“All kids need a little help, hope and somebody who believes in them.” Sporting icon Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson believes it’s impossible for youth talent to succeed without having the confidence of a senior figure behind them and with that in mind, no-one has helped bring through more England internationals over the last 10 years than Matt Crocker. From Cardiff to England via Southampton, this is his story.
Having spent 10 years on the books of Cardiff City as a player, Matt Crocker realised at the age of 19 he wasn’t going to make the grade. Without the deemed ability to succeed, he focussed his passion for the game into coaching working with Cardiff’s academy where he eventually established himself as one of the key figures in the club’s youth programme. He was driven and committed to helping others succeed where he had fallen just short.
Matt’s work with the academy over a 6-year period laid the foundations for the ongoing success the Bluebirds have enjoyed in regards to talent production. The model he helped implement has seen the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter, Adam Matthews, Joe Ledley and Cameron Jerome all come through the Welsh club’s ranks so it comes as no surprise that Crocker’s next job saw him ply his trade at one of the most prestigious youth set-ups in Europe, Southampton.
In 2006 he was appointed head of the Saints youth academy and hasn’t looked back. Famed for their track record of producing Premier League and international stars, his work only proved to further enhance the South coast club’s sterling reputation. In his early years, Southampton amassed large sums for the transfers of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale, with the latter now considered one of the world’s best players.
More recent years have seen Matt and his staff invest copious amounts of hours into developing the latest line of star-studded Saints talent. Players such as Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana have all represented England at senior level and subsequently been sold for fees ranging from £16-30 million. Just a few examples of borne fruit from Crocker’s labour. Matt believes Saints are the flagbearers in terms of youth production and adds other clubs look to them as an example of excellence.
“I think there are a lot of clubs looking to Southampton and the way they implement young players. Other clubs with financial problems usually cut back on academies. Even in administration, Southampton didn’t. The academy shouldn’t only be regarded as one of the best in England, but as one of the best in Europe.”
(Crocker speaking to FourFourTwo)
Crocker’s esteemed success led to him being personally head-hunted by the FA in 2013 as he became the governing body’s new head of coaching and player development. With such an exceptional track record first at Cardiff, then Southampton few could contest the decision. Since then, he has set about implementing what he describes as a new ‘England DNA’.
“What we’re trying to do is to create a culture or an environment where you go and watch an England team for five minutes and you should be able to know it’s an England team whether they’re wearing the kit or not. We need to clearly define ourselves tactically and technically in terms of what we’re looking for, but also socially and psychologically what our players should be like.”
(Crocker speaking to The Guardian)
His current remit is to take inspiration from other teams and cultures to help innovate a consistent ‘English playing style’ from the Under-16’s right the way through to the senior squad. The task in hand is no mean feat given our nation’s well-documented failings over the past five decades but if ever there was a man to help guide potential stars and plan for future greatness, it’s Matt Crocker.