We have only seven games left to solidify our status as a Premier League club and, despite a recent upturn in results, our future still hangs in the balance. Much rests on the results from April’s fixtures.
Norwich fans have been destitute of a win for so long now it is almost a sin not to still be riding on a feeling of elation from Saturday’s result and the hope that we can claw together enough points to finish seventeenth. But without turning to the “worst-case scenario” plan, it’s perhaps time to look at a “whatever happens” plan for next season.
The final outcome of our season – good or bad – is irrelevant at this point because we can safely say up until now our side hasn’t delivered as promised. Additions to the squad in both summer and January haven’t elevated us into the mid-table side we dreamed of becoming and, for me, it points to an argument that we should be looking much closer to home for our next first-team recruits.
Looking over the registered 27 players that make up our first team squad (source:BBC Sport), only Declan Rudd has come up through the academy ranks and since Norwich were awarded their category one status in 2012, it will be interesting to see when the club will reap the reward from the academy system.
We all know that there is some fine home-grown talent out on loan and with the prizes at stake in the Premier League I have no arguments with turning to experienced players to keep us afloat but I think it’s time that Norwich fans have a homegrown player to idolise.
Relative to other Premier League clubs we aren’t big spenders but for the size of our club the last few transfer windows have offered significant outlay on players who at this point haven’t consistently delivered.
The question is “Could we achieve the same results from home-grown talent?”
Some may argue that Aston Villa have tried the approach of using a young squad but I think the situations are miles apart. Overhauling a squad, allowing key players to leave and completely upturning the club from the inside is a recipe for disaster, and Villa have rightly failed this season, but I think with the right approach, a sensible and considered one, there is no reason why the young players shouldn’t be given a chance at the top level.
For Norwich, my personal assessment is that the core spine of the team hasn’t been right all season. Thankfully now we seem to be getting there. Bringing in Timm Klose, regularly playing Gary O’Neil and Jonny Howson, and sticking with the same team are starting to pay dividends but it’s the fringe positions – like wingers and supporting striker roles – that could be up for grabs when the new season comes around.
Whether City are preparing for another season in the Premier League or adjusting to the reality of returning to the Championship, it doesn’t matter – the ideals should be the same.
As fans we should now be expecting to see academy talent breaking through into the first-team and with a young, hungry manager at the helm, it could be the perfect combination to embed young, hungry players into the side to prove their worth.
Jack Reeve says
Good article mate, agree that more home grown talent is needed and I hope that the crop of the 2013 youth cup win will start coming through now. The Murphy twins look like the best out of them and I also think it was the wrong call letting McGeehan go who is now one of League Two’s top players.
The current U18 team is also hugely talented as well. Ashley-Seal has a big future as well as the 16 year old Middleton who is far superior to many players 4 years older than him.
Let’s hope some of these players come through soon although the Premier League is a tough place to nurture players correctly!
Stewart Lewis says
Interesting thoughts, Matthew.
However, I can’t help thinking the role for young players depends very much on whether we stay up or go down.
If we stay up, I think everyone would agree we need to prioritise an upgrade of the squad quality. If we’re to progress and establish ourselves in the Premier League, we have to try and follow the path of e.g. Stoke (or Leicester) and bring in better players.
In contrast, the financial disaster of relegation would push us back to optimising the resources we already have. By force of circumstances, we’ll need to give first-team opportunities to young players who’ve come through our Academy, or those we’ve bought like James Maddison. Some will flourish – a real compensation for the pain of going down.
Matthew, a really good article and I’m sure that I’m echoing the sentiments of many Canary fans in saying “..lets hope so..”. We all love to see a player who has come through the system playing in the first team.
The reality of the situation I guess depends on where we find ourselves playing next season – the Etihad or Elland Road? Certainly the likes of Morris, Josh and Jacob Murphy and Toffolo have all gained valuable experience out on-loan; Hall-Johnson also looks good at right-back. But are any of them really ready to make an impact in the first team at PL level? Routes into the first team look tough. Josh Murphy who has arguable been playing at the highest level on loan will have Brady and Jarvis to contend with.
If its Elland Road next season, then I’d certainly expect more involvement of these players . However it also depends on whether the club will take a chance on integrating these youngsters (and bought-in youngsters) or will spend to push for an immediate return. Hopefully a bit of both. Personally, I also have high hopes for some of the youngsters in the current U18 side (e.g. Middleton, Cantwell) and two of the younger senior pros (Grant, Efete).
As a footnote, anybody know what has happened to Adel Gafaiti? Very highly talked about a few years ago but has only appeared in the odd U21 game this season?
Keith B says
An observation: the likes of Chris Sutton, Ruel Fox, Darren Eadie, Jamie Cureton, Andy Johnson, Craig Bellamy, Keith O’Neill, Daryl Russell, Jason Shackell and Robert Green all broke through to the first team without needing to go out on loan, certainly not for any length time – they were already talented enough and expertly coached to be able to break into the first team squad on merit.
That doesn’t mean they all had stellar careers with us in the long run, but at least we managed to turn them into first-team picks ourselves.
In more recent years a long string of youngsters have not quite made it in the same way, so gone out on loan to “learn” the game. Very few have really shone even in a lower division and some have even struggled to get picked by the team borrowing them. Most have eventually left us and are playing in lower leagues; none are even setting the top end of the Championship alight (Chris Martin did for a while, but that’s about it).
I cannot think of one who has come back and claimed a first-team place except perhaps Declan Rudd, and then only intermittently.
