The Future's Bright - The Future's White

LIVERPOOL ENGLAND - JANUARY 26: Fulham Manager Mark Hughes looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Fulham at Anfield on January 26 2011 in Liverpool England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Craven Cottage was more sombre and quiet on the eve of 4th February than normal. Not through lack of football, as there was indeed a game, but, through an academy defeat that ended a hopeful run in the FA Youth Cup.

The 11 boys in white were left in despair as the youth team of Watford booked their place in the quarter final, ahead of Kit Symons' valient side.

Still though, much could be taken from a team of youngsters who outwitted their Chelsea and Arsenal counterparts with 5-1 and 3-1 wins, respectively.

As always with all things Fulham, though, our academy system is somewhat underestimated. We may not be on par with Arsenal's flawless set-up just yet, but we have a rigid efficiency to our academy that only allows the very best through, and we have, in Hughes, a manager who is willing to 'risk' playing them too.

In fairness, it's easy to understand why the Fulham academy is considered 'nothing special'. We've produced little since our promotion to the Premier League, with the likes of Elliot Omozusi, Zat Knight and Robert Milsom being our only notable (I use that term very lightly) successful graduates. Of course, you could count Manchester United defender Chris Smalling in that mix, but he did gain a fair amount of his footballing knowledge at non-league Maidstone.

Only recently has the quality of our youth system become noticeable. With Matthew Briggs' new deal comes a signal of intent that manager Mark Hughes is looking to the future, but, I wouldn't say his installation as manager was the turning point; more Roy Hodgson.

Really, it shouldn't take a manager to crate a youth team. It should be down to the coaches and the staff at that lower level who make the difference, but, I think the influence of Hodgson helped kick start a revolution for an overly fruitless academy. He was, however sporadicly and however sparsely, prepared to play them, and he installed a confidence in their play that made it simple for them to adapt to first team life; perfect for any youngster.

Hodgson's guidance of our youth team is fairly evident when you look at the players who have recently emerged from it. Smalling had a brief spell there, Briggs has flourished of late, Keanu Marsh-Brown is showing promise and Alex Smith is only steps away from Premier League football. What's the link? They're all defenders under what was a defensive regime.

But with Hodgson gone, what does it spell for our youth team? If anything, it's a good sign. Hodgson helped nurture the current team and in the process introduced a very capable team of staff, a very demanding work ethic and, crucially, a fantastic desire within the team.

His departure will not dispel those credentials. They will stay for the foreseeable future. Instead, the appointment of Hughes will allow a vaster array of talent to hit the big time. The likes of Marcello Trotta, Danny Hoesen and Richard Peniket will all be given their chance before long and will blossom in doing so.

Of course, youth isn't everything, but it's the basis on which football is fed. Big money signings may make the back pages but it's the young that should be developed, nurtured and cared for. Let's hope Hughes shares that same opinion.

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