The words above have been the refrain of Fulham fans frustrated by the departures of promising players in recent years. The loss of Ryan Sessegnon, Fabio Carvalho and Matt O’Riley – amongst others – have been keenly felt by Craven Cottage regulars and the case for a category one academy has not always seemed compelling with the senior side flitting between the top flight and the Championship on an annual basis. But a season of success under Marco Silva and two years of reorganisation of the Motspur Park youth set-up mean the vision of Mohamed Al-Fayed to see the Whites produce their own players as they did in the glorious post-war period is closer to reality.

Fulham might not have won many trophies but London’s oldest professional football club has quite a history. Aside from the Cottage itself, many of the game’s greats have graced the hallowed turf by the banks of the River Thames. Some stars stopped in briefly having made their names elsewhere – see the likes of Bobby Moore and George Best – but the core of a Fulham side that entertained in the top flight throughout the 1960s was homegrown. Alongside ‘the Maestro’ Johnny Haynes were the late George Cohen as well as Tosh Chamberlain, whilst an enterprising Bill Dodgin travelled to the north east to recruit a schoolboy Sir Bobby Robson. The entertaining Jimmy Hill was born in Balham and spent nine years as a player at the Cottage after a brief spell with Brentford.

Malcolm Macdonald’s successful side that should have returned to the top tier in 1983 also had a sprinkling of homegrown talent. Westminster-born Tony Gale made 277 appearances having progressed through the youth ranks, midfielder Rob Wilson also played more than 200 matches having hailed from Kensington and a very young Leroy Rosenior, whose son Liam also starred in a Fulham shirt, made his debut in what remains one of the most frustrating campaigns in the club’s history. Fulham’s subsequent descent down the divisions – accelerated by the Bulstrode asset-stripping – placed the Cottage and even the club in jeopardy and the proud history of local boys wearing the white shirt appeared to be a thing of the past.

Micky Adams, who inspired a barely believable promotion from the basement on a shoestring budget, handed Sean Davis a first-team debut and the youngster who went on to put the ball in the Blackburn net became the only player to represent Fulham in all four divisions. In the early Al-Fayed era, Fulham’s progress owed more to the Harrods owner’s financial muscle than a progressive youth policy. Even Zat Knight was the product of a raid on Rushall Olympic for a few tracksuits.

When Alistair Mackintosh arrived fresh from his former club Manchester City surrendering a 2-0 lead at Eastlands during the Great Escape, one of the new chief executive’s objectives was to build a top class academy at Motspur Park. Fulham were successful in luring Malcolm Elias, Liverpool’s head of talent identification, and Huw Jennings, who had overseen the emergence of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale at Southampton, in 2009 with an aim of reaching the holy grail of category one status. Steve Wigley joined later after a sour test of management at St. Mary’s – and the project was underway.

Fulham reached category one level three years later but the fruits of Al-Fayed’s investment were realised in 2014 after the Egyptian had sold to Shahid Khan. The first team suffered relegation in the first season under their new American owners, but the under-18s reached the FA Youth Cup final, with Marek Rodak in goal. A number of that squad formed the basis of a team that saved the club from a second successive relegation under Kit Symons, who was probably in A&E himself when he received the most horrible of hospital passes in inheriting the first team managerial job from Felix Magath. Symons showed faith in a number of youngsters, but when Jennings introduced the Welshman’s successor, Slavisa Jokanovic, to a sixteen-year old at Coombe School named Ryan Sessegnon – the benefits of a brilliant partnership between Fulham and the nearby high school, whose education programme was overseen by a certain Sean Cullen.

Jennings, who transitioned into a crucial role as Fulham’s head of football development two summers ago, is probably the most important signing the club has made across the past two decades. A successful academy is a vital plank of making Fulham more sustainable – balancing the need to meet English football’s financial fair play restrictions with meeting the requirements under the Elite Player Performance Plan – because the most successful graduates can move on for big money. But Sessegnon only sought pastures new once the Whites were relegated in 2019 and one suspects Fabio Carvalho may be regretting swapping the familiarity of London for Liverpool, where he has failed to shine under Jurgen Klopp since moving to Merseyside.

The club’s youth policy is more progressive now, with the brightest talents from a successful under-21 set-up overseen by Wigley offered the opportunity to taste senior football on loan, like Steven Sessegnon, who scored a screamer for Charlton on Saturday, or Kieron Bowie, recently returned from injury to power Northampton Town’s promotion push. Centre half Connor McAvoy is earning rave reviews since moving north of Hadrian’s Wall to join Partick Thistle, whilst Jay Stansfield is benefitting from valuable game time during an emotional return to Exeter City. The next batch of bright youngsters are making impressive strides in the under 18s and under 21s, who face Sparta Prague in the Premier League International Cup this evening.

Perhaps the brightest prospect at present is Luke Harris, who added another year to his Craven Cottage contract yesterday after being called up to the Welsh senior side at the same time. Harris, who values the influence of Elias, Jennings and Wigley on his career since moving to Fulham having been spotted in Jersey as a youngster, sees his long-term future with Fulham, despite interest from elsewhere. The playmaker trains with the first team every day under the watchful eye of an impressed Marco Silva, balancing his integration into the senior set-up with more minutes for the under-21s. It makes a refreshing change to see one of the brightest domestic talents commit to Fulham without hesitation – and the club’s success in securing a second season in the Premier League can only have helped.

In a world where teams are only as successful as their last result and Premier League points can be converted in lucrative prize money, a long-term view perspective is sometimes difficult to maintain. But Fulham’s academy is genuinely the envy of many across the continent. You can see that in the number of youth development agreements struck by Jennings in his new role. It is a serious success story and adds to the feeling that Fulham can be proud of their present – and possibly the future – as well as their storied past.