especially for a club that has reportedly been on the verge of administration several times and is hugely in debt.
The likes of Chelsea and Manchester City reportedly pay around £8 million a year to run their conveyor belts of youth talent, yet how many of these players are playing for these sides. Erm, none. Chelsea have about 40 players out on loan, while Manchester City's only regular English starters Raheem Sterling and John Stones cost them £100 million and their only half decent English youth product Joe Hart (who they signed from Shrewsbury Town) was farmed out on loan to Torino.
Maintaining a Category One academy demands an estimated annual budget of around £2.4 million. Back in June 2015, Wanderers had to downgrade from that to a Category Two academy in a move that could save the club up to £1 million a year.
We've given youth a chance
Despite that huge cut in youth budget, Wanderers have still given debuts to 18-year-old midfielder Alex Perry, who impressed against Grimsby Town in the FA Cup, and 17-year-old midfielder Jack Earing in the Checkatrade Trophy this season. Additionally, promising 17-year-old goalkeeper Jake Turner has been on the bench for the last few league games.
Speaking of Earing, if Bolton were to have fielded their youngsters in said Mickey Mouse competition the FA would have rewarded their efforts to blood youth with a massive fine. Indeed, 12 clubs received FA fines worth a total of £60,000 for not fielding their strongest sides in this completely pointless competition last month. Where's the sense in that?
We've written plenty of articles in the past about the need for Bolton to give youngsters a chance, and in fairness they have over the last few years. In addition to Holding, Clough and Vela, the likes of Niall Maher, Alex Samizadeh, Tom Walker, George Newell, Oscar Threlkeld, Andy Kellett, Conor Wilkinson, Kaiyne Woolery, Quade Taylor and Tyler Garrett are all youth products that have made their first team debuts in very recent memory.
Four of those are still on Bolton's books (Walker, Samizadeh, Newell, Wilkinson) and have been loaned out for first-team experience, three are now with clubs at a higher level (Woolery, Kellett, Holding), while Garrett chose to move to League Two Doncaster Rovers.
So it's all well and good throwing youngsters into the side, but where did that get us? Relegation, that's where. Our side is almost entirely home-grown and two of League One's best players this season came through our youth academy.