They may not have any major silverware to their name, but the Youth System at Crewe Alexandra is certainly one of the best in the world of football. Crewe was founded in 1877 and was nicknamed The Railway men due to their links with the railways industry. They have mostly featured in the lower leagues all through their time and are presently playing in the Football League One, the third division of English Football. Unlike any other cash strapped team, Crewe managed to survive solely due to its Youth Academy, which is known to find technically gifted players who see the club as a stepping stone to reach new heights in their career. Some of the famous names to come out of this academy include former England Captain David Platt, Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy, Welshman Robbie Savage, Striker Dean Ashton and the new teenage sensation Nick Powell who was signed by Manchester United this summer. The transformation of Crewe Alexandra into a FA Youth Academy was down to the magical hands of Dario Gradi.
Dario Gradi – The Architect
The Milan-born Gradi moved to London in his early days and went on to become the Assistant Coach of Chelsea in 1971, when he was just 29. After a relatively unsuccessful tenure as coach at Wimbledon and Crystal Palace, Gradi went on to be head coach of Crewe in 1983. The 80′s saw most of the young players emerging from the academy which included former Liverpool defender Rob Jones and midfielder Steve Walters. He was quick to snap up David Platt, former Manchester United reject, and turned him into the England Captain. In 1994, he guided the Railway men to their first ever stint in Division One after languishing in the bottom half of the Division Two during the majority of the time. Current Celtic boss Neil Lennon achieved a distinctive feat during his time at Crewe as he became the first player from the team to have earned an International cap for 60 years.
Gradi is known to be an excellent tactician who likes to induce a fast and pacy passing game into his team. All this led to the Crewe academy being established as an official FA Youth Academy in 1997. They were also regarded as the “Most Admired Team” in 2006 by Fourfourtwo magazine. In 2007, Gradi became the longest serving manager in English League football after being in charge of the Railway men for 24 long years. He made Crewe in to one of those rare clubs whose balance sheet was in the green even after being deprived of funds. After Dario Gradi took over in 1983, the club has raked in over £20million pounds through this youth policy and transfer of players to bigger clubs. This has enabled them to further enhance their training facilities and provide the salaries of the players and staff. In July 2012, out of the 11 outfield players for Crewe, 9 were from their prestigious academy; a feat that should be an inspiration to a lot of clubs which are surviving solely on their cash rich owners.
Here is one of the best quotes from Bradi, “If an Arab billionaire said ‘Come on Dario, here’s the money, take Crewe into the Championship’, I don’t think I’d be the man for the job. I wouldn’t get the same satisfaction that I get from coaching the kids.”
Ten Crewe academy players who went on to scale new heights:
10. Nicky Maynard
9. Nick Powell
8. Rob Hulse
7. Seth Johnson
6. David Vaughan
5. Robbie Savage
4. David Platt
3. Neil Lennon
2. Dean Ashton
1. Danny Murphy
NOTE: This is a part of a series of 10 articles which looks into the best academies from all around the worldPublished 25 Dec 2012, 19:39 IST