Don Revie’s Leeds side was built from within. Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter, Cooper, Lorimer, Giles, Bremner, Gray, Jones, Clarke. The forwards were purchased later on, Giles cost good money but arrived as a young player, but the rest of them were acquired in their teens. They grew up together, learned the game together, won together.
Barcelona’s current side is home grown.
Manchester United’s dynasty was built on an extraoardinary generation of young players.
(West Ham have sold an equally gifted generation of young players).
George Graham’s Arsenal were built on a formidable back five, of which only Tony Adams was home grown, but also thrived on a midfield of Thomas, Davis and Rocastle, all of whom they developed themselves.
We’re seeing a change towards youth. Sir Alex is building a dastardly team of young players who could very easily do a Leeds. If the de Silva twins, Smalling and Jones can gel as a back four, they’re set for as long as they want to be. Attacking players might come and go as preferences and the game changes, but United might very well have built their back four for the next decade (probably not, mind, but it’s interesting to see).
Fulham – as we’ve discussed plenty of times over the years – can start thinking about bringing through young players now. There’s an old truism in sport that the best time to bed young players into the team is when it’s going quite well. They can learn from teammates who know what they’re doing, and aren’t under as much pressure as would be the case if the team was struggling. In that sense, the time feels exactly right to bring in some younger players. Our current stars are still capable, but will start to decline sooner rather than later. The transition should begin now.
I would have started with David Stockdale at the back. I go back and forth on this issue and in truth there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer, but ultimately Schwarzer’s not going to last too much longer, and Stockdale needs to play. He’ll do so for Ipswich, of course, but I worry about how this might affect his motivation and whether it might bring about a lingering sense of not progressing like he’d hoped. This isn’t a criticism of Stockdale, just a concern about human nature. He perhaps deserved a bit better.
Philippe Senderos is 26. It makes sense that Jol’s trying to get him some time on the pitch. Hangeland and Hughes are 4-5 years older, which is not insignificant.
Matt Briggs is hard to judge. He struggled against the big clubs and has looked good against part-timers. He’ll be somewhere in between but the trick here is development: give him football, and not just six games here and eight next year. Development doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes takes seasons rather than weeks. If we think there’s something there then unless he proves otherwise it feels like it’s time to back him and play him. Except we’ve signed John Arne Riise. No harm there – we needed someone – but I do hope Briggs is given a chance.
Kerim Frei has seen match time and excited everyone. One problem here is the step up to Premier League games, which may look large for a small creative player like him, or may look like a walk in the park if he’s as good as we hope. Again, the only way we’ll know is if he’s given the chance to play. This isn’t a given – we’re horribly crowded with good players at his position – but it’s a nice problem for Jol to have.
I still don’t know where the next Danny Murphy is coming from but perhaps Marcel Gecov is the answer. Pajtim Kasami may have an input, too. We don’t know how good they are, but Jol seems to expect them to contribute.
Similarly, it’s hard to know how the DallaValle/Trotta combo will pan out. Some observers are not convinced, but there remains a suspicion that the players are being judged to too high a standard. They can still be useful footballers without being Wayne Rooney.
Mousa Dembele is only 24, too, and we’re all excited about how he might develop.
At least there is movement. Roy Hodgson once said that building for the future is all well and good, but a manager doesn’t always have a future and must therefore prioritise the short term when he is involved and which will affect him. Hodgson has never stayed anywhere too long (outside of Sweden) and while he has bought young players, he doesn’t make a habit of it. His Fulham squad was old and will always be remembered for what it has achieved, but it did need a little tinkering. Nice to see this beginning. The chances are that few of our young players will make it – that seems to be how things pan out – and we’ll continue to survive with some well chosen reclamation projects. That’s fine, but everyone likes to cheer on young players, don’t they? Interesting times…
PS So what is Fulham’s best Under 26 XI?