Crewe Alexandra: Dario Gradi's academy dream set to come true

Dario Gradi's golden vision in his 30 years with Crewe Alexandra has always been to name an entire first team made up of home-grown players.

This Saturday, 18 months on from going "upstairs" to head the Alex academy, when Crewe take on Walsall in the final League One game of the season at Gresty Road, Gradi's dream will come true.

"It's a little piece of history," Crewe manager Steve Davis told BBC Sport.

"It's the first time this club has ever played an entire team of academy lads."

Crewe's academy boys

Expected team to face Walsall:

Keeper - Ben Garrett

Defence - Kelvin Mellor, Harry Davis, George Ray, Matt Tootle

Midfield - Ryan Colclough, Ollie Turton, Luke Murphy, Byron Moore

Strikers - AJ Leitch-Smith, Max Clayton

It is what Gradi, the Alex's long-serving former manager, planned when the club's Reaseheath training ground started taking shape a decade and half ago.

And Crewe, the only club outside English football's top two divisions to be graded a Category Two academy club, are rightly proud of it.

"You have to build and give these boys a chance," said Davis. "Sometimes they take you down. Sometimes they get you promoted.

"You have to add a bit of experience to the team to help them along the way.

"But you have to be brave and courageous in playing them."

It says a lot for Crewe's approach that, of the team that trots out for the now otherwise meaningless meeting with Walsall, so many are already regulars.

Only Ben Garrett, the Shropshire-born England Under-19 keeper who has been out on loan with Stafford Rangers, will be making his debut. And even he has experience of being on the bench for first-team games in recent weeks.

The foreign route to success

  • Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli was the first to name an all-foreign starting XI against Southampton on Boxing Day 1999
  • Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was the first to name an entire 16-man squad containing no British players for a Premier League game against Crystal Palace at Highbury in February 2005

By comparison, young defender George Ray, who only made his debut three weeks ago, is now almost an old hand, after enjoying the rare honour of taking his first team bow at Wembley, as an 89th-minute substitute in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy victory over Southend.

But the fact of the matter is that the oldest player the Alex will have out there on Saturday is 24-year-old Byron Moore, who made his debut in August 2007.

And, although he is still a slight doubt with the groin strain that has kept him out since Wembley, they already have the youngest skipper in the Football League, in 22-year-old Aston Villa target Luke Murphy.

In the wake of last summer's departure of Nick Powell (to Manchester United) and Ashley Westwood (to Villa) for seven-figure fees, Murphy looks like being the next one to roll off the Reaseheath production line later this summer.

And any money banked will go to help further finance the next generation at the country's most renowned football factory.

"Everybody plays their part through the academy from Dario downwards," added Davis.

"They've worked hard on their development and I've just tried to carry it on over the last 18 months and instil a bit of belief in how good they are."