Tales of turmoil at Villa Park seem to be emerging in the press and on social media sites on a daily basis, from accounts of even the administration staff beginning to abandon their positions after decades of service due to a poor working environment, to the ongoing Joleon Lescott debacle still racking up the column inches. Yesterday’s offering was from Sky Sports, where it was reported that Aston Villa had lost a behind closed doors friendly 3-0 against the Under 21 team last week.
This story has had its intended effect and our much maligned club has been ridiculed even further, with various news outlets taking up the story. The facts later emerged that senior players played for both teams, with Leandro Bacuna and Jordan Ayew featuring for the youth team. However, why let the details get in the way of a good scoop? When you also take into account that the senior team featured Brad Guzan, Kieran Richardson and Alan Hutton, you actually begin to question how it only finished 3-0!
This all ties in very neatly with what I wanted to address, which is to question whether it would be a good idea at this stage in the season to blood some of the promising youth players. Garde is obviously thinking of doing so, having arranged the aforementioned game last week.
My initial reaction is ‘why the hell not?’ Whilst we obviously still have a mathematical chance of staying up, the reality is that we’re all but doomed. To those who now want to point out that we are pretty much where the Foxes were at the same stage last season, I will say we are cut more adrift than they were and the table was much tighter, making it easier for them to escape from their depths of despair.
Even so, supposing we had a run of games where we gave ourselves a fighting chance of escaping, isn’t that more likely to happen with some fresh impetus? The first team is stale and, after the Liverpool fiasco, completely devoid of any confidence. The players featuring for us currently haven’t shown many signs of dragging us out of this mess we’re in. So where’s the harm?
If there was one glimmer of light in that game, it was the introduction of Jordan Lyden on sixty-six minutes. Whilst it may be questionable to throw a youngster on for his Premier League debut when the team is already 5-0 down, it is also, in many ways, the best time to do it – there was absolutely no pressure on him and he couldn’t have been any worse than the seasoned professionals getting mauled already. It was good to see a youngster getting more than just five or ten minutes for a change. Garde has spoken of Lyden’s positive attitude, although also said ‘he isn’t the most gifted player’ at his disposal after his senior debut against Wycombe a few weeks ago, but perhaps that positivity is exactly what we’re missing now. Ability isn’t everything, as Leicester are proving this season.
Apart from Lyden, who else could we genuinely be looking at to get some senior game time?
Striker Rushian Hepburn-Murphy made his debut under Tim Sherwood at the age of sixteen but has not featured again since. Many are clamouring for him to get some game time again before the season is out, although a more likely option, especially with Callum Robinson out on loan at Preston until the end of the season, is Jerell Sellars, who has been banging in goals for the Under 21s. He seems to possess a knack for goalscoring at that level, there are question marks over his overall contribution to games. Nevertheless, a natural goal-scorer would certainly be welcome in the side.
I was surprised to see another youngster, Lewis Kinsella, being loaned out to Kidderminster Harriers last week. Although only a one month deal, it seems like a low level of football for him to get any real benefit from. As a left full back with only Aly Cissokho for competition, he certainly could be one of those given some first team game time on his return and he was supposedly close to being called into action around the start of the year.
Highly rated Easah Suliman is perhaps the most promising youngster we have, with Bayern Munich reportedly keeping tabs on him last summer before he signed a professional contract with Aston Villa. At eighteen, operating at centre back in a tough Premier League may not be the right call, but he can also play in midfield, which may be the better option to get some senior minutes under his belt.
We should also not forget Jack Grealish. After a long time away from the starting XI, perhaps the time is right to give the mercurial twenty-year-old another crack at proving himself; an over-extended absence may end up being detrimental to his development and confidence.
This brings me on to the conundrum of whether it will ultimately have a unfavourable effect on any young player coming into such a pathetic and flagging side. Confidence wise, can it be good to be part of such a poor team, to be on the pitch and associated with the poor work rate, lack of endeavour and getting hammered along with everyone else?
In my opinion, any youth player worth his salt looking to make an impression has now got the perfect opportunity to do just that. In our position, the team is already expected to lose games. The players are shirking their responsibilities and exerting little effort. They aren’t exactly setting a high standard to have to match or even surpass. As Garde keeps saying, attitude is the most important thing at the moment rather than being the next big thing.
With relegation looming, we are likely to lose several of our senior players next year. Blooding the youngsters now may be crucial should we need to rely on any of them more than is expected at this time.
The exuberance of youth could have a positive effect on the team; established players may see them as a threat and feel the need to raise their game or at least not want to be shown up by a young upstart.
Whilst our academy has slowed down somewhat over the last few years, there are still some promising players in the Under 21 squad and I believe we need to get them involved – a major problem we have had over the years is not giving enough game time to talented youth players. To me, our young players that we seem to hold out hope for are already too old. Gary Gardner is a perfect example. At twenty-three, I believe that if he hasn’t made it yet as a Premier League player, he’s never going to. I know his injuries have really held him back but, as he is on loan again at Nottingham Forest for the season, he will be twenty-four by the time he returns and in all likelihood at least twenty-five before he gets a crack at top flight football. Perhaps next season in the Championship will be his time, and his level, to ply his trade in claret and blue.
Lastly, it may be a boost for the fans to have a couple of players on the pitch who are playing with energy and offering some excitement. Certainly, there should be no fear in playing in front of the Villa Park crowd as every single supporter would be fully behind any youth player.
To me, in our current situation, I think the pros far outweigh any cons in fielding youth here and there for the remainder of the season. Above all, we need something to be able to get excited about during the remaining twelve games of a truly horrendous season.