Naive post about using the youngsters more

Everyone’s talking about our exciting youth players and there’s some interest in bringing a few of the better players into the first team squad.

In many cases it’s probably too early, but these things are notoriously hard to pin down. You can probably ‘get away’ with using young players much more than people like to think.

Part of this is the notion of experience. Until performance evaluation took over in baseball a few years ago it was common to find ‘veteran’ players being well rewarded for fairly ordinary performance. Meanwhile, good young players were kept in the minor leagues. Then the penny dropped, and teams became much less inclined to pay someone just because they had been in the league for a long time. This hasn’t lead to a younger player base, I don’t think, just a more efficient one. Young players are, it seems, more likely to get a chance, and old players on the downslope are not coveted as they once were.

The notion of experience has in some ways been concocted through self-interest on the part of sportsmen. It figures: you’ve played ten years, your athletic capabilities are not what they were, you can’t do what you used to, what have you got left? Experience! Intangibles that seperate you from those dangerous young players!

It’s easier for coaches, too. With an experienced pro they know where they are. If Mark Schwarzer made mistakes it was ‘one of those things’; if David Stockdale made the same errors it was proof that he was ‘not ready’.

Lots of coaches prefer experienced mediocrities to young mediocrities. There is a belief that if you ‘rush’ a player you will somehow destroy him. While that has some truth, a counter argument might be that it will accelerate a young player’s development.

How much harm can it do to the team? Honestly, the current season has been about as bad as it could be, and we’re among the oldest teams in the league. If we’d stuck someone from the U21s into the team every game this season how many fewer points would we have? I don’t think it would have made that much difference at all.

What, exactly, are the failings of young players supposed to be? Are they supposed to be reckless? Prone to bad decisions? Bad at taking instruction? Likely to do something daft when the pressure’s really on? I think those are human failings rather than young player failings. You can coach a young player in the same way you can coach an older player, and if a youngster is indeed slightly more risky on a game-to-game basis, maybe the trade-off is still worth it in injecting energy and interest into a dull, dull, team. It also lends the possibility of developing a team identity: you have an award winning U21 team and manage to keep them together in the senior team then there you have some intangibles! There you have something that might give Fulham fans something to cheer. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but let’s not pretend it’s impossible, either.

It could even help. The home crowd won’t give a young player a hard time. Quite the opposite. And it’ll be seen as an encouraging concession to the future; a sign that we are trying to build a club rather than patch one together every season and hope it’s not going to fall apart.

Now is a time for being bold. No sense in doing anything daft but we won’t be able to attract the best youngsters if we get a reputation for never using them. We shouldn’t waste the current strength we have down the age groups, nor, for that matter, the weaknesses of the senior team. It’s an ideal opportunity to change the direction of the club.

15 thoughts on “Naive post about using the youngsters more

  1. Fail Faster to Succeed sooner. Some business jargon which goes against the right first time belief, you have to learn the hard lessons to overcome them, put some kids in strategically. Remember Man Utd and the kids?

  2. Hey hello i’m a supporter from PSG and i follow fulham youth team result time to time since you did get one of our best 96 last years ( Dembélé ).
    To be fair it was surprising for us that he passed the whole previous season at U18 only, since in France he was already playing for the U17 (same thing as U18) and would have most probably played in CFA last year like his late team mate Coman (96).

    Well that’s said i agree it can’t be a bad thing to give some play time to some youngsters every time it’s possible but some coach don’t think like that and when time is dire it’s not an easy decision to make to be honnest “it can’t be wrost” is an more easy phrase to say than do.
    In PSG we were in the same situation were we had a good formation but youngsters hardly had some play time and that was even before Qatar overtake the club, in fact now that we have a strong team some young players get play time like Rabiot, Ongenda or even Coman.

    Anyway i don’t know much about your other player some seem to do well like mesca but about Dembélé i think seeing how the club handled him he may get some bench time in December, not sure he will get much play time tough before january.

    1. Dembele will be a big player in the future I think. If you are interested keep your eye on a kid called ‘Pat Roberts’ – he is in our academy and plays for England u17s – along with Dembele he is a hugely exciting prospect. There might be some stuff on YouTube on him if you search…he dribbles like Messi!

  3. Couldn’t agree more Rich. It is this failure not to integrate enough of our youngsters that is the most depressing aspect of this whole sad and drawn out Jol saga. Khan and Mckintosh need to get a grip of this, before we start losing our success in our Academy too.

  4. This is the sort of debate that makes me feel most like an American outsider. Because it would be easier without relegation, wouldn’t it? Managing a high-level professional sports team seems to incentivize risk-averse behavior as a general rule, which certainly includes Not Playing the Kids. Even in American leagues, where relegation isn’t a worry, coaches struggle with this because they’re afraid for their own jobs. But with relegation in play (and the potentially crippling loss of revenue that results), it disincentivizes not just the manager, but the ownership, from thinking about the long-term if their place is not already 100% secure.

    But obviously I’d like to see Dembele, Mesca, Burn, et al get some minutes.

    1. Right, hence the loan system. We effectively pass on the risk: if Matthew Briggs fcks up at Watford then Watford suffer and we know not to trust him ourselves. (not that this particularly happened). I was being slightly polemical (?) here – the loan system works well and I think we work it quite well – but we hear that clubs down the leagues are less and less interested in taking players from clubs like us now, which raises its own problems.

      It’s hard to know what to think about youth development. There’s no doubt that rebuilding from within is much more efficient in baseball (if you can do it) but whether this can be translated here is hard to know. It feels like it ought to be doable but someone will have to be bold.

      1. Points well taken, and the sudden emergence of Kasami as a massive first-team talent after two years of who-knows-what is an argument for loans and whatever other mind games Jol has played.

