In a footballing world where the need for short-term success is seemingly more important than long-term progression, certain factors within the club have forced the hand of academy staff to focus on the latter.
The introduction of several young guns into our recent matchday squads and starting elevens has, in turn, seen the U23 setup being forced into a number of changes.
Ethan Robson, for example, has been rightly lauded for his performances against Middlesbrough in the cup and more recently in the home win against fellow strugglers Hull City, but his omission from Elliot Dickman’s side in recent weeks has seen Dickman delve down into the lower reaches of the academy to find a replacement.
The U23s fixture against Chelsea saw the Lads struggle to make any impact on the game, but the importance of winning took a back seat, making way for the greater good of long-term player development, as the vastly inexperienced squad were carved apart on numerous occasions in a heavy 5-0 defeat.
During this defeat, the lack of physicality and experience was evident against a side full of the supposed stars of the future, and while there is no guarantee the usual squad would’ve fared any better, it is only natural to assume the scoreline would have been less embarrassing.
Like the game itself, player development is not an exact science, and while our approach may not be conventional, similar approaches have proved to be successful.
The emergence of Marcus Rashford at Manchester United was no coincidence as they adopted a system which allowed players through different age groups to play training matches together. Obviously, this was at the discretion of the coaches within the setup as the welfare of the players still took centre stage.
The increased physicality opposing Rashford is said to have had a huge impact upon his development, something which could be predicted for our young lads who played in that defeat to Chelsea.
While this is no quick fix, the idea of being old enough if you’re good enough is one that is firmly in place under the current management.
Whether this was Coleman’s plan when taking the job is not confirmed but our situation with injuries hasn’t left him with much choice, although selecting the likes of Maja and Asoro consistently over McGeady and McManaman all but proves his current process.
Coleman famously handed caps to several teenagers when in charge of the Welsh national team - most notably Ben Woodburn and Ethan Ampadu - who are both players linked with moves to Wearside this transfer window.
Patience hasn’t been a characteristic of this club for a while now - our tendency to ride the managerial merry-go-round on a whim is equal measures shambolic and embarrassing. Patience is, however, crucial to reaping the rewards of this new approach to long-term development.
If the results continue to replicate that of the Chelsea game, there is a chance that pressure may be put on the youth teams to start improving in terms of results, leading to significant questions being asked from the powers above.
Perseverance in the approach needs to come from all involved in order to produce an environment where the focus is solely on giving the players a chance to develop into successful professionals.
We will have to wait a good few years before we can assess if this approach has worked, but this could go some way to developing something at the club which we haven’t seen for a while - an identity!