Has the grass proved greener? Where Town's poached academy stars are now

Kundai Benyu, pictured at the Ipswich Town v Huddersfield Town (Sky Bet Championship) match at Portm

From top left, clockwise: Kundai Benyu, Harry Clarke, Marcelo Flores and Charlie Brown - four players young players who were lured away from Ipswich Town in recent years. Photos: Archant/Arsenal/PA - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Former Ipswich Town academy striker Charlie Brown moved from Chelsea to MK Dons yesterday. STUART WATSON looks at how the careers of young players poached from the Blues have panned out in recent years.

Kundai Benyu, pictured at the Ipswich Town v Huddersfield Town (Sky Bet Championship) match at Portm

Kundai Benyu ran down his first professional contract at Ipswich Town. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

KUNDAI BENYU 

Midfielder was on the fringes of the Town first team at the age of 16 and named on the bench twice in the successful Championship campaign of 2014/15. 

The combination of a knee injury and a self-admitted ‘attitude problem’, for which he apologised to Mick McCarthy for, then held him back. 

Had a loan spell at National League side Aldershot Town then ran down his first professional contract. At the age of 19, having failed to make a senior appearance for the Blues, he moved to Celtic for a nominal compensation fee. 

Celtic's Kundai Benyu and Kilmarnock's Iain Wilson battle for the ball during the Betfred Cup, Secon

Kundai Benyu made just two starts in three years at Celtic. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

Made just four appearances for the Scottish giants between 2017 and 2020, getting loaned out to League One side Oldham (four starts) and Swedish club Helsingborg (two starts).  

Joined newly-promoted National League side Wealdstone last October where he’s been a bit-part player. 

Harry Clarke, pictured signed his professional deal at Arsenal. Photo: Arsenal.com

Harry Clarke, pictured signed his professional deal at Arsenal. Photo: Arsenal.com - Credit: Arsenal.com

HARRY CLARKE 

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Midfielder provided the finishing touch to a ‘Barcelona-eqsue’ team goal, scored by Town's U14s, back in in 2014. Footage went viral (the video currently at 1.6m views on YouTube). 

He was snapped up by Arsenal, age 14, the following year for a compensation fee reported to be around £100k. The Gunners soon converted him into a ball-playing centre-half.  

Clarke signed a pro deal after helping their U18s to the Premier League South title, then quickly became a regular starter for their U23s. 

He penned a new long-term deal in December 2019 and started training with Mikel Arteta’s senior squad when the 2019/20 season was resumed last year. 

The 6ft 2in teenager, who will turn 20 in March, joined Oldham on loan in October. The Greater Manchester club were bottom of League Two when he arrived, but have since risen to 15th. 

Clarke has started 15 games, scoring an important late winner against Cheltenham, and is set to see his deal expire on January 20. 

Boss Harry Kewell enthused: “What a fantastic character he is. He’s a pleasure to train, always willing to learn, always first out on the pitch, always last in, full of energy. 

“Off the top of my head I can only think of one not-so-great game. He’s looked strong, he loves a challenge, he loves the physical side of it, he’s quick and he’s comfortable on the ball. So yeah, of course we’d love to see that agreement continue until the end of the year. 

“We’ve already spoken to Arsenal, they have a couple of ideas about what they would like to do, but they are happy at the moment.” 

Chelsea Under 21's Charlie Brown (right) shoots wide during the Papa John's Trophy Southern Group D

Charlie Brown (right) in EFL Trophy action for Chelsea. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

CHARLIE BROWN 

Striker moved to Chelsea, age 16, in 2016 for a compensation fee of £600k. 

The Felixstowe-raised front man subsequently scored 53 goals in 108 youth appearances for the Premier League club, helping them to an U18s quadruple, firing them to the final of the UEFA Youth League (U19s) and bagging six times in EFL Trophy outings (U21s). 

He made three appearances for Belgian second-tier side Union SG during a loan spell in the second half of last season. 

Yesterday, he completed a permanent move to League One club MK Dons for an undisclosed fee. 

Brown, 21, said: “The gaffer has got a really strong plan for the team. I’ve seen the way the team plays, with a lot of possession and creating a lot of chances for the strikers. It’s going to be up to me to finish those chances off.” 

MK Dons boss Russell Martin said: “Charlie is someone we’ve been monitoring for a while now and when it transpired that we could sign him, we jumped at the chance. 

“He’s shown a lot of intent to come and play for MK Dons – turning down some more lucrative offers because he believes in what we’re doing here. 

“He’s scored a lot of goals at youth level but I believe we can improve him even further. In the long term, he’s going to be a very, very good signing.” 

Under U18 Ipswich Town FC v U18 Blackpool FC. Ben Knight in action for Town. Picture : SARAH LUCY

Ben Knight (right) was a star player in the Ipswich Town academy. Photo: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

BEN KNIGHT 

Joined Ipswich at the age of eight and had long been tipped as a future star.

