After our humiliating FA Cup defeat to Brighton, Alan Pardew said he was forced to put out youngsters that should really be in the ‘development team’. I don’t follow though…
Now Pardew has actually mentioned these players belonging to the ‘development squad’ a few times this season. One of the main pledges made by Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley since they joined the club was to build a youth set up that will carry the club moving forward – however I’m not seeing it.
Our line up on Saturday looked like this; Rob Elliot, Davide Santon, Mike Williamson, James Perch, James Tavernier, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigirimana, Gabriel Obertan, Sammy Ameobi, Mehdi Abeid and Shola Ameobi. Subs used were; Sylvain Marveaux, Paul Dummett and Nile Ranger.
Santon, Williamson, Perch, Anita, Obertan, Marveaux and Shola – even Elliot – are all part of our first team squad. That leaves Sammy, Ranger, Dummett, Abeid, Bigi and Tavernier.
Sammy Ameobi is supposed to be one of our brightest young talents. He’s 21 in May. He has played 14 times for the senior side this term, averaging 45 minutes per game. He’s only played twice for the U-21’S. Compare that to our 1st team squad player Gabriel Obertan, who has played 18 times averaging 54 minutes per game. Not a lot of difference really. So is Sammy in fact a First Team squad player?
I know what you may be thinking – ‘You’re missing the point Shamrock. Pardew said these players should be in the development squad. Meaning his hands are tied. Fine, but Sammy is no spring chicken anymore! He should be making inroads into our first team squad by now. Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann are 22 and 21 respectively for example. They are well on their way. Davide Santon – our 1st choice left back has only just turned 22. Should he be in the ‘development squad?’
Look harder at these ‘youngsters’. Nile Ranger, Bradden Inman, James Tavernier, Shane Ferguson, Paul Dummett – all 22 this year. Dan Gosling is 23 this year. Romain Amalfitano is 24 this year! Is he a ‘development player?’ If that’s the case, lets throw Vernon Anita and Gabriel Obertan in there too. They are still 23.
Why oh why did we sign Amalfitano?! A complete waste of a place in our squad. If he’s not good enough for us at 23 years old, he never will be. Mehdi Abeid was awful the other day. No fight, no passion, no effort. Did nothing of note. He’s 20 years old. If he is not hungry for a cup match and chance to impress at this stage of his career, when will he ever be? I thought our scouts were meticulous when shopping abroad? What happened here then?!
The youngest of all of these is Gael Bigirimana, who is 19. He has 10 Premier League appearances to his name already this season, averaging about 36 minutes per game. He has 10 other appearances in our cup competitions, averaging 75 minutes per game. He has played for the U-21’S just once this season. Bearing all this mind, you would have to say he is actually part of the first team set up. In fact, take away Adam Campbell (18), Curtis Good (20 in March) and Remi Streete (18) and he is amongst the youngest genuine ‘talents’ on our books.
Look around the Premiership and you will find young examples of according to Pardew at least, development age players making huge strides all over the shop:
Age 22; Benteke, Ramsay, Gueye, Allen, Henderson, Ramirez, Rose, Kyle Walker, McCarthy, Miyaichi, Hazard, Moses, De Gea, Rafael, Welbeck, Balotelli.
Age 21; Wilshere, Weimann, Clyne, Caulker, Romeu, Oscar, Macheda.
20 or under; Oxlade-Chamberlaine, Barkley, Shelvey, Sterling, Lukaku, Phil Jones, Powell, Nastasic.
By the time you get to Dan Gosling’s age you should be a nailed on first time regular. The likes of Gibbs, Walcott, Bannan, Sturridge, Gunter, Rodriguez, McClean, Colback, Meyler, Neil Taylor, Sandro, Bale, Sigurdsson and Tomkins have pretty much all been around their respective first teams for a long time. Gosling was supposed to be a huge talent, but he has stagnated with us. I know he’s been unlucky with injuries – but he just does not look like he is capable of bringing an ‘A’ game to a match anymore.
I know the above list is not exactly massive, but almost every club in the league has better genuine squad depth than us – so they can afford to bring on the odd youth and it actually benefits them because they are good enough. We are playing a bunch of youngish pro’s that would likely struggle in League 1 because we have not invested in our squad – using catchphrases like ‘development squad’ and ‘youth strategy’ as a distraction technique.
Clearly if you are good enough, you play. Santon and Bigi demonstrate this, as do countless other players strutting their stuff in this league. The time for developing is in their teens. If they get to 21, 22 and 23 and have not made a serious impression, they are not good enough!
My perception of what a ‘development team’ should be is a bunch of under 20’s. Players like Streete and Campbell, who we should send off for a couple of years on loan at GOOD clubs before being eased into the first team – or shipped out. We’ll let Good off, who has only just joined from the other side of the world. Don’t waste them on loans to League 1 and 2, or pack them off to poor Scottish sides. If these are supposed to be future Premier League stars then put them in the Championship for a year, somewhere they get relevant experience playing alongside hungry, talented pro’s chomping at the bit to make the next step up and hit the big time. So Curtis Good aside, what excuse does anybody else from this group have? Where does Pardew get off calling them ‘development squad’ players?!
This club’s bigwigs have been working on our fantastic youth set up for five years now. Pardew has had two years overseeing it. What are the results? A bunch of ‘kids’ you can’t really call kids, who will never make it in the Premiership with the exception of Bigirimana and maybe Ferguson and Vuckic.
Whatever our club have been doing with our ‘youths’, it’s not working. They need to change their ways before they ruin the careers of of our actual development players such as Adam Campbell and Remi Streete. Stop pretending these are ‘development players’ and just admit they are squad players that are not good enough. Our youth strategy is still as poor as it ever was. What is the reason? Are they all lazy? I doubt it. Were they never good enough? A few of them, probably yes… Is it bad coaching? That might explain the general lethargy, lack of organisation and work ethic displayed by our entire squad this season. If our coaches are not getting the basics right in training with our senior pro’s, then how can the understudies possibly be learning anything?
Unfortunately these players are taking up spaces in our squad that should be given to players with real ability. They have had whatever raw talent they ever possessed ripped out of them and wasted by a board unwilling to invest properly in the squad and a manager that does not seem to know what player development actually means. Keeping them at the club playing in pointless reserve games well into their 20’s and dragging them out in high pressure top of the range games for the odd 30 minutes every few weeks is not how you nurture a young pro. They should be wheeled out a couple at a time on a regular basis if not on loan – playing alongside a near full strength side so that they actually learn something. They need continuity via regular competitive match practice at a high level.
The board and Pardew took a gamble on this lot to see us through this term instead of making signings and it backfired. In the meantime they have pretty much destroyed the careers of your Sammy Ameobi’s and James Taverniers. Pardew said at the beginning of the season he was happy with his squad and would be pushing for the top four. Was he lying? Did he actually believe the words coming out of his mouth? Now he is bleating on about how they are not ready and how we ‘undercooked’ it in the summer. Either he was happy with his squad in August or he wasn’t. If he was, like he said he was – then I worry for us. If he wasn’t, then he has willingly destroyed the careers of these young pro’s just to toe the line with the Board. Spineless if that’s the case.
Lets stop making excuses now Pardew and start producing results. Have a nice big clear out in the summer of all these players who have not ‘made it’ and give us a proper squad – then take more care developing the next batch of youngsters. Fair enough, you had no other options – but don’t dress them up as youngsters. Say it how it is – our squad is woefully short of genuine competition thanks to the results of a poor and wasted youth strategy combined with a board using it as an excuse to not invest in first team playing staff properly.