In the movie: ‘My Cousin Vinny’, Joe Pesci’s character talks about “The Yoots” when actually meaning “Youths” and just as he was initially misunderstood, I wonder are we misunderstanding ‘The Yoots’ within the West Ham United system?
I’ve always been a steadfast advocate of youth development and bringing that talent forward into the first team. “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough!” After all, we are The Academy of Football aren’t we, but are we fully exploiting the talent coming through the ranks?
It is the modern curse of Premiership battle theatre that our generals are less likely to risk blooding the young guns in favour of buying in experience or supposed superior talent, whether domestic or foreign. Their aim is the short term advantage but is this a Pyrrhic victory which leads to long term competitive impotency?
Whilst I am a proponent of fielding our strongest side at all times with the aim to always win every match regardless of game to game tactical differences, I do believe that every bench should be littered with talented youth players with the view to bring them onto the field towards the end of the match wherever appropriate to afford them first team game experience.
This drip feeding approach not only empowers the youngsters over a period of time but also does not drastically change the shape of any given match team. The youth players can see a realistic pathway to the first team and the whole squad can feel a maturing strength in depth that is home grown.
Whilst I was, on the whole, a supporter of Slaven Bilic, I did not feel he would bring enough youth through to the first team on a regular basis. Indeed it was more the case that we would be short in a particular position and a younger player such as Sam Byram would be thrown into the deep end and expected to perform at the highest level. As soon as youth players did not reach the dizzying heights of that expectation, they were relegated back to their starting positions wherever that may be.
David Moyes on the other hand seems more open to the notion of youth inclusion but certainly not as much as I would like. He immediately started to look at the U23s and included them in early training sessions with the first team and even promoted some on a regular basis to the starting bench. This breeds confidence and minimises the jelly leg wobbles from the bean shoots when that call to arms finally comes.
It is a holistic approach to youth development and nurturing a first team experience that we have lacked in recent seasons but possibly seems to be changing since Moyes took the helm, which indeed was a trademark of his earlier managerial positions but may now be more prevalent only in early cup ties.
“You’ll never win anything with kids” was once claimed by Alan Hansen which we all know was emphatically disproved soon afterwards, however more appropriate would be to unlikely win anything solely with kids but rather generate a winning combination of youth & experience. When a cup tie first team is replaced predominantly with squad and youth players, the expectation on that team to perform at the highest level becomes almost unrealistic, whilst the performance standard is unavailing.
As El Jefe Moyes flirts with the dilemma between overpriced transfer targets and bringing through youth players, one successful emergence has been with Declan Rice who has demonstrated composure and skill more associated with more mature shoulders. After a stodgy Christmas dinner it has been a thrill to see the young talent give us some delicious Rice pudding to feast upon. Indeed, in last Sunday’s woeful FA Cup third round display against Shrewsbury, it was the youth players who shined above the first team & squad performances. Josh Cullen, Reece Burke & Declan Rice demonstrated their worth to the squad, even Toni Martinez & Domingos Quina made their presence known whereas the more establish team members seemed missing in action for the most part.
As we know, we were made many promises prior to our move to the London Stadium, however, one that possibly infuriates most is that lack of transfer funds available for marquee players, when really one assumes our relatively low operating stadium costs and high revenues would allow us to be more involved in those richer targets.
Of course, the transfer fee madness continues to spiral beyond all of our reasonings and we’re maybe limited to one or two key signings per window to total the £40million range which may only buy us mediocrity at best. I have to question whether any average signing in this window would be better than any squad or youth player we currently have and would our performances be drastically improved…I wager that would not be the case, certainly not in the short term.
In contrast, I vehemently contest any shedding of our established in form players in favour of the young pretenders. We should introduce the youth to supplement and reinforce positions, not undermine them. We also need to reconsider any suggestion that selling our prospects is ever a good idea when only half way through the season, especially when other teams at home and in Europe seem only too enthusiastic to sign them from us. You’ve got to ask yourself, “What do they know that we are missing?”
So, whilst I believe more funds should be available, I do not necessarily believe we should be buying players for buying sake, rather bring through the youth players and build a long term plan which reduces the necessity to buy in multiple talents but allows us to spend, with lesser frequency, more on top players so that we can compete with the richer clubs…it needs to be a balance between old heads and young shoulders with a sprinkling of prestige talent we deem will successfully merge into our game plan.
The more we look to the long term and less to the short, we have the opportunity to generate a squad that has a depth of quality for all playing positions which only requires fewer additional players but which we can pay more for…everyone benefits, especially our club which can launch a challenge to win silverware or European qualification places.
The more we expose our youth to first team football, the less likely we’ll have Jelly Beans and more likely to produce Rice Puddings.