"A CARLING CUP tie can be a little bit nerve-racking for me," Liam Brady, the Arsenal academy manager, said. "It's a little like watching one of your own children doing an audition to get a part in a play. But you know that they have to go through it if they're going to get the job."
Tonight, Arsenal face Liverpool in a fourth-round tie that is a repeat of last season's FA Youth Cup final, which Arsenal won. As he usually does in the Carling Cup, Arsene Wenger, the manager, will rest first-team players, giving Brady's youngsters another chance to expose the myth that the London club are interested only in foreign, rather than local, talent.
More than a dozen of the squad who beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 in the third round came through the academy, including Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere, the England Under-21 players, and Sanchez Watt, the 18-year-old English forward who scored on his debut in that match as well as in both legs of the Youth Cup final. Brady emphasises that it has naturally taken time for British players of this quality to emerge and that the club had little choice but to import in the meantime.
"I started this job from scratch 13 years ago and it wasn't easy to find young players at 14, 15, 16 because the best players are with other clubs and you mustn't approach them," he said.
"But Howard Wilkinson's charter for quality for youth development (in 1997) gave us the possibility to have boys at 8, 9 or 10 and some of our Youth Cup-winning team have been with us since 9 or 10."
Brady admits that only a minority of his proteges will make it into the Arsenal first team. "Arsene has always been very keen on developing British youngsters and very supportive of that, but he's got to make decisions about whether players are good enough," he said. "He didn't have any problem picking Ashley Cole when he was 17, but he was in the England team after 10 games.
"That's the quality you're aiming for, but it's a huge part of youth development that players move on and play at the highest level: David Bentley, Steve Sidwell, Fabrice Muamba, for example. It's an indication that you do things right that these players are making brilliant livings. There's a slight disappointment that they haven't been good enough for Arsenal, but the club are able to put the money to excellent use. At a conservative estimate, around £50m has come into the club from youth development."
At the same time, Brady fully supports the club's policy of seeking talent abroad as well as at home. "It's about excellence at this club," he said. "I back the manager 100pc. If he can find a better young player in France than we've got here, then we should be able to do that. It's an opportunity for the player as much as for Arsenal."
Which is something that Brady, knows from personal experience. "It concerns me that Uefa and Fifa are getting involved with stopping kids leaving their countries at 16.
"I was allowed to leave Ireland at 15, and if I had had to stay until I was 18, I doubt if I would have become a footballer."