x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Denis Suarez and Chuba Akpom stand out a mile in football's next crop

Denis Suarez and Chuba Akpom. Watch out for those two names for the future.

Denis Suarez, the Manchester City youth player, has caught Andrew Cole's eye while watching his son Devante play for City's youth team.
Denis Suarez, the Manchester City youth player, has caught Andrew Cole's eye while watching his son Devante play for City's youth team.

Denis Suarez and Chuba Akpom. Watch out for those two names for the future.

I've been watching a lot of Under 17 and 18 football recently as my son, Devante, plays for Manchester City and England. I travelled to Sarajevo in Bosnia to see several England matches and I also saw the Manchester derby at this age group. City won that, too.

I've enjoyed watching rather than playing, though I'm concerned that big clubs have started to mimic their senior teams by using squad systems with the younger end. When you're a kid you don't want to be in a squad system. You want - and need - to be playing every week. Rest and rotation means nothing to kids.

Suarez and Akpom have stood out a mile.

Suarez is a Spanish U17 midfielder who City bought from Celta Vigo in the close season for £850,000 (Dh4.97m) which could rise to £2.75m, depending on appearances. That is a lot of money for a young boy, but he has a lot of potential from what I saw and he was head and shoulders above the rest of the United and City players.

Suarez plays just behind the front two and bossed the game against United, but there is no guarantee he'll make it at the top level. Akpom plays for Arsenal and England. He can play in several attacking roles and I like the look of him, but then I liked myself when I was that age and playing for Arsenal and England. My problem was the impatience of youth.

I wanted everything there and then and when I didn't get it I walked out on Arsenal. I was correctly advised to go back and work hard, but I still had to leave Arsenal a few years later and go on loan to Fulham and then Bristol City. I had to take a step or two back to move three or four forwards.

Devante can play and we have been very proud to see him representing his club and country, but of the 40 or 50 players that I've seen him play with this year, I'd predict that four will make it at the top level.

Many have the talent to make it, but it is not just about talent. I see an impatience in young players like I had - only it's far worse. They see the trappings of being a successful footballer - the fame, the fast cars and the diamonds - and they want it now. They forget that they still have a lot of learning and listening to do. Of the boys I played with for England schoolboys, only Alan Wright and I made it. Many of the others thought that they had made it because they were at a big club. There is a huge difference.

People keep asking me if my son will make it at the highest level. They somehow assume that he will, but I play his chances right down because I am a realist. The odds are stacked against him, even if he turns out to be a star for City's reserve team.

I have seen players stand out in the reserves at my previous clubs and not progress - and not just because it's a huge jump to the first team.

A player needs luck to get a manager who believes in him, luck to stay injury free. He needs absolute dedication and to be patient. Javier Hernandez talked about quitting football just three years ago because he was not getting the first-team chances he wanted. He was told to work hard and be patient. That patience paid off.

You have to be prepared for setbacks in football because you get them every day. It is a rarity when everything is going right. You get injured, you do not get picked, you play in a losing team - or in a winning team but do not play well. And then there are the traps and pitfalls lying in wait. It's a minefield and it takes a strong personality to survive.

And then, and this might surprise you, there are players who stop playing because they don't actually like football. There are more of them than you think, but it saddened me when I heard Tottenham Hotspur's Benoit Assou-Ekotto say that he does not like football and that he only plays for the money.

I loved playing football and, thankfully, so does my son. If I was not playing, then I moved clubs, even if it cost me money. I did not want to be someone who just picked up a wage for sitting on a bench.

And when I watch youngsters like Suarez and Akpom, I see boys who play for love, not money.


Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

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