Dangling Kasami

A baseball player’s career is usually well mapped out. He plays through his youth, then either enters a draft after High School or after he’s done three more years at College.  (This in itself is something of an issue for baseball teams when selecting young players, the idea being that the College player might be more of a known quantity but perhaps might be less likely to be a surprise superstar).

When the player is drafted he enters what’s called the farm system, the minor leagues.  There are a number of levels here, the idea being that the player will keep playing and keep progressing until he’s ready for the first team.

Even the best players (most of them anyway) need a bit of seasoning in the minors, and it’s usual for a player to spend time at three levels before getting into major leagues.  A young player, drafted from high school, will almost certainly need time (and perhaps more than one season) at various levels.

This is Derek Jeter, who has been one of baseball’s greatest players while winning a lot of games and championships with the New York Yankees:

 

This is pretty much the fast track: Jeter was ‘rookie of the year’ in his first season up, e.g. the best young player in baseball, hitting an impressive .314.

The point here is that Jeter needed those years of development to get to the point where he was ready to hit .314. Had he been promoted earlier he’d have adjusted, but baseball is such a game of skill that he’d have struggled.  You need that incremental improvement through the levels, you need to not be rushed (unless you can clearly handle the level you’re at) and you need to keep progressing, too.  Derek Jeter clearly did that and became a star.

Now football and baseball are very different, but I wonder if we don’t mess things up quite horribly with our young players.

What, for instance, has Pajtim Kasami gained from this season?  He is seen to be a good prospect and played against stiff competition from a young age.  This, in football, is generally considered to be a good thing, but is it?

His senior football career so far:

18 years old – 10 games for Bellinoza
18/19 – 14 games for Palermo
19/20 – 6 games for Fulham

Alex Kacaniklic is 20 now and is playing well for Watford. But until this spell, he had only played in reserve games.  He’s doing well, but is it right that a promising young player has played only 10 senior football matches at this stage of his development?  20 isn’t young really.

The reserves league last for about 20 games, and features a mixture of development squads, players on rehab and who knows what else.  It’s a start but it’s not competitive football.

I appreciate that these things don’t happen overnight but equally, good footballers don’t just happen.

Brede Hangeland was a regular at Viking when he was 20. Danny Murphy had played 132 times for Crewe by that age. Moussa Dembele started at Germinal Beerschodt at 16 and seems to have been playing regularly in his teens. Aaron Hughes was playing for Newcastle at 18. John Arne Riise was playing for Monaco’s championship side at 19. And so on.

If we’re really serious about youth development my sense is that we need to get our players actually playing football.  I’m sure the academy and development teams are terrific but elite talent needs time to grow into elite performance, and that surely means more loans earlier in players’ careers.  If that means sending 18 year olds abroad to what we might term lesser leagues then so be it. There’s almomst no point in Pajtim Kasami’s current career arc, and the sooner we stop dangling these players and waiting for them to magically be really good (then being disappointed when they’re not) the sooner we might actually have a young player come through the ranks and contribute meaningfully.

14 thoughts on “Dangling Kasami

  1. Don’t know if it’s just us though that doesn’t develop our young talent. I’d say it’s a league-wide issue.

    Especially if you compare us to the rest of the continent (even Spain) and especially to say, France. Look at the talent Lille alone has put out recently:

    Eden Hazard
    Gervinho
    Michel Bastos
    Jean Makoun
    Stephan Lichtsteiner
    Kevin Mirallas
    Adil Rami
    Yohan Cabaye
    Peter Odemwingie
    Mathieu Debuchy
    Ludovic Obraniak
    Emerson

    1. Yep. Middlesbrough do it, and others (Villa perhaps, Southampton certainly).

      someone clever could do something with “competitive games by the age of 20” versus eventual quality, perhaps?

  2. What about allowing “B” & “C” teams to play in the lower divisions – instead of a reserve league? I know Spanish football does it, I just don’t know how successful it is.

    1. It’s been suggested here but I think would upset too many people.

      i can imagine a slightly more formalised ‘feeder’ system though, whereby Fulham routinely sends young players to Watford, Wymcombe and Oxford, for instance (taking an M40 approach), depending on quality.

      Marcelo Trotta would’ve been better off playing 40 games for Wycombe and scoring 35 times than sitting on the Watford bench (or playing in our reserves). You simply have to give the players match time, I’m convinced of this.

