Chris Goreham: It’s so tough for youngsters to make the grade
- Credit: Andy Kearns/Focus Images Limited
Darren Huckerby’s second dignified departure from Norwich City has brought the club’s youth set-up under the microscope.
That 19-year-old Todd Cantwell should make a Championship substitute bench for the first time within a couple of days of Huckerby’s latest emotional goodbye served to sum up the issues that exist when it comes to turning promising academy players into first team footballers.
There’s no doubting Cantwell’s talent. I haven’t seen much of him but those who have watched the club’s youth teams have been raving about him for several seasons however, until Saturday, he hadn’t had much of a sniff of first team action.
The Dereham boy’s opportunity arrived with Marley Watkins suspended plus injuries to Alex Tettey, Josh Murphy, Alex Pritchard, Steven Naismith, Matt Jarvis, Jamal Lewis and Lewis Thompson. I dare say that had any one of those players been available Cantwell would have been watching from the stands with the rest of us.
The Canaries’ recent record of struggling to bring young talent fully through the system makes the achievement of Josh and Jacob Murphy in becoming first team regulars all the more impressive. The twins’ success only came after a series of loans to other, lower division sides.
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They were both part of the Norwich side which won the FA Youth Cup in 2013.
That’s the only season out of the last six that the tournament hasn’t been won by Chelsea so the passage of time has underlined what a spectacular achievement that was. So why haven’t more players who looked the part at the age of 18 made the step up? That’s the issue that the club’s recent academy review has been trying to get to grips with.
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There are many factors at play. When you consider the enormous pressure on Chris Hughton, Neil Adams and Alex Neil to either beat off the threat of Premier League relegation or compete properly for Championship promotion the gamble of throwing a youngster into the team has never really been on. Managers get enough clog from supporters without providing an easy stick with which they could be beaten.
Managers don’t tend to last long in jobs either so to expect them to be planning beyond the next five games and looking far enough into the future to blood their standout youth team players is unrealistic, especially when they only have the much maligned and barely competitive under-23 football to judge them on.
That is one of many aspects of the game that has changed since the 80s and 90s when Norwich City seemed to have an endless supply of talent coming through the ranks. Dale Gordon could be sold and replaced by Ruel Fox who played alongside Chris Sutton while Darren Eadie waited in the wings.
In those days teams could only name two substitutes so with only 13 places on the team sheet each week, clubs carried much smaller squads. There was no point paying a series of players to do nothing every Saturday so, when there was an injury crisis, youngsters who had being playing reserve team football quickly became the next cab off the rank.
Norwich City are not alone in suffering something of a logjam on their production line, the same pressures apply up and down the divisions. Sporting director Stuart Webber is hoping a more efficient use of the loan system will help to clear a pathway into the first team.
It’s certainly something that’s worth getting right. Cantwell’s appearance in the squad against Hull was met with approval from supporters who love nothing more than seeing one of their own break through.
Maybe it’s the start of some fresh yellow and green blood finally making the grade.
We can’t take any chances ahead of the derby...
Football is never short of superstitions, irrational thinking and omens but I came across a new one at the weekend.
While looking for some Norwich City supporters to have a chat with ahead of the game on the radio I noticed a couple of people perched on the bank that runs between Carrow Road and the retail park opposite. This wasn’t rampant opportunism but clearly a carefully constructed plan because they had brought a table, two chairs and probably a flask of tea as well.
Di Cunningham from the Proud Canaries supporters group was one of them and she introduced me to an artist called Eloise O’Hare who had decided that football supporters on their way to Carrow Road would be the perfect subject for her next picture as part of the Paint Out Norwich project which encourages people to create artwork around the city.
Eloise isn’t a massive football supporter and only realised that the bearded gentleman arriving at the ground that she’d sketched in pencil in her picture at about 1.30 on Saturday was actually the Hull City midfielder David Meyler when Di Cunningham pointed it out. How we laughed.
But perhaps that pencil contains mystical powers. Who should get sent off less than three hours later? That’s right, the same bearded gentleman that plays in the Hull midfield. Meyler’s marching orders helped convince Daniel Farke to flood the pitch with attacking options in search of that treasure equaliser.
I am now deeply concerned about the paranormal power of that pencil because a post-match social media trawl revealed that Eloise had celebrated the unexpected shot of publicity given to her on BBC Radio Norfolk by drawing her interviewer into the scene. Gulp! I will not be walking under any ladders, opening any umbrellas indoors or crossing the path of a black cat between now and Sunday because it suddenly feels like the fate of Norwich City in the East Anglian Derby rests in my reluctant hand.
Perhaps Eloise would find it equally interesting to sit outside Portman Road next Sunday morning and sketch a few of the Town midfielders before the game. We don’t want to leave anything to chance now do we?