        I do think as more and more clubs at the League One / Champ level start thinking in terms of long term development, the harder it will be to treat them as a farm system. The natural answer to that, oddly enough, is the one taken in baseball — top-flight clubs that own lower-tier clubs outright. (Although again, pro/rel produces a dizzying array of incentives here.)

        Baseball is interesting because even though it’s the game for which we have the best statistical understanding, it’s still hard to build a good team! (Also because of that league’s lack of salary controls, as T. Gelles is sure to point out.) The NBA is probably the league where rebuild-through-tanking is the most fruitful strategy, although the small roster size is a big part of that.

        1. would add too the difficulty of building a good team in the NFL, but for all the opposite reasons of baseball. it’s short-termism to the absolute extreme.

          also, rich, I have not heard such murmurs about lower-leveled clubs less inclined to take on loans. curious; where can i read about that?

    2. At this point Martin Jol probably has little too lose in playing the kids, and everything to gain. If it proves successful he’ll be hailed as a genius!

  5. To be fair, I think Jol has given youth a chance where he can. Kasami is the stand out success of the season for Fulham after 10 games – a player we brought in young (18?), was given a few loan spells in which he developed himself and has come back and really made an impact. But it’s fundamentally down to the player himself – Kasami appears desperate to succed, wants the ball, gets involved and makes a difference in the chances he’s had. A fantastic attitude, and it’s a joy to watch him at the moment as it looks like he can really carve out a super career for himself, whether at Fulham or elsewhere.

    Being from a slightly pessamistic bent, this is the same route that Frei, Kakanaklic & Briggs have all been given – loan spells, then first team outings for Fulham following it & I’ve was Jol and the coaching staff I’d say that none of them have done enought to suggest the merit an outing over and above the playing staff we already have. It’s all very well demanding the young players are given runs in the team, but if they’re not making a difference/grabbing the opportunity the way that Kasami has, then I fail to see why they should be given preferential treatment over the existing talent – it has to be earned. It’s difficult yes – the Premier League is an exceptionally high standard of football – but we’re struggling at the moment to see where 40 points is going to come from….if we could see where 60 points was going to come from it would be far easier to give more youngsters a chance.

    There also appears to be a good rapport amongst Jol and the emerging talent – Kaka, Kasami, Frei etc – that suggests they have a belief he will give them opportunities if they warrant it.

    I must also add that I am fundamentally against the loan system in the context of the greater good of British football….it allows the biggest clubs to stockpile talent through crucial age phases – 18 to 21, just in case a few of them make the grade. The problem is that previously these kids were released, a Stockport might pick them up, give them a chance and they could work their way back up the football pyramid. This had two benefits – the obvious one that Stockport could make money selling the player on, and perhaps secondly, giving us a more rounded individual making the grade (Ricky Lambert, Grant Holt etc.)…perhaps making them more ‘recognisable’ to the average football fan as opposed to the somewhat spoiled superstars that fill the top clubs at the moment….no bad thing surely? Sadly, the die is ever more stacked in favour of the big clubs but I don’t think that is to be applauded – football at it’s greatest is a democratiser that allows everyone to dream about what their team can achieve. Limiting the loan option to perhaps 2 players out, per club, per season would surely mean that more kids question the best environment to mature into a football career, and lead to a more balanced football equation in my view.

    1. All good points and thank you for taking the trouble to write them!

      One argument would be that Matthew Briggs is paid (guess) £10k a week and John-Arne Riise is paid (guess) £40k a week. Given the relative abilities of those players a more sensible management of the squad’s salaries might clear space for players we might otherwise have not been able to afford (like, um, Berbatov!).

      Similarly, Kacaniklic might be on 10k; Duff 40k. Now Duff has earned that contract over the years but in the here and now it’s not really money well spent since he’s playing rarely and not that well.

      1. This is indeed a very fair observation, and am sure an argument that many football club CEO’s probably go back to their manager with….understanding real value for money within a playing squad must be one of the most hazardous tasks for any club! I guess at the moment Fulham don’t particularly appear to be living outwith their means (as opposed to a QPR or Blackburn) which would suggest the balance of the squad is probably OK. Although in reference to your points above, we did fail to offload JAR in the summer which you imagine to be due to a healthy current account courtesy of FFC. And on personal preference only – Duff has a complete game (even if misfiring) by providing a healthy dose of defensive shift work, something that appears lacking in Kaka/Frei in his time at the Cottage, and shouldn’t be overlooked in their positions.

        One final, perhaps poignant(!) point related to the promotion of young players to the first team must also relate to the playing style of a team too. The fabled development clubs such as Ajax had their ‘way’ of playing, which must surely help with the integration of younger players and allow them to adapt, develop and succeed quickly.

        One of our big frustrations with the 10 games or so this season has been that this Fulham side don’t appear to have a coherent & clear framework and style of play that’s obviously recognisible at the moment….rather it’s currently doing a passable impersonation of a collection of experienced professional’s somewhat ‘winging’ it in a varient of 4-4-2. You would imagine that would make it the most difficult style to currently promote youngsters into the set up and achieve any level of consistency of performance, as opposed to 4 or 5 seasons ago where it was pretty clear the expectations of each individual in a tightly defined structure.

  6. You look at the way both our u21 and u18 teams play. They both play the same system so there’s consistency coming through from all the age groups. The system isn’t built around the players. The players are developed with the system. Unfortunately this does not translate into the first team where the system is purely built round accommodating your Berbatov’s, Ruiz’s, Bents etc all into the same team.

    Jol needs to stop buying ‘names’ and needs to start bringing in people that will work in a system. Ideally the same system that our academy teams use so youth players graduate into a familiar system.

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