Quite simply, the debacle that was the Carling Cup Quarter Final against Arsenal was quite simply a case of men against boys. Of course, to a neutral bystander with very little knowledge of football, they’d be surprised to see that the boys in actual fact were the sublime Arsenal side that featured at Anfield last night with seven members of their side being under the age of 21 (not including Abou Diaby and Matthew Connolly who came on as substitutes). For me, what made this even more of an incredible feat was not just the technical ability of the gifted youngsters, but also their tactical knowledge and positional sense of every player that played for Arsenal with their back four, despite having an average age of 22, looked like an experienced quartet that had played together for the best part of their careers.
In my opinion our youngsters, with the exception of Paletta, gave a half-decent account of themselves. Peltier looked okay and Guthrie for me, was man of the match (on our side obviously) as he showed a willingness to receive the ball, got stuck in and showed a good range of passing despite being hampered by being asked to play in three different positions on the night. However, this is not a criticism of them because many of the senior players who played last night have every right to be embarrassed at their own performances but compared to Arsenal‘s kids, they looked weak and not physically strong enough for the demands of first team football.
As we all know, Rafa is far from happy with the club’s academy and the general standard of youth football in English football as a whole, hence is agreement with Jose Mourinho’s that the Championship should house the B teams of the ‘œbig four’. In my opinion anyway, such a suggestion is ludicrous as the lower reaches of English football are amongst the best-supported leagues in Europe and it would demean the Football League as a whole if this were allowed to happen. With this idea dismissed, how are our youngsters able to get the vital experience of first team football?
I am of course referring to the loan system. For me, we don’t use the loan system near enough as well as we should do. Have a look at the players we have out on loan; Sinama-Pongolle at Recreativo, Le Tallec at Sochaux, Diao at Stoke, it reads like a who’s who of who’ll be lining up in the dole queue when their contracts expire. We have exceptions like Carson on loan at Charlton and Danny O’Donnell at Crewe but there even have to be question marks against the futures of these two players due to the signing of goalkeeper Daniele Padelli on a six month loan from Sampdoria and despite only being a youngster himself, it looks like O’Donnell is way down in the pecking order as Miki Roque who plays in his position has already made his first team debut and it also looks like Godwin Antwi and Jack Hobbs are considered ahead of him, especially the latter due to his participation in the first team squad’s Swiss training camp in pre-season.
So after looking at the players out on loan, it could only really be said that Scott Carson has any future at the club and as I said, there has to be a degree of uncertainty towards that after our latest signing. My question is why are we only using the loan system as a method of putting the players who won’t get a look-in in the shop window? The likes of Peltier and Guthrie have showed when they’ve played that they have some ability so why not send them on loan for a year or two to a club in the Championship? Reserve team football can only take a player so far and now that they’ve played a couple of games this season, I doubt they’ll learn anything more from it and will need to play every week. This would obviously beneficial to both the club and themselves, as they’d return better players with a better understanding of the finer points of the game. The loan system certainly benefited Stephen Warnock as despite being a player of limited ability, going on loan to Bradford and Coventry as certainly helped become a half-decent squad player at the club and could certainly do a job for most Premiership sides.
The player who I think would benefit for a loan spell the most is Gabriel Paletta. When he has featured this season, Paletta has looked out of his depth and has shown himself to be extremely raw. While I don’t go along with the notion that he’ll never make it as some have suggested, I think he needs to play regular football to pick up the demands of English football as well as to improve his own game as well. There has been talk about him going on loan to Gimnastic in Spain but for me, that won’t do him any good at all because as we all know, English and Spanish football are completely different and I don’t see how playing in a league were football is generally played at a slower tempo being beneficial to him. If we could loan Paletta out to a Championship side for a season, I personally think it would it would be of great benefit to the lad as it would obviously help him to acclimatise to the pace of the game and I’d imagine it would do his confidence the world of good playing week in week out.
I personally don’t think our youth system is as bad as people are saying after the Arsenal game. If it was really so bad, I doubt we’d have won the FA Youth Cup last year and the most significant point is that Wenger has been developing his youth policy for eleven years while Rafa has only been employing his methods for two seasons. Rafa is gradually getting more say in the youth department as it is rumoured that Steve Heighway is to resign for this reason and the manager is finally getting a say in the youth he wants at the club, highlighted by the recent signings of Padelli and Sebastian Leto as well as an undisclosed offer for Hamilton’s James McCarthy. The youth picture at the club is not as bad as the critics are claiming but what is for certain is that it will take years, and plenty of patience on our part as fans, before we can get anywhere near Arsenal. Sending our youngsters out on loan for essential first team football could be the start of bridging the gap.