Youth players who have graduated to the Swans’ First Team since the Chris Coleman era, 1990.Can lack of finance be the sole reason when you look at the lack of top class recruits the Swans Youth Department have forwarded to the first team conveyor belt since 1990. Certainly, the Swans have endured some tough times during the post Toshack era, the pre Silver Shield era when Kevin Cullis and chairman to be Michael Thompson were involved, and the post Silver Shield era when the club was sold to Tony Petty.
Looking at the players above, who have evolved through the youth team since 1990, and played in the Football League for the Swans, only one Swansea born player, Richard Duffy has been sold on for a six figure transfer fee, yet five youngsters from outside the city boundaries have brought much needed cash into the club’s coffers.
Of the players who were released from the club’s playing staff, quite a number went on to make lengthy league appearances for lower division clubs, namely, Davey and D’Auria. Bridgend born Matthew Crowell and Swansea born Richard Jones and Scott Evans came through the club’s centre of excellence and fees were involved when they signed for Southampton and Manchester City respectively on leaving school.
Granted, when Rhondda based Youth Team boss Ron Walton was in charge, he recruited a number of youngsters, invariably from the Rhondda, and Gwent areas, but even a number of those players for one reason or another failed to make the impact required for Football League levels.
Besides the instability surrounding the football club for so many years, as well as not having the same ‘pulling’ power as Premiership/Championship clubs, perhaps one other reason which needs to be looked at for the low success rate is the quality of opposition the Swans reserve and youth team play against week in, week out.
What must be remembered is that when a young player is spotted, and joins the club’s centre of excellence from an early age(8, 9, or10), up to the age when a decision is made to offer some of the youngsters a scholarship (apprenticeship), they will usually play the same teams year in, year out in the South West Region, only playing against different sides in one of the cup competitions.
Even after leaving school, and still having an involvement in the Swans youth structure, again, the Swans will still play the same sides. So, by playing the same teams year in, year out through the age groups, is this a good enough test for the young players, and are they being pushed to their potential.
Granted, if there was enough money in the club to be involved in the Academy set up, different teams, and a better quality of young footballer would be encountered in games. But even the Academy system has it’s flaws. How many quality youngsters have Cardiff City brought through their system in the last couple of seasons, after spending in the region of £750K-£1M a season over the last three seasons.
With the Swans not in the position at present to enter the Academy system, what other avenues can be pursued to improve the young players on the staff, and increase the ratio of talent reaching the first team squad on a more regular basis, besides increasing the scouting network.
One avenue I believe needs to be looked at with a view to improving the skill levels of youth team players is the loan transfer market. By sending young players out on season long loans, what will be achieved is that young players will be tested more severely by playing in a higher standard, not necessarily a more technical environment, but against mature adults, instead of playing in youth fixtures against the same age groups.
Chris Jones is one example of a scholar who’s potential has been spotted, and given a professional contract before he finishes his scholarship. Apart from when the situation arises and he is included in the first team squad on matchdays because of a long list of injuries in the first team squad, what happens when the injury list recedes, and more senior professionals are utilised as substitutes? Does he then only play in occasional midweek reserve team fixtures?
Toughening up is a vital part of a young professional’s education. The reserve team fixture list is not as demanding as it used to be in the London Combination, and there are too many weeks when there are no fixtures. Another benefit the Swans would achieve I believe should the loan transfer system be utilised, is the goodwill generated between the two clubs. That goodwill would be reciprocated should the club have one or two promising youngsters showing promise, giving the Swans the opportunity to offer them trials.
Dario Gradi at Crewe Alexandra has perfected a system within his club where, over a period of years he has a conveyor belt of talent continually evolving within the football club. Players who are not in contention for a place in the first team squad are learning their education playing regularly in various non-leagues in the North West of England, besides the more senior professionals on loan to Football League clubs.
That is the way he was able to take his club to the Championship on small attendances, rebuild the football ground with the proceeds from the sale of players, and also maintain the expense of Academy status within the club.
Example: Merthyr Tydfil playing in the Southern League could be allocated Kyle Graves and Dion Chambers for the season. Providing these players are regularly selected for Merthyr, wouldn’t it be a better learning curve for these youngsters, rather than the occasional mid-week fixture and Saturday morning youth team game.
The last two seasons have seen the Swans tie up with Welsh Premier side Port Talbot Town for the use of the Remax Stadium for reserve team fixtures. Why not allocate two players to the club for use for a season. In Port Talbot’s side at present they include two former youth team players in Scott Barrow and Tom Wellington. These two players were released by the Swans last season as not being good enough for the next level of the professional game, so why not allocate one, or two youth team players for a season, and see if their skill levels and maturity within the game improve.
Backfilling the vacancies in the youth team that would arise if youth players were ‘loaned’ out would be achieved by recruiting from the club’s centre of excellence and development centre sides, or trialists. Again this would be another test for these youngsters, and the club could benefit again by giving youngsters the opportunity they would not otherwise have.
If there is a problem with the FAW as far as registering the players for a season long loan deal is concerned, I am unaware of it, but I am sure this could be overcome, and long term would be beneficial to both parties(the Swans and loan club).