Date: 17th July 2009 at 4:45pm
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Unless you watched reserve or youth football, Mitchell Nelson is not a name you`ll readily associate with Colchester United. He`s a centre-back. Or was. So what happened next?

Have you ever wondered what happens to any young gun who just didn`t make the grade? Vital Colchester intertwines the story of ex-youth teamer, Mitchell Nelson and comments from Youth Development coach, Joe Dunne, to give you an answer.

Last night Colchester United`s Youth Development coach, Joe Dunne, told Dream 100 radio station that only “the top two or three percent” of young players ever make the jump from youth to fist-team football. Thousands are released at the end of each season. This year the recession has hit hard and 92 Football League clubs have taken in just 600 new trainees between them.

Dunne said: “It can be quite ruthless. It`s all about getting them into that first-team. There`s a bit of a misconception – we at youth level don`t actually sign the players. We can only get them to the manager`s door and then the choice is down to him, at the time, whoever that may be. Every manager is different and we don`t actually technically sign them.”

This is what ex-U`s youth defender, Mitchell Nelson, speaking in the latest Four Four Two Magazine, July edition, discovered to his cost when he was released from the U`s books last season. Before that, he had impressively gained a YTS opportunity just twenty minutes into his Colchester trial. “I had nothing to lose,” he says. Now, he`s been limited playing Sunday League football since he was freed by the Essex side.

Although United told him he had been progressing well, the magazine relates that arrival of new manager, Paul Lambert spelt the end of his stay.

Nelson also attended Lewisham College Football Academy alongside his U`s training, fulfilling the promise made by the F.A. affiliated Football League Education foundation to help promising players get a good education alongside football.

“It`s a difficult time for a lot of youngsters coming through; there`s been a lot of publicity over the last few months in regard to the standard of youth football in comparison to Europe and many other places in the world. From England`s point of view, I think we`ve come out with slightly unfair coverage,” Joe Dunne said last night on the situation at Colchester, which is mirrored across world football right now.

“Colchester is vibrant for young players. The Colchester and District School Boys` League runs a very, very good league with many good local teams and there are many potentially good players out there,” he added.

Mitchell told Four Four Two he has gained good qualifications throughout his stay and that release has not perturbed him from trying to fashion a career in the game. “But I want to stay in football. I`m not gonna stop at this. No way.”

But what does Dunne make of the quality of footballing education today, for those like Mitchell, who is currently being courted only by non-league clubs?

“The scholarship is two years now. It used to be three which was a lot more beneficial. Within that, boys do an education programme which gives them the equivalent of two A-levels. They also get a level-two coaching badge, so there`s an educational base. It may allow some to even go to University – we`ve just released one lad who has gone to Arizonan – but primarily you want to see them go on and earn a football career.

“There`s so many released at the end of every year, it`s in the thousands, and we`re competing against that. Non-league now is a fantastic standard for young players to maybe step back out and step back in again. A great example of how that works for recruitment is Peterborough.”

So, there is hope for Nelson, if he chances on a non-league contract with designs on impressing the next astute scout like Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex. Ferrgi junior signed for example prolific striker, Aaron Mclean, in 2007. He was a player who once had tryouts with the U`s and returned to score against them in the last F.A. Cup game at Colchester`s old ground, Layer Road.

Dunne resumes the narrative: “Along the way, sometimes other players come along who are better than them and at youth development level we want to get the best players through. Sometimes a player can be with us for so long that he may have a better chance of breaking into the first team. That`s what we went and what we need.”

This is where Nelson figures – caught in a no-man`s land between beings so close to getting a pro contract and then suddenly and spectacularly having nowhere to play.

His recent appearance at Football League trials in Brentford, which is covered in Four Four Two, sadly doesn`t go well enough for him to clinch another contract.

This story is not unusual; Four Four Two revels that ninety-five percent of all trainees are let go before they reach 21. It`s just like Dunne said – ruthless. Only the best survive.

The F.A. have just awarded central contracts to around 20 of England`s women players, part of the drive by them to given the county`s most popular female sport into a higher professional standard.

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