Often Partisan

Youth versus Experience

Once again it appears Blues are down to the bare bones of their squad again with injuries to central midfielders Guirane N’Daw, Keith Fahey and Jordon Mutch leaving Chris Hughton with the age-old selection headache of going with out-of-position experienced players or chancing it with a rookie. It’s something that gets talked a lot about on forums and I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on it.

It’s not the first time we’ve been in this position; barely a month or so ago it appeared everyone who was a full-back was out with injury and Hughton had the choice of playing Ramage (who really is a centre-half) and N’Daw (who really isn’t a full back) or calling up someone like Mitch Hancox, Luke Hubbins or even his son Cian. As we all know, he went with the experienced option – some games it worked, some games Blues looked hideously unbalanced. Doesn’t it always seem like managers won’t put their faith in the kids though?

I mean, take a look back at our former managers Alex McLeish and Steve Bruce. Neither were well-known for bringing in kids into the team; even in one-0ff games against poor opposition it was rare to see kids coming on bar for the odd game. During injury crises both manager made the best they could do with the players they had and as a consequence, very few players actually made the transition from academy to first team. From the time Darren Carter scored that pen that took us up ten years ago up to the start of this season I can think of only two players who have come in and played a decent number of games – Colin Doyle and Mat Sadler. In ten years, that’s not really good enough.

Of course, a lot of the blame rests with the disbanding of the Blues Academy for a period by the former board. Good academies don’t spring up overnight and that action caused no end of damage to the long-term infrastructure of the club for the benefit of some small short-term gains. It’s my belief that the academy is only just now at the point where it’s recovered from that closure – and Blues have been left behind. You only have to look at our neighbours across the expressway, the Baggies and Wolves to see how far Blues have let things slip; all of them are churning out players on a season by season basis that have a chance of making it – and of course, Blues are competing with those clubs for the youngsters to bring through themselves.

Unfortunately, this is where the crux of the problem has been; it’s not just been a case of Blues not playing the youngsters – it’s a case that the majority haven’t been anywhere near good enough. Take a look at the released players over the last few years, and think about how many of them are playing at least Championship level – it isn’t many. If the kids aren’t good enough, managers can’t risk playing them in first team games, which means not many break through – which discourages kids from joining the academy, which means future intakes aren’t good enough… it’s a vicious circle.

Have things changed in the here and now? Well, the problem is that Blues can’t afford to slip up. It’s interesting to note tonight’s opponents Ipswich are looking to blood a schoolboy midfielder that they think has prodigious talent this season; with nothing to play for there isn’t much stopping them doing that and I suspect that they may well give a couple of other players a go as they think about moving on some of the older heads. As much as I’d like to see Blues give Brice Ntambwe a debut tonight, I don’t think it will happen because of the pressure Blues are under. The fact is it’s more likely that an unexperienced rookie player will make a mistake and cost Blues the game than they will win it for the team; Hughton will feel he has to play the percentages and whilst Wade Elliott for example isn’t the most robust of midfielders he has been around long enough to know what is expected of him.

If Blues don’t go up the one good thing that might come out of further player sales is that Blues will be forced to bring through more younger players. I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to the line “experienced pros” – I think it’s a euphemism for “mercenary journeymen” at times and I’d rather see Blues save their money and see what they can do bringing through players. I read Watford have blooded fifty youngsters into their first team in the last ten years – it doesn’t seem to have done them much harm. With Blues advertising for new academy staff to bulk up what they have, and doing fairly well in tournaments like the recent one out in Dubai, I hope the tide is changing and we’ll see more locally produced talent over the next few years.

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7 Responses to “Youth versus Experience”

  • Stevie Blue says:

    A good article and I agree with most of it. Sadly Blues have all to often payed lip service to producing their own players. A club isn’t just about the first team;the whole infrastructure of a club from academies, training facilities, background staff and the stadium itself can indicate the true health of a club. I know for a fact that 6-7 years even the likes of Southampton were spending double the amount Blues were on their academy (Theo Walcott anyone?). IMHO, if Blues are to make meaningful long term progress ALL of these areas will need significant investement. Even though this season it’s been pleasing to see the emergence of Jordan Mutch, Nathan Redmond has been underused and the presence of Boaz Myhill has to my mind blocked the progress of Colin Doyle who desreves a crack at being number one if only for his loyalty alone. If we don’t go up next season sell Foster, give Myhill back to the Baggies and let Doyle and Butland fight for number 1 spot and give more opportunities to the likes of Hancox and even Enric Valles (I know he’s not an academy graduate, but none the less a young contraced player who hasn’t been given any kind of chance this season).

  • AL- LAD says:

    Bit harsh on Bruce & CH, I can remember Bruce playing Seb, Muamba and Bentner with a young Doyle in goal, CH has used Mutch, Townsend, Redmond and Chris Wood this season & Eck is currently starting with a few youngsters at the the Villa. Fact remains managers will always try & pick a balanced team, if young players are good enough they’ll play, Blues just haven’t produced many. I’m happy for Gomis & Elliott to start in midfield tonight I’m not worried what their ages are it’s the result that’s important.

    • Stevie Blue says:

      The fact that Blues haven’t produced many is one of the points I’m trying to make. If Blues are to have sustainable long term success, then the funding of the academy and having the nerve and patience with its products must be given serious consideration, not lip service.

  • nicko says:

    we have a great up and coming acadamy steve spooner is a top coach we do miss terry westley
    who should never have gone well respected we have some top players coming through as some
    of you have said we also have callum reillly fraiser kerr will packwood one to look out for is foday
    brice ntambwe would not let the team down excellent on the ball c/h is bringing them through fair
    play to him he does not want push them to quickly next season watch nathen and jordon and we
    all must keep the faith

  • RichardW says:

    Marcos Painter, Alex Bruce and Craig Fagan had decent spells in the championship but not with us.
    That said, Sullivan’s and Golds’ disbanding of the academy as you say was a major setback. Not having proper competitive reserve fixtures can’t help either.

  • NooBloo says:

    Well would you rather be sitting mid table with 8 youngsters in the team or be sitting getting ready to play in the play offs and maybe a trip to Wembley with what we have ?

    if you want the 8 youngsters and sitting mid table you also need to realise that if any of them are any good they would be snapped up next season anyhow by the more wealthy clubs and you would need to start again ffrom scratch.

    I know where i would rather be

  • bkkblue says:

    Some good points. I guess Sone Aluko is the only one we’ve let go in recent years who may have been worth holding onto. Hard to tell in the SPL though.


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