We live in a very different footballing world these days; a world where £30million price tags don’t make you glance twice anymore and one where fans can find out about players from YouTube clips or Football Manager attributes ranked out of 20.
As a Gillingham fan it’s difficult to relate to this world bearing in mind the stature of our club, and if recent financial reports are anything to go by, it’s even more far-fetched now than it ever has been.
So, instead I choose to turn to youth and I think about the famous cliché along the lines of “if you’re good enough you’re old enough”. Now, as far as The Gills are concerned when it comes to some of the youth and academy products over the last few years, it simply seems a lot of our young lads are not deemed to be good enough.
I don’t want this article to come across as if I’m putting these boys down; on the contrary I would love to see more opportunities given to young players. However, I can’t help but wonder if our recent record of not bringing through young players comes down to being let down by management or not having the ability required for the pressures of the first team?
The season just gone, for example. I fully understand the precarious situations we found ourselves in, scrapping for survival. However, what made Ollie Muldoon a more viable choice than Goal of the Season winner Darren Oldaker? What was it that ensured centre-half Mitchell Dickenson was praised by Ady Pennock after an away win at Bury (a very rare one at that) only for him to be frozen out from then on in? Why did Elliott List get thrust into the spotlight in Pennock’s first game, on the back of him calling for direct and exciting attacking football, only for him to barely feature in the remaining fixtures?
Think about the past few seasons too, and I mean really think about the number of players we have brought through the youth system and turned into regulars, even here or at another club. Bradley Dack is a massive success story and Jake Hessenthaler has played his fair share of games but apart from this, you’re looking back to the emergence of Jack Payne in 2008 for the last player brought through the Gills ranks who went on to make a career at league level.
Some might argue that Mahlon Romeo is an exception to this having just a few hours ago won promotion to The Championship with Millwall, however he only featured once for us and has since gone on to play over 50 times for The Lions.
I’ll reiterate that this article is not an attack on our young players, but instead it is meant to highlight the potential problems in progressing these players into first team action.
I would love nothing more than to see the likes of Noel M’bo and Greg Cundle scoring in front of the Rainham End, or Darren Oldaker pulling the strings in the middle of the park. Players need games, they need more than 5 minutes at the end of a match or season after season in the development squads to really understand what it’s like to represent this club. It is somewhat disheartening to see how many prospects have not made the grade and fallen into the depths of the Kent football scene, and who knows when we might miss out on a gem who fits in perfectly at another club.
I think next season could be make or break for some of the players I’ve mentioned above; with both Cundle and List being offered new deals (I would presume 1 year each) and 5 scholars being given professional terms a few weeks ago, there comes a time where you have to take a chance on some of these before you risk losing them forever.
I personally would love to see that chance being taken.
Up The (future) Gills.