Chris Camm says...
I have a number of concerns regarding the academy sides. Results are obviously worrying, not because we care about their league position but consistently losing is going to have a hugely negative effect on the players who are still so young. It puts across an image of a club who shouldn’t be mixing it up with the other academies we are playing against this season, and for a category one academy that we have always been so proud of that is a big problem.
The knock on effect of these negative results means we look less attractive to talented young players. Players released from the top academies and with serious potential are bound to think twice if we appear to have a losing culture. But more worryingly we will struggle to keep the talented young players that we already have.
Its started happening already with youngsters leaving us, drawn away by the biggest clubs in the country but how long will it be until they start leaving us to go to our rivals. How long until a player looks at Middlesbrough and their setup, sees the way they are nurturing and developing players into the first team and thinks they stand a better chance there? Because as it stands right now I bet the players in academy feel a hell of a long way away from our first team.
My other major concern is the way we are choosing to develop these players fitness wise. I haven’t got the stats to back this up but I bet if you add up the days spent injured from our squad over the last two years our academy graduates top the list. Players like Mumba, Kimpioka, Embleton are not being sent out on loan to gain much needed experience and match fitness. Embleton especially is frustrating as he so much potential, he plays in a position and with a style that I believe would be perfect for the current team yet he cant take part due to injury. Of course I know the circumstances behind every injury are different but should our academy be looking more into the way they are preparing our lads for first team football physically as well?
As I say, there are a number of things wrong with our academy at the moment. Perhaps the greatest frustration of all is that we have a man who England stars Jordan Pickford and Henderson both credit as a huge positive factor in their development limited to a role of ambassador and nothing more. Get Kevin Ball back in the academy day in, day out and see the difference he can make.
Tom Atkinson says...
The results of the U23 team are particularly concerning, but I think it’s an issue that predates the current regime’s reign because we were struggling in the PL2 back in 2017.
Our fall down the leagues will undoubtedly have had a major impact on our ability to hold onto and cultivate young talent - in fact the first-team quality players we developed in that time have largely left the club for pastures new.
I’d also wager that the U18s malaise stems from that of the U23 side who have taken several U18 players to bolster their ranks this season.
I suppose the issue here is that the current ownership group should have identified this worrying trend and have made proactive steps to help address the slump.
To be fair they might have tried to change things; however, this year results have seemingly worsened, with the U23 side amassing a solitary point in the league thus far. That is obviously a major worry for a club that have stated they intend to develop young talent to integrate into the first team where they can potentially bring success or be sold to improve our financial sustainability.
No doubt the U23 team have lost several important players in Hume, Robson, and Embleton - but is that enough to totally decimate a side who didn’t have said player readily available for large parts of last year either?
The club have noted that they would rather give younger players a chance to develop away from the club with a senior side, and that’s fair enough. But, could the players behind them have their growth stunted playing in a side being turned over week after week?
There needs to be some positive change at the Academy and soon - what that is, though, I’m not entirely sure.
The league performance of the two most senior academy sides do concern me, for a number of reasons. The main one being that, for the players, losing every week cannot be doing them any good. You have to wonder what thoughts are running through the minds of the better players, like Mumba and Sammut, who cannot be improving as a result of their regular inclusion in a losing side.
Whilst league performance and winning trophies at youth level does ultimately count for very little, struggling and losing counts for a lot, and we have to hope that next season is a more successful one for all of our teams. I’m resigned to the current regime moving on by the end of the current season, and hopefully as they leave they’ll take the current Academy Director and structure with them.
New owners will hopefully bring with them a proper footballing structure, both for the first team and the academy, that then leads to success across the board. Our recruitment of young players needs to be better, as does our retention of players in the younger age groups that are seemingly headed off to big Premier League clubs with an alarming regularity.
Until there is a change in the boardroom, we must wait.
Hopefully good decisions are made to ensure the best young players in our U23s group have a better end to the season than they’ve had a start. Players like Kimpioka, Mumba, Sammut and Patterson would all benefit from spending the rest of the season out on loan, playing men’s football. If they do then there’s a realistic chance that they all come back in the summer in a better position than when they left us.
Whilst I have little faith in the current academy structure to be able to make major improvements over the next six months or so, I do hope they realise that these boys will be better off playing week after week in competitive games away from this club.