Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Importance of Youth

There are plenty of sentimental reasons to play academy players at every level of the game, but for teams whose finances aren't entirely secure, there are economic reasons too. For Blues, this means that our young players have to be given game time if we want to progress - which may be slow, but it could be very fruitful.

Look at the last few players Blues have sold for a decent fee - Nathan Redmond went for £2m and is realistically worth a lot more, Demarai Gray went for £3.75m due to some contractual issues when he was realistically worth double that and Jordon Mutch went for an obscenely small fee too, due to some poor management from the board with finances. Now, by all accounts, Blues appear to be in a better place financially and even signed a player for £1.5m.

When you look at that signing, it was a move which was made to strengthen the side - whether that has happened yet I'm not sure - but it was financed by the sale of Demarai Gray. What made Gray worth so much money (relatively) was that he was young, fast, English and in an attacking position. These will always bump up a price, because of the homegrown quota. Attacking players will always cost more than defensive players, whether that be sensible or not. Pace is a quality that is sought after by so many teams and due to the recent rise in counter-attacking sides having success, this is likely to continue.

So what does this mean? Blues have to take advantage of the inflated prices for young English players by giving game time to these young players. At that age, you really only need 5-10 good games before your price rises to around £4-5m, which is gold dust to Blues. Viv Solomon Otabor is the obvious choice for the next player, with his obvious physical attributes and decent chance creation numbers in such a small amount of time. Viv appears to be the archetypal modern counter-attacker due to his incredible pace and willingness to carry the ball, but needs to get into shooting positions more and take more shots. This will come with coaching and game time.

Viv needs to play a lot more next year. He needs to be starting more often, and coming off the bench when he doesn't. His ability will be useful on the break anyway, but more than that, he needs game time. He signed a new deal in January I believe, and if next year he has a decent year, he would be worth circa £5m. £5m would allow Blues to sign two or three players to improve the squad, bring some more youth through and continue the cycle.

If it doesn't work out for Viv, and he doesn't become a Premier League or upper Championship level counter attacker in the next year, then Blues will have a 20-year-old attacker with blistering pace, willingness to carry the ball and hopefully by then a player with decent output. He will still be a threat at this level, meaning we will have to sign one less wide attacker. To me, it's almost a win-win situation.

Who else is there that could be worth giving some game time? Emmanuel Mbende is a name that has been touted around, as a somebody who is very good on the ball, but maybe not as good in the air as his frame would suggest. Ball-playing centre-backs are another sought after commodity (just ask John Stones) because as pressing becomes more commonplace, defenders who can break lines of pressure with a pass are invaluable.

Mbende needs to be given a few games in the cup, or even in games where Blues are expected to dominate, as that passing might come in handy. He may even be moved to defensive midfield, if what I have heard is correct. He might not be worth as much there, in terms of transfer value, but he could fill a much needed gap there - which again, makes economic sense.

Youth is not just a nice idea, for teams of Blues' level it's almost a necessity. Fortunately, Blues have a very good academy and great staff - Kristjaan Speakman seems to be a very good talent spotter and youth coach and Blues need to make use of it.

With the noise coming out of the club, it seems they are looking to the youth teams a bit more, which is a great thing. Alex Jones seems to be scoring goals, and further down, David Popa and Ronan Hale seem to be bagging quite a few. They only need to score a few at a senior level to be worth a decent chunk of money, which has been proven time and time again.

Reece Brown is the interesting one here, for me. Brown has all the talents to be a Premier League playmaker, whether that be as an 8 or a 10. Unfortunately, there is little data about him due to his restricted game time in the last few years, so I can't be certain about this, but Rowett has said as much. How we can sort him out, I really don't know, but there is clearly a problem with Reece that is stopping him from becoming the player we know he can be. It's a shame, because he is another that could be worth a lot of money to Blues.

Blues have to look at the youth, and I think Rowett is smart enough to see that. Young, homegrown players and certain styles of player are worth a lot of money to a club like ours, and that money will help the club compete. We have to take advantage of this by using our academy talents and using the transfer fees to grow.

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