Too Much Expectation Of An Outstanding Youth Team?
Players from our cup winning youth team have been the topic of much discussion during the past week, with the Under 21’s dominating, but eventually losing, versus League One Wycombe this week, and Mubama playing nearly a full game against Bristol City on Sunday.
Mubama received social media criticism from some quarters for his performance in the FA Cup third round, which for a just turned 19 year-old seems incredibly unjust. Of course, the jury is still out on whether he has the ability and determination to make it as a first team regular, but he is only on the beginning of that journey and it’s way too early to call. Harry Kane only scored 21 goals in 93 appearances by the time he was 21, and almost all of his goals were in lower divisions.
This criticism led me to wonder whether expectations for our fantastic youth team are way too high, or perhaps a bit premature. If you look at recent history of successful FA Youth Cup teams, it is not guaranteed that any of last year’s team will become first team regulars, and even if they do have what it takes to make the grade, it could be via another club.
Man United won the FA Youth Cup the season before us and have done well from the class of 2021/22, as both Garnacho and Mainoo have now broken through. Garnaco has been a bit hit and miss since debuting, but has really come on in the last few games. Mainoo has done well, apart from a much appreciated misplaced pass against us, but it remains to be seen whether he will be a regular starter now that their midfield injury crisis is starting to ease.
The year before, Aston Villa were winners and they have NO players that have converted into first team regulars for the club. They have generated decent money from sales, with Chukwuemeka joining Chelsea for around £16m and Adam Ramsey joining Burnley for around £14m.
From the year before that, Man City also have NO regular first team players from their cup winning team, only Oscar Bobb has made a handful of appearances this season. That said, with players now aged around 20 to 21, the team has generated three first team regulars for low level Premier teams, in the shape of James McAtee (Sheff Utd), James Trafford (Burnley) and Cole Palmer (New Chelsea), and there are four-five more that are regularly starting for Championship clubs.
The picture is less rosey for the Liverpool team that won the trophy in 2018/19. Only Rhys Williams is currently a member of their first team squad and he hasn’t featured in any games this season. Two other players are in Premier League first team squads for other teams and have only registered 7 appearances between them this season (for Forest and Sheffield United).
So, from the four years prior to our famous FA youth cup victory, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence of players breaking through and making the grade on a regular basis for the club they represented at the time, just two – Garnacho and Mainoo at United.
Our recent record of developing youth team players into first team players is not great. If we are honest, the only real success over the past few years has been Declan Rice. Ben Johnson has been moderately successful, but in the five seasons that followed his first team debut he has only appeared in 57 league games, with just 90 minutes of Premier League football coming this season. For comparison, Rice appeared in 203 Premier League games in the six seasons that followed his debut season.
Then there is the current manager, who’s record of converting youth players from first team debutants to first team regulars is non existent – in four years he hasn’t done this once. Even the most adamant Moyes-in supporter would surely agree that this is a potential area for concern. Having said that, we have always been fighting for something during his tenure, whether that be European places or relegation, and in days gone by we would be fighting for nothing towards the end of the season and providing better opportunities to bed in youngsters during dead games.
Of our FA Youth Cup winning team, there is certainly a group that are on the right tracks. Not only have they made the transition into the under-21’s, but they are playing a big part in a team that is continuing to be successful, winning 7 of their 10 league games has left them currently sitting in 2nd place out of 26 teams in the new national Premier League 2 format.
So, everything considered, we should be hopeful but realistic about the chances of these amazing youngsters breaking through into our first team. We may be lucky and see 2-3 of them make the first team on a regular basis in the next couple of seasons, but we need to temper our expectations by understanding that it there is also a chance that none of them do, or they do so at other clubs.
Fingers crossed, we will go on to reap the rewards of developing some exciting young talent in the not so distant future though. COYI!