As I type this now we’re in extra time at home to West Brom in the FA Youth Cup, after going 3-1 up. COYYWs. If reports are to be believed, we have some talented young players; Marsh Brown is apparently being chased by City and Spurs, Briggs has made a good impression in his two 90 minute stints this season, Dalle Valle was one of Liverpool’s brightest prospects before joining as part of the Konchesky deal in the summer (a year after we first tried to sign him).
Now, at Fulham we’re going through a patch of poor form, we’ve gone from 7th to 17th over the last few weeks, and now the top 10 are starting to pull away. I’m a Hughes fan and I completely echo the sentiments of Dan’s previous article, but we’ll need to pick up wins sooner rather than later. When teams go into a slump like this, quite often you’ll hear fans calling for youth assomething to freshen up the side (Trotta’s put us 4-3 up, get in). Why are failures like Eddie Johnson and Stephen Kelly still in the squad; why not stick former million pound 16 year old Trotta upfront, he’s just scored, what have we got to lose?
I see it completely differently. I think that we do have alot to lose (4-4, damn). Fact is, from Eddie Johnson you know what you’ll get. Years of professional football and he’s stayed roughly the same, you know you’ll get someone who works hard, who offers pace in behind and win his fair bit in the air, although his qualities on the ball are pretty big shortcomings when it comes to a Premier League striker, and it looks like January will mark 3 years without a first team goal for us. If we start with Dalle Valle against Arsenal he could play well and be the next big thing, but chances are he won’t. Unless you are a very, very good young player the inexperience at the top level will tell, and younger players can look significantly out of their depth when the pressure’s on despite having the talent. So, to me, it’s a not a risk worth taking, I would rather see Eddie Johnson play against Arsenal than our youngsters (Gameiro puts us 5-4 up!).
You also have the thing that in reality we know very little about these players. Its well easy to call for these young players to play but really how many times have people seen them play? Especially this season when ressie games are behind closed doors. If you have, then fair enough, but most people won’t. Hughes then, and the rest of his staff, are the best people to judge, they see the youth in training every day and if they’re good they will play. Hughes has a pretty decent track record with bringing youth through, he gave Onouha, Johnson and Ireland their breaks in the City first team off the top of my head. And actually when you look over the league you’ll find very few under 21s involved around the first team (Wilshire at Arsenal’s pretty special, Nathan Delfouneso is a regular sub for Villa, Boyata gets the odd game at City, other than that no one particuarly sticks out).
However, then there’s the obvious problem of young players not getting game time, so they don’t get tested, so they don’t get game time, etc etc (6-4, Gamerio again!). There’s two things I think as a club we should do. Firstly to put one or two on the bench. Then if the game is comfortably won or lost, we can play them without any pressure on them and any loss to us. I was suprised not to see Briggs on the bench against Birmingham; to have both Kelly and Pantsil on the bench (alright Kelly can play left back but when Salcido went off injured it wasn’t him that came on but Pantsil) doesn’t make sense to me, especially considering Briggs has actually looked pretty good this season. Secondly we’ll need to give them chances in cup competitions and out on loan. I don’t know why we haven’t got anyone out at the moment because they don’t look close to the first team, unless there is no interest in any of them which would back up the argument that they aren’t that good, but I don’t believe that (now it’s too late because the loan window’s closed until January, so we’ll see what happens then, maybe Hughes is concerned with cover and we’ll see them go out on loan after he’s brought in a couple more players).
I look at Villa who are now reaping the benefits of patience with young players for a good model of how to bring young players into the first team. Albrighton, Bannan and Clark are three young players who have made their breakthrough there this season but they’re all 21 or 22 and have had loan spells in the Championship, minutes in domestic and european cup competitions as well as of course serving their time in the reserves. Villa’s hand was forced slightly through injuries but they have done well and are keeping their place in the first team, the only bright sparks in what has been so far a disappointing season for them. I think that we also have the talent, it’s just that us as fans need to be patient.
PS. We’re through!