What next for our youngsters?
January will not only be interesting to see who we buy and sell, but it will also be a time to see what, if anything happens to our emerging youngsters.
After topping their league in the U-21 competition and also qualified for the knock out stage of the NextGen tournament, it is probably safe to say that we have a very decent group of kids at the club, but it is more about the players that are soon to be too old for the junior teams, but are still to truly establish themselves as senior players that concern me, if concern is the right word. It is clear that these players have quality, but it is opportunity that is missing and the question is how best do we give then the games they look like they need.
As things stand, Danny Rose and Adam Smith are two very good examples of players who are currently performing very well whilst on loan and fingers crossed that Harry Kane will be able to at last show his quality as he returns to full fitness with Norwich, but what about others such as Andros Townsend, Iago Falque, Ryan Mason and Dean Parrett as four prime examples of players who seem to have all the right qualities, but as yet aren't getting the minutes on the pitch at senior level to prove their worth and gain experience. Perhaps we could also add Jake Livermore and Tom Carroll to the list as I can see their chances being limited with the return of Scott Parker to first team action.
It is all too easy to suggest that we loan these players to lower Premiership sides and that we then solve the problem. Getting the right club who will want and play the player is harder that we would imagine. What is the point in loaning a player, only to see him out of the team or played out of his ideal position. The likes of Wigan etc are of course not going to take a player from us as a favour, but would moving down to the Championship in certain cases be too much of a drop at this stage of their development and as we have seen with the likes of Townsend, Falque Livermore and Mason, they have played Championship football and it is debatable whether they learned much from the experience.
In contrast, we can look at Liverpool and see the impact someone like Raheem Sterling has made without any time away from Anfield and he has jumped straight from Academy starlet to the first team and England, and already looks to be one of their outstanding players, regardless of him being young enough to be the love child of Jamie Carragher. Interestingly Sterling is a few years younger than all of the Spurs players I have mentioned, so does that just make him better or just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to get his chance?
Perhaps we are doing AVB a disservice and given time we will see these players start the occasional Premiership game, but until he gets the side playing exactly how he wants them to, is he better to stick with a settled side and only once they have mastered his tactical demands, can he slowly but surely bring in the kids for anything other than an occasional Cup cameo. It is of course easy to big up Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool or even Paul Lambert at Villa for giving kids a chance, but was that done out of great vision or simply a case of having no other option? Perhaps I am cynical, but usually when a manager gives more than an occasional player a chance, it is born out of necessity as opposed to anything else. Managers tend to play safe and go with experience and big money signings than giving the kids time to grow into genuine first team players.
I have noted with interest the positivity for Carroll, Falque and Townsend this season, but in the short term can we see them getting enough first team games to develop them as players and also keep them happy and motivated? Equally if we were to loan them, what happens if we got a sudden glut of injuries that ultimately went on to cost us dearly? However as a fan, it is all well and good bigging up the kids in their occasional appearance, but would you be happy to perhaps risk dropping points or accepting the youngsters understandable poor games or decisions, for the long term development of the player and the good of the club? I only have to hear and read comments about Jake Livermore to make me worry that we don't have the patience to allow the players to grow.
I suppose much depends on the players mindset. Are they currently happy with how their career is going and their status at the club? It is quite possible that training regularly with the senior players and getting the occasional game or substitute spot is considered better than working and playing alongside Championship players and that argument has merits, certainly when we consider last seasons non event of a loan for Yago Falque at Southampton for example. Are we also in a time when some players don't have the game for lower level football and are better served working with the games elite? Tim Sherwood suggested that was the case with Tom Carroll last season, and you can see a logic there.
If I am honest, I don't really know the answer. It is easy to make a sweeping statement in wanting us to play these players or give them a decent Premiership loan, but without knowing the mindset of the players and what AVB's med-long term plans are for them, it is impossible to know what the best direction we should take. I would love to see some of these players get regular football for a few months and hopefully see them return better players and more mature individuals for the experience, but we also might have to accept that a good percentage of these players will never make the step up, unless we have a definite plan to play them and accept there will be a bedding in period. With such a strong squad already, can we see AVB picking Townsend or Falque over Dempsey or Sigurdsson for example? That is a big call and perhaps as mad as it sounds, their best chance is for a few injuries in their position after the window closes and then hope that they do enough to make the manager go with them in the long term...