Rich added some thoughts on Chris Smalling last night – and got me thinking.
He says (and it’s certainly true) that it is easier for fans to relate to a young player coming through and establishing themselves in their team. Since Smalling came in from Maidstone, he’s not somebody who has come through Fulham’s youth set-up, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a truly homegrown player come through the ranks. Getting the balance betwen blooding youngsters from the Academy and sustaining a truly competitive team is a very tough judgement indeed: get it wrong and relegation will be staring you in the face.
The last first-teamer that Fulham successfully produced is probably Sean Davis, who initially arrived on the scene after coming through our old YTS programme and being given his debut by Micky Adams. As Al-Fayed’s money rolled in, Davis found it difficult to establish himself and might have slipped through the net yet Jean Tigana not focussed his attention on the midfielder. Davis played in all four divisions for Fulham, scored the goal that capped a memorable night at Blackburn and his late equaliser at home to Sheffield Wednesday sealed the championship in that magnificent season. He was called into an England squad a couple of years later which made his subsequent conduct – undermining his manager in the media and engineering a transfer for which he then blamed Fulham – disappointing.
Chris Coleman certainly tried to bring through some young talent. Adam Green looked very impressive in the early stages of his Fulham career, but is now plying his trade for Hayes & Yeading in the Conference. They were high hopes for Malik Buari but he disappeared after a few first-team games and is now with St. Albans. You can’t really count either Zat Knight or Liam Rosenior since we brought them in from elsewhere but they never really kicked on from their early potential.
So what’s this got to do with Chris Smalling, I hear you cry? Well, Smalling’s done very well to break into the team and it looks like he’ll be making a few more appearances for the first team this season. First team football’s important to aid his development and might also give a boost to those who are currently in the Academy system. He’s got plenty of talent and potential and could be a really good player.
UPDATE: I had this nagging feeling that I’d forgotten somebody and it’s just come to me: Elliot Omozusi. ‘Junior’ looked promising when he broke into Coleman’s team during an injury crisis and had a few games under Sanchez but then drifted into the reserves. He was disappointing on loan at Norwich last season and was released. Last time I checked he was without a club, although he was about to start a trial with Peterborough recently.