Academy supremo Bryan Klug referred to him as ‘potentially the best player’ he has worked with, while academy coach Kieron Dyer once compared the diminutive youngster’s style of play to that of Lionel Messi. 

The Cambridgeshire-based starlet was lured away by Manchester City at the age of 16 though, just as he was about to start a scholarship at Playford Road. 

Town, fearful that a tribunal panel would set the fee even lower, felt powerless to accept a bid of around £1m. 

Knight, the nephew of former England and Essex cricketer Nick, played a key role as City reached the FA Youth Cup Final of 2018/19 and was subsequently called up to the first team squad for their pre-season tour of Asia. 

Speaking around that time, he said: “At Ipswich I was one of the big players but here there are so many big players and you have to up it even more to stand out. 

“That’s the challenge I wanted to take. I still have to think 'I'm Ben Knight, I'm going to be the best player on the pitch'. 

“I don't want to be a player that goes through the 18 system into the 23s, I want to be the one that goes above stages, that jumps stages. That's what I want to do.” 

Knight, who doesn’t turn 19 until June, has made nine EFL Trophy outings for City.  

He is currently with the U23s, and was recently nominated as the PL2 Player of the Month for January, though team-mates Liam Delap (17) and Tommy Doyle (19) are seemingly nearer to the first team picture. 

Per Mertesacker the Arsenal Academy Director with Marcelo Flores. Marcelo Flores Contract Signing. A

Marcelo Flores (right), pictured alongside youth coach Per Mertesacker, when signing his professional deal at Arsenal. Photo: Arsenal.com - Credit: Arsenal FC

MARCELO FLORES 

A young man with a very interesting back story. 

His father, Ruben, was a top-flight professional in Mexico. He was raised in Canada, where his mother also played the game. 

Town spotted him when then coach Steve Foley was over in the Caymen Islands as part of an exchange programme (Ruben was the national team’s women’s coach there at the time). 

Marcelo, whose family relocated to Suffolk, quickly caught the eye. He told the EADT, age 13, that: “One of my ambitions is to play professionally in the Premier League, but I would also like to play world-wide, in La Liga. My favourite players are Messi and Hazard - I try to model my game on them both.” 

Mexico-born Ruben Flores and his family have moved from Canada to Suffolk to pursue the footballing

Marcelo Flores, pictured age 13, during his time at Ipswich Town's academy. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

He was snapped up by Arsenal, at the age of 15, in March 2019. The two clubs didn’t disclose the financial agreement reached. 

Quickly impressing for the Gunners’ U18s, he signed a reported five-year professional deal soon after his 17th birthday last October and has already spent some time training with the first team this season.  

Having turned down the chance to represent England at U16 level, he made appearances for Mexico at youth level then earlier this month accepted an invite to join a Canadian senior national training camp. 

The former Kesgrave High School pupil’s two sisters, Silvana and Tatiana, both play for Chelsea. 

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans is facing up the club losing as much as �10m in revenue due to the

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans is facing up the club losing as much as �10m in revenue due to the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Ross Halls - Credit: Archant

WHAT EVANS HAS SAID 

Speaking back in September 2018, after Knight's move to Manchester City, Ipswich owner Marcus Evans slammed the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) rules which essentially make clubs that are not Category One level powerless to prevent their best young players being poached.

He said: “My problem is with the rules, not the clubs. I want to make that clear. 

“It is frustrating though to be put in a position where we invest in a young player from the age of nine for several years and then are forced to lose him for a fee well below what I would consider to be a true valuation of that potential. 

“We fully respect that at the age of 15 a person can’t be bound to a club based solely on their location and if the player wants to move on for valid personal reasons, so be it. 

“However, more often than not, these decisions are influenced by money and if it’s about money then the club that has developed the player should be fairly rewarded, as the club taking the player is doing so for their own financial advantage. 

“This is where the current rules break down and we have accepted figures that were, in effect, forced upon us based on the most likely outcome of a compensation fee tribunal."

Elkan Baggott pictured in the warm up.
Picture: Steve Waller
www.stephenwaller.com

Elkan Baggott made his Ipswich Town debut against Gillingham in the EFL Trophy - Credit: Steve Waller

COULD MORE FOLLOW?

Town are currently working hard to tie talent young centre-back Elkan Baggott down to a professional deal.

The 18-year-old, who has represented Indonesia at U19 level, has attracted interest from Premier League clubs Leeds and West Ham.

Bury St Edmunds-based midfielder Liam Gibbs, who turned 18 last month, is another that Town are trying to sort a deal with. His first pro deal is set to expire this summer and is also understood to have attracted Premier League interest.

There has long been excitement about Town's current crop of U16s, with Jack Manley and Nico Valentine two players in particular who are tipped to have bright futures.

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