Arsenal academy praised

Former Southampton academy chief Huw Jennings has defended Arsenal's youth system, though believes Theo Walcott joined the Gunners at too young an age.

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"Almost all Theo's learning has been in and around the first team and that's difficult for a 16-year-old. That 16 to 18 phase is critical to the long-term development of the player. If you're not working morning and afternoon, for four days a week, then where are you going to get the development time?" asks Jennings, who also cites Aston Villa, Manchester City and Middlesbrough as clubs reaping the benefits of giving their kids a chance.

"Surely the penny has got to start dropping that investment in youth will pay dividends. It's a challenge for me to try to encourage all the clubs to see it like that. Some of the clubs that are struggling now are victims of poor planning. But I do worry about the very high contracts that seem to be paid to young players which, in pure footballing terms, they do not always merit. They almost seem to me to be a disincentive for them to go on and achieve."

Jennings is not opposed to foreign signings, as long as they raise standards and do not block the path of an equally talented homegrown player. In fact, he would encourage British youngsters to develop their careers abroad so they can return with more to offer.

"Nobody has said that the introduction of Zola and Bergkamp was negative because everyone has learned a lot from them," he told the Daily Mail.

"I see it as a challenge for us to improve and develop our standards. What I really hope is the clubs have a game plan when they are bringing in players from other countries. It can't just be about grabbing the player who is out of favour at club X in country Y because he might just help you get three points to stay up. That short-termism is the long-term road to folly."

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