Giving Youth A Chance

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How many players can you name?


As manager of a club the fans will scrutinize every decision you make. One week they may be backing you and chanting your name, the next slating you on Internet forums as your team plummets down the league faster than a Luis Suarez dive.  One thing most fans love to see though is player who has come through the ranks, the local lad who has been nurtured through the academy, step onto the pitch and make their professional debut.

There comes a time in every managers career where they look at their team and ask themselves the question ‘shall I give youth a chance?’ A magnitude of reasons could lead to this avenue of thought.

You’ve got an injury crisis. The transfer window is closed. The club is in Administration. You need to ‘freshen’ things up. You’re 4-0 up and coasting with 10 minutes left to go. All of these are valid explanations of you giving 17-year-old Johnny his debut.

Scouring the lower leagues you will find squads with youngsters on loan from the ‘bigger’ clubs or promoted from the youth team. The main reason for this is cost; the players are not on big contracts and a lot of clubs are reluctant to take a risk in the transfer market due to financial restrictions in place. Unearthing a gem from the Academy can be the lifeblood for some teams; look no further than Crewe Alexandra’s famous conveyer belt of talent, which needs no introduction of the players it has produced.


Defoe: scored 10 in 10

Big clubs normally loan players to the lower based teams for much needed match experience and to ‘toughen’ them up. West Ham United loaned an 18-year-old striker to AFC Bournemouth in 2001 that went on to score 18 goals in 29 appearances. Back then his talent was plain to see and Jermaine Defoe has continued his goal scoring feats at every club he has played for. Would Bournemouth have taken the chance on the youngster if their coffers were full? They might have plumped for a proven journeyman striker and Defoe may never have got the chance to build his confidence and make the onion bag bulge.

In the top flight you find managers are more cautious when promoting youth to the first team. The stakes are high and one mistake in a live televised game can destroy a player’s confidence; on the flip side a Man of the Match performance can have the worlds media and scouts circling like vultures at the next game. Pressure can make or break a career. The example of Michael Johnson’s release from Man City recently shows how cruel the world of football can be, one minute you’re a £10m rated future international, the next minute checked into The Priory.


“You can’t win anything with kids”

After Man United were trounced on the opening day of the 95-96 Premier League season 3-1 away at Aston Villa, the famous words ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ were spouted by Alan Hansen. Nine months later with the League Title and FA Cup safely tucked away in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet those words would forever haunt him. To be fair, the youth that was given a chance by Alex Ferguson had exceptional talent and would go on to be household names. Neville, Scholes, Butt, Beckham; not a bad bunch I’m sure you’d all agree.

Going down the route of youth does not always have the effect the manager will want. With Paul Lambert at the helm at Aston Villa this season (he may not be by the time you’re reading this) he has invested in young players and results are not going to plan. Many believe that you need to have the right blend of youth and experience for success to occur and if the scales tip to one side this formula will not work. Languishing at the wrong end of the table I tend to agree.

If you are a manager or coach one day you may be asking yourself the question of playing the youth card. Depending on the circumstances depends on your answer; whichever decision you make the fans will make their thoughts known…


Article by Chris Stygal

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