We need to produce players that are at least top Championship standard by the time they are 20/21 – maybe slightly older for defenders, who take longer to learn their trade. I will be very surprised, but delighted of course, if any of those now out on loan who have come through our own academy reach that level – I don’t think even the Murphys or Toffolo will get there.
I think the issue of how we develop those too old for the youth team is one the club needs to address as a priority. I think we have a very good manager, but I often wonder if the quality of coaching is good enough, at first team level AND especially immediately below that.
I’m delighted we’ve signed players like Maddison, Thompson, Adams and McGrandles but have major doubts about our ability to turn them into the finished product. The evidence suggests to me that we do not have that expertise at present.
For our youngsters, a relegation from the Premier League might be the best thing for their development. On a tightened budget, being able to promote from within might allow us to keep hold of more senior stars.
To highlight just a few players, Brady didn’t stay at Hull when they got relegated, Redmond seems to be unhappy at the club, and Vadis must be sick of not having a chance. In Toffolo, the Murphy’s and Maddision respectively, we’ve got a ready made replacement for all 3 at championship level.
Josh Murphy has stats this season in a mediocre MK Dons side to rival any Redmond has produced in the championship, and Jacob is putting in the kind of performances in league 1 that would have clubs sniffing around if he wasn’t only there on loan. Toffolo has looked more than comfortable in league 1, and I think could challenge Olsson for a starting berth rather than simply offering cover. Maddison had some serious clubs after him until we secured him, it’d be criminal if he wasn’t at least playing championship football next season.
Promoting youth will be vital to make sure we can address the deficiencies in our squad upon relegation. In the Premier League, I fear they’d be seen as too much of a risk given what’s at stake, and we’d see all of them on loan in the championship for another season.
Bob in Diss says
I think Man City’s FA Cup exit bore out the dangers of blooding the yoof against Premier quality. Van Gaal’s being hailed a genius for playing Rashford, but that was a massive stroke of luck resulting from desperation.
We’d all love to see home-grown talent given a chance on the big stage but the likes of Sturridge and Kane all benefited from going out on loan in the lower leagues. Unless there is exceptional talent and maturity in an individual (very rare combination), that’s probably the best route to learn the trade.
Will we see Declan as first choice again?
If we were comfortably mid-table with 40+ points, then it would be a worthy experiment, but right now we have to stick with the experienced.
Chelsea on the other hand have no excuse not to give some of their young brood a run out. Will it happen? Unlikely.
I see no reason why Hall-Johnson hasn’t been given a chance at right back. It’s not as if Martin or Pinto have proved themselves anything other than championship standard.
Gary Field says
I suspect, had we not been promoted last May, Harry Toffolo would have been a regular in the match day 18 this season.
Notwithstanding, I believe the current Under 21’s set up isn’t working as intended, the quality isn’t good enough to enable players to step up into first team football. As a consequence, the better players get shipped out on loan to the Football League.
Apart from a radical overhaul of the loan system I don’t know how to overcome this problem.
Stewart Lewis says
It wasn’t obvious to me at the time, but I suppose Harry Kane benefitted from his time on loan at Norwich.
Keith B says
“Van Gaal’s being hailed a genius for playing Rashford, but that was a massive stroke of luck resulting from desperation.”
Bob (6), it’s not luck at all. The lad has bags more natural talent than anybody we’ve got and has been well coached for several years. It’s no accident that he hasn’t gone out on loan as he would were he with us. Fact is at 18 he’s ready. Just look at his composed finish last week.
OK, there IS an element of luck in that MU have an enormous local population to draw on compared to us; if a Rashford is one in a million there’s more chance he’s going to be found in Manchester, or Liverpool, Birmingham or London, than in Norfolk. But that’s always been so.
Keith B says
After we were promoted from League One, when Russell had played about half a season for us, a lot of people believed he wasn’t up to the Championship and that Michael Spillane should be our right back. Were you one of them?
If ever you see a youngster, who you think isn’t being given a chance by us when he should, ask yourself why other clubs at our level aren’t falling over themselves to sign him.
Apart from Spillane, Luke Daly, Tom Adeyemi, Korey Smith, Cameron McGeehan and probably a few others have all been touted as stars of our future at some time – none of them are anywhere near the level we need.
el dingo says
#7Dan: I thought the same about Coltishall boy Ben Wyatt at LB – last I heard he signed for the Binners and has barely been seen since. It’s such a cut-throat business now and I wouldn’t like to be the manager that chucked the “home-growns” in, as much as I’d love to see it. However, Maddison may be a a totally different story. Thomson and the unfortunate McGrandles don’t seem destined to cut it with us, unfortunately. Declan didn’t really do too much wrong imo apart from the awful Villa gaffe but I agree with whoever said his time has come and gone. What we really need is a decent scouting system – I’m yet to be convinced by the current one.
Andrew Brewer says
I don’t think that coming into the first team – great as that is. Is the sole criterion of success for the Academy. McGeehan was sold to Luton for £800,000.which was good for the club and gave him a career. Adeyami was similar.
Of the current crop, several will be sold and will have solid lower league careers. There are few examples of younger players making it in the current Premier League. For all the fuss about Rashford, let’s see where he is in 18 months. Remember all the fuss about Januzak a couple of years ago. He is now a good player but hardly the world beater he was claimed to be when Hodgson was trying to persuade him to become English
So, the Academy is doing a reasonable job in my view and when we do get that rare Jewel good enough for the first team, let us treasure him and enjoy the moment.