Why Are Under 16’s Seemingly More Reluctant To Sign Scholarship
Deals At Their Current Clubs?
Author: Callum Campbell-Aplin
Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri became the youngest player in Premier League history when he deputised as a late substitute for the Gunners against Brentford earlier this season. However the 16-year-old is yet to sign a scholarship with the north London club as the July 1st deadline approaches.
Nwaneri isn’t alone in this, many of England’s brightest young talents stand in a similar situation. Tottenham duo Mikey Moore and Callum Olusesi stared on Wednesday night as Tottenham’s under 17 side brushed aside Nottingham Forest and came out 5-1 winners in the Premier League Cup final. Both Spurs starlets were offered scholarship deals before the turn of the year, but neither are yet to commit.
So why has this become so common in recent years?
The Post-Brexit rules have played a major part, with English league sides not permitted to sign overseas players under the age of 18, meaning a deal similar to that of Cesc Fabregas’ that brought him from Barcelona to Arsenal won’t be repeated.
Alongside that, the homegrown quota increase for Premier League and European competition squads and what could be considered as ‘ inflated’ transfer fees for English internationals have led to an incredible demand for England’s biggest prospects.
Players such as Nwaneri are considering offers. Arsenal, the club he has been developed at thus far, have already made a scholarship offer for the playmaker, but they will face a tough test to secure his services this summer from rivals at the top of the league. With all clubs attempting to show the players a clear pathway into their first team, it leaves the player to make possibly the biggest decision of his career at only 16-years old.
England under 16 captain Chris Rigg is another player yet to decide his future, though he’s in a very different situation to that of Nwaneri. Rigg has made three appearances for Sunderland this season, all of which have come in the FA Cup. Rigg may see a clear pathway for himself at Sunderland as he had already begun training with the first team before an unfortunate injury looks to have ended his season, however a successful Sunderland push for promotion could see that opportunity become less likely.
The pressure for teams battling relegation in the Premier League to stay up has seen it become extremely difficult for academy graduates to make their mark, and with more money than ever available for Premier League sides, teams will opt for signing an experienced player on a short term deal, which leads to a blocked path for any prospects in their academy.
Southampton are an example of this, currently sitting bottom of the league, the only player in their registered squad that has been a product of their academy is James Ward-Prowse, despite not too long ago having one of the most exciting youth set up’s in the UK.
This could lead to players, in this example Chris Rigg, to decide against signing a scholarship for his current side and instead potentially heading to Sunderland’s rivals Newcastle or FA Cup finalists Manchester United. Both sides are capable of giving him an opportunity in a less pressured environment that allows him to develop at his own pace, as well as offering a better chance of a more lucrative offer when the time comes to sign a professional deal.
Others include Watford’s Harry Amass, West Ham’s Divine Mukasa as well as Birmingham forward Trevan Sanusi and Ipswich Town defender Calum Logan who are two players that have a similar decision to make, though both have already reportedly decided which direction they are set to travel.
Sanusi has already rejected a scholarship offer from Birmingham, the 15-year-old’s contract refusal and impressive performances for Birmingham’s U21 side has brought an incredible amount of attention to him from many of the ‘Big 6’.
Arsenal and Chelsea were set to battle it out for his signature with the latter seemingly in pole position. However, Manchester United have reportedly shot to the front of the queue in recent weeks, desperate to not make the same mistake as they did with another Birmingham City prodigy, Jude Bellingham.
Callum Logan, on the other hand, has already decided his future. The England U17 international is set to join Tottenham Hotspur at the end of the season. Despite turning the North London club down only a year ago in order to remain at Ipswich.
Though there is obviously a risk when a player decides to move on from a club early on in their career. A change of familiarity and a change in a teams system can lead to a players career stalling.
Zion Atta a recent example. The winger was set to set a scholarship deal with Crystal Palace in 2021, with the Eagles even envisioning him to get a call up to the first team squad that same season. Yet Atta made a dramatic u-turn and instead decided to sign for Ligue 1 outfit OGC Nice. Despite making three appearances for their B team last season, the now 18-year-old is yet to make an appearance this year.
Ultimately recent rule changes have left the top sides with a shallower pool of players to secure on scholarship deals which leaves the players in their scholarship year themselves with more options. And with recent examples of a vast selection of different pathways that have proved to be successful, more players than ever before are no longer scared to leave their comfort zone to pursue an alternate opportunity.