A team, essentially consisting of children, albeit promising ones, tossed aside what was pretty much our 2nd strongest available XI. A team that included three full internationals, and players who've featured heavily in our first team this year.
I've long argued for the scrapping of reserve team football. The purposes it serves, to me, seem quite minimal. The main function is undoubtedly bridging the huge tranistional gap between the academy and the first-team.
But in modern football, where getting results is the name of the game, I question whether playing in front of a small crowd, a low-stakes atmosphere and low-stakes pressure, is anywhere near enough to prepare these young players for the rigours and demands of first-team football.
And this isn’t a knock on the reserve-team coaches we have at Bolton Wanderers, John Henry who Owen Coyle brought with him from Burnley last January is meant to be a very good coach and is doing the best job he can with the constraints that are there. The problem isn’t our set-up. It’s the set-up of reserve team football as a whole.
Danny Ward is a terrific example of a footballer who flourished by being away from the reserves. Last season, Ward went on loan to Swindon, a team before the season tipped to finish around mid-table. As it turned out- Swindon had a wonderful season, and Ward managed to play a big part in it. With Swindon, Ward’s game improved dramatically, and he managed to play his part in some huge games, whether it was going to Elland Road, The Valley or St. Mary’s, picking up big game experience, big-game atmosphere and culminating in probably the biggest game of young Ward’s career, a trip to Wembley in the playoff final vs. Milwall.
Could Ward have achieved all that vital experience with the Bolton reserve team? Of course not. Did he come back a better player because of it? Yes.
A more high-profile example is Jack Wilshere; we took young Wilshere on loan from Arsenal last season a raw but talented player. Six months of first-team football and he was ready for the Arsenal first-team and the England squad. Would he have progressed as quickly playing for the Gunners reserve side?
We have some talented players who are stuck between the academy and the first-team. Michael O’Halloran, Adam Blakeman, Mark Connolly, Tom Eaves, to name a few. What we need to do is get these players out playing competitive football- whether it is in the Football League or the Blue Square. They need to find their level and get competitive games under their belt before they are 21/22 without any first-team experience and can’t find a new club.
I’m not alone with this school of thought. The, potentially, future England manager agrees with me. Harry Redknapp, does not have a reserve team with Tottenham. Once a player is ready to step out of the academy but not deemed ready for the first-team, ‘arry sends him on loan, usually locally, to a Football League club. It’s innovative thinking, and a method I certainly believe in.
And back to the original question, should we be worried when our first-team is getting beaten by the Manchester United academy?
No. Not at all. Here lies the second problem with the reserves. It quickly becomes a mixture of talented academy graduates and out-of-form or back from injury first team players.
I remember going watching the reserves in the days when Campo, Meite, Borgetti, Nakata and co. would turn out for reserve games- and you’d get the exact same problem back then. They’d be turned over by a youth team without one tenth of their ability or experience. (Ok, I lie, some of them were probably better than Meite!)
Reserve team football, on a cold, rainy November night, will not appeal to a first-team player.
An idealist might question whether a footballer is therefore doing enough to earn hispaycheck if he isn’t prepared to put in the effort whether the situation is 75,000 at Old Trafford or 150 at Leyland.
But let’s be realistic. Reserve team football is not the place any first-team player wants to be.
And will playing well realistically earn you a route back into the first team? Again, let’s be honest, not really.
Suddenly, a game between Manchester United and Bolton becomes a scalp for the Manchester United