Niall Quinn on fixing 'broken system' - 'Every young footballer should have a sound education in his back pocket'
Having been part of the Irish football’s problem, Niall Quinn wants to spearhead the solution.
The Dubliner’s Chairmanship of Sunderland from 2006-2011 was justifiably considered a transformational period with the club evolving from the brink of financial collapse in the Championship to a stable Premier League entity by the time of his departure.
Ireland was the hub of that project, whether through the Drumaville Consortium of investors, Roy Keane’s first punt into management or the proportion of players in the first team.
It’s, however, when he examines the inflow of Irish youngsters to the Stadium of Light that Quinn winces.
A total of 17 came through the doors of their famed academy. Not alone are none still part of the current Black Cats first-team squad but a recent poll by Quinn concluded a mere three remained in the Football League to make a living.
The vast majority not getting to the top level doesn’t rankle most – that risk is part of a territory Quinn himself tread into as a teen at Arsenal in the 1980s – more so the absence of a fall-back option does.
“I was guilty of prising them from the educational ladder and then throwing them out when they weren’t good enough at the end,” admitted the 49-year-old, now back living in Ireland and interested in fixing what he describes as a “broken system”.
“After finishing my playing career up to when I was 45, the advice I gave to parents asking me about their son joining an English club was to give him a chance.
“Now, for the last four years, I firmly say to parents his education is a must. If they don’t allow him complete his education to university level, I wouldn’t let him go. And that’s what we’ve got to try replace.”
A replacement route, unfortunately, is nowhere to be seen in Ireland and that’s no fault of Quinn.
League of Ireland clubs operating hand to mouth amid meagre investment from the FAI ensure myopia prevails.
For all the trumpeting of the U-19 national league, and the more recently-launched U-17 version, neither can compete with the lure of emigration for Irish prospects.
Domestic clubs have this year been spurned by teens opting to join fourth-division English outfits.
“The late Tony O’Neill at UCD saw that problem back in the 1980s and 1990s,” explained Quinn.
“He introduced a different journey for our young footballers whereby a lot of them went to America on sports scholarships and came back qualified despite not having a football career in the UK.
“We’ve failed to do that for our players in Ireland. Providing an alternative is the bit which interests me. Can we develop a situation whereby a parent could say that I’m not sending my son to Chesterfield or Sheffield Wednesday? There has to be a better way.
“If he’s good enough, clubs will come back looking for him at 18 when he’s a man and has finished his education.
“I know Richie Towell will do great with Brighton because he’s going there with lots of experience behind him. He’s completely different to the kid that went to Celtic.
“Every player should be going over knowing that he has a sound education in his back pocket.
“I’d be interested in developing an alternative model but maybe that’s just a pipe-dream.”
A start would be for the FAI to get Quinn onboard.
Sadly though, unlike most thriving football federations across Europe, their appetite to employing ex-Ireland internationals possessing a font of knowledge to work in youth development appears to be non-existent.