The promise of good things to come must become reality
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Barnsley’s visit to Carrow Road at the weekend saw a trip ‘home’ for former academy product Cameron McGeehan.
Most will remember the Northern Irishman with genuine affection and pride, having been only the second captain in yellow and green to hold aloft the FA Youth Cup, on a memorable night in west London.
McGeehan’s visit did more than raise respectful applause from the nearby home fans when he warmed up with the hope of getting some minutes on the pitch. It served as a painful and timely reminder of the club’s inability to provide youth players with a tangible pathway into the first team.
Following the club’s success in 2013, it would have been churlish to suggest only two of that group would go on to make meaningful impacts for the first team. The Murphy twins’ potential was apparent from the outset, and while both are struggling to an extent this season, they were always destined for senior action. The fact they are the only prospects to properly break through (although Harry Toffolo and Carlton Morris still have that opportunity) is criminal, yet it serves to highlight a trend that has developed in Norfolk over the past two decades.
Neil Adams’ stewardship of the 2013 youth team meant he knew those players inside out. It could easily be surmised part of the decision to gift him the first team manager’s job was because he’d be able to integrate his young guns into the senior set-up.
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Alex Neil’s appointment seemed to be intrinsically linked with the knowledge he’d taken promising Scottish talent and converted them into top-flight players in England. No mean feat, yet a combination of short termism and a crippling fear factor meant his attentions were diverted elsewhere.
This failure has been highlighted over the past few weeks too. Korey Smith and Tom Adeyemi both showed promise, yet Norwich’s acceleration into the top flight out-stripped their own development arcs and left them having to rebuild their careers elsewhere. Both could have provided vital back-up to City’s engine room this year, yet lined up as equals for other sides.
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Maybe things are about to change. Stuart Webber continued his seismic shake-up over the past few months, with wholesale changes being made to the academy’s coaching staff. While the new set-up is recognisably streamlined, all have been issued with a clear directive – nurture our talent through to the first team and beyond.
Of course, the club’s finances have dictated that the academy production line is now at the core of City’s sustainability. Without the wealthy benefactor many desire, producing our very own stars of the future is a logical and necessary way forward. With that necessity brings a focus and potential acceleration of young players’ development through enforced first team duties. Tuesday night’s opponents Nottingham Forest are a case in point.
Barrie McKay, Ben Brereton, Tyler Walker and Ben Osborn have all enjoyed spells in Forest’s senior side, all have achieved varying degrees of success. McKay is already being talked about in Premier League circles, demonstrating to those waiting behind him there is a clear route toward a prosperous career in the professional game.
Norwich have to afford their gifted youngsters those same opportunities now, there is clear recognition of this from the club’s hierarchy. It sounds simplistic, yet there is no silver bullet which will solve the problems of the past. Fans have to understand that blooding youth players comes with inherent risk, yet the reward can be significant.
The likes of Jamal Lewis, Glenn Middleton and Todd Cantwell are our future, but their path towards Championship game time has to be carefully managed. In many ways, Norwich City’s new ethos should not be judged on whether a play-off tilt is achieved either this season or next, the real scrutiny should be applied to whether undoubted promise can be consistently transformed into part of a successful first team set-up.