    2. The Chicago Fire have been experimenting with this for some time (about ten years or so). They have a “B” team, which used to be called the Fire Reserves but is now called Fire Premier that plays in the PDL, US Soccer’s 4th Tier (I assume they play in the PDL and not the NASAL or USLPRO because the PDL is amateur and the Fire Premier are all youth players. Jay Demeritt got his start there as did Eric Lichaj (yank signed to Aston Villa but loaned out to Leeds). Another Villa player, Brad Guzan, also started ate Fire Premier. So, not a perfect comparison, but Fire Premier seems to support your basic point.

  3. Completely agree and have thought this for years. If you’re not the kind of rarity that holds down a prem place before you’re 20, then go on loan for six months, a year even. Let’s see how you fare in games that actually matter, in front of crowds who jeer when you get things wrong (or even when you get things right), and how you cope in competitive terms against experienced pros who want to cut you down to size.

    Last Fulham youngster who really made it was Sean Davis, who came through the four divisions. Finnan, Horsfield, Hayles…they all took the Murphy trajectory. No other league will ever fully prepare youngsters for the premiership, but a competitive one watched by thousands has to be the closest. The standard of football should obviously be as high as possible, but viewed as the secondary, not prime criterion.

  4. Completely agree myself.

    In baseball you’re not really considered Majors ready until you’ve logged x number of innings in the minors, somewhere around a few hundred, and for pitchers more like 400. There are exceptions–Stasburg for instance–and some come up faster than others, but you never find future talent collecting dust on the bench. It’s sad to see 20 year olds sitting the bench. The bench, I think, is better suited for your Andy Johnsons … you know what to expect and what kind of impact you might see if using them as a sub in the 70th.

    Speaking of baseball, in case you missed this, thought it was amusing. Funny what he says about Messi!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/mar/22/billy-beane-moneyball

  5. I have to behonest and say that I have seen nothing from Kasami that suggests he will be anything other than an average player. However, your point is sound that good young players should get more exposure, and that there is not a need to “protect” them for the big bad, rough tough men of first team matches. Your examples of Murphy etc prove both points: if you are good enough, you are old enough. In this case I just don’t think he is.

    1. “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” is a really silly cliché.

      Some particularly talented players may well be good enough to play first XI football when they’re young, so get the experience they need to realise their talent. Other players – who are merely good – probably couldn’t compete with first XI players. Nevertheless – they still need experience to help them realise their potential (even if their potential is just to be a decent standard player for a midtable club like ours as opposed to England or Liverpool or whoever).

  6. IMO decent youth team players who should end up being ‘good’ mid-table Premiership players are the one’s who should be on loan to Championship clubs once they’ve graduated from the academy at 18/19. They should stay there until they approach their peak age (which depends on position i.e. maybe 22/23 for a striker) before slotting back into the first team squad.

    Your youth players who should end up being very good/exceptional Premiership players (your Kasami’s, Frei’s, Smalling’s) need to stay in your development set up to learn the team’s style, methods etc and should be drafted into the first team squad ASAP – which they’ve done with Frei and Kasami.

    They then need regular first team exposure from well before their peak age – thats substitute appearances and starting places against weaker teams or in smaller cups. That way you can see if they’re going to realise their potential in the future or not.

    If you decide they aren’t going to turn out to be anything but a good player (as in the first paragraph) you get them out on loan. If they show signs of realising their potential to be better than that then you need to take a risk with them and get them in your starting team as much as possible (even against bigger teams) – that should accelerate their development even if they do have bad days in the office – thats the sacrifice you need to make.

  7. With the headlines today focusing on Fulham’s ‘big name’ players leaving maybe we are about to see this youth revolution taking place. If Dembele and Dempsey go, then Kasami would be the guy to fill in this role.

    Personally, I am not too worried about the lack of playing time that Kasami and Gecov are getting. Presumably the coaching staff know if they will cut it or not. We are also at the tipping point with regards to the older players – this is probably Davies and Duff’s last year playing regularly with the squad, and other key players may also move on. With Jols emphasis on wanting to create a system not based around key players but based around a specific ethos (a la Swansea) then we could really see a big change this summer.

  8. Is it really worth our while trying to develop young players at all? By virtue of playing in a league that is exceptionally attractive to TV companies, we are one of the richest clubs in the world. We have no particular competitive advantage in predicting which teenagers will develop into serviceable Premier League players. We do have a competitive advantage in outbidding most other clubs for the finished articles. True, we can’t outbid everybody – the biggest clubs in England, Spain, Italy and Germany are richer than we are. But that still leaves us with plenty of scope to deploy our relative financial muscle picking up 20-something players who have demonstrated that they have what it takes. And what’s more, we’d have even more financial muscle if we didn’t spend money on the academy. I’d guess it costs several million a year to run, and yet it only produces a first-teamer once in a blue moon. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on transfer fees and player salaries?

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