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Sell-ons, bench-warmers and fill-ins: the life of Premier League academy graduates | Barney Ronay

Zach Fagan spent 12 years with Arsenal but the glitter of the Premier League proved an illusion experienced by many youngsters, some picked up at the age of four, in a flawed system

Many are called but few are chosen. Unless of course we’re talking about Premier League football, in which case the equation is even more extreme. Even at a time when the obsession with developing talent remains as urgent as ever, when scarcely a week passes without some prominent voice – this week Jürgen Klopp – flagging up the clogged progression from promise to fully formed first-teamer, the picture remains more or less the same. Many are called, to ever more splendid surroundings, and at ever younger ages. But still the disconnect remains.

It is a story that lends itself to poignant contrasts. This weekend Zach Fagan watched from the bench as Welling United lost 2-1 at Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Trophy. Fagan is one of those names that might just ring a bell. He spent 12 years with Arsenal’s junior levels, making the cut from eight-year-old triallist to full-time youth, to scholar to under-21s. As ever there were excitable whispers along the way. An elegant, ball-playing defender, Fagan played centre-back alongside Héctor Bellerín. He was compared to Rio Ferdinand and Éric Abidal by the club’s in-house magazine. He got to the level below the level. In May 2014, having never played for the first team, he was released and signed for Welling.

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