There was a fascinating piece in the Independent today about English attitudes to young players. Most clubs of Fulham’s size will lose their best youngsters, and a good recent example for us might be Patrick Roberts who swapped potential stardom for a chance to play in Manchester City’s reserves before going out on loan to Celtic and beyond. Now that might be unkind in that Roberts has actually had game time, but who’s to say that Ryan Sessegnon won’t face a similar situation in the next few months?
It speaks to a general lack of trust in young players in the English game. This quote from the article is I believe attributed to a Dortmund scout:
The scout, from one of the clubs most globally respected for bringing through talent, couldn’t quite believe the situation – let alone what he was seeing. It was a run-of-the-mill under-23 game, but Fulham’s Matt O’Riley was putting in anything but a run-of-the-mill performance. The teenage midfielder was brilliant.
“It’s amazing,” the scout said. “Fulham spent how many millions in the summer for two midfielders, and we wouldn’t pay for either of them. But O’Riley can’t get in the team and we’d pay for him.”
That’s hard to hear. I know the club would disagree with this statement – they bought the players they bought because they believed in them – but to have a proven club say something like that is quite damning. It’s a blow to those of us who still believe that Seri at least is a quality player looking to find his feet, and who think that Anguissa just needs a few games in a less chaotic team to show us the form that made him an ever present in Marseilles Europa League run last season. But apparently perhaps not. Anyway.
Many who work on the continent simply can’t believe how wedded English clubs are to a hierarchical system regarding age. It is like they get hung up on it, and won’t trust an 18-year-old if they can bring in a 21-year-old. The director of football at a Ligue 1 club confided that, “we can’t believe some of the quality English clubs have and don’t use. Age doesn’t come into it with us, it’s just about level of quality.
“English clubs seem to give the least amount of respect to the same players they’ve spent years developing.”
I’ve long believed this to the the case. If we look at the NBA or the NFL, talented young players get regular game time and are able to play at a very high level in their early 20s. And while their skills might change and improve as they age, they are trusted to perform.
In England this is simply not the case, and over the years dozens of talented young players have seen their careers sputter out because there’s no room at the top, which results in international squads leaning heavily on players not getting first team matches. And people will say “the cream rises to the top”, to which we might suggest that the cream won’t rise if it never leaves the cow (or a better metaphor if you can think of one). If you don’t let young players play, they don’t become as good as they otherwise would have become.
Fulham fans talk a lot about experience at the moment, but what does that really mean? I would assume that personality is personality. Does an experienced player stay calm towards the end of a stressful match more than a young player would? Perhaps. Or perhaps a calm player stays calm and an excitable player doesn’t. Does an experienced player know how to deal with different kinds of opposing tactics? Probably, but a manager ought to be preparing all of his squad for this kind of thing anyway, old or young.
So what exactly is it that experience brings? More consistent form? Again, perhaps. But perhaps again that’s just a function of personality. I would guess that it is. No, I’d be surprised if there’s anything that experience brings to a team that isn’t directly a function of talent and personality, and those traits will be there however old a player is.
To make this real again, everyone was interested in Gary Cahill because of his experience. But I’d be interested to know in tangible terms how that helps us. Is it about leadership, about setting high standards? That’d be good. Probably that’s needed. But I don’t know that this is a function of experience. Perhaps we’re on semantics here.
It’s one of those things that we all take for granted because all the pros talk about it, all the football men go on about its importance, and let’s face it, our best manager went a bundle on getting in older players who’d been around the block a bit. Even so, I’m not convinced, but then who am I?
Interesting times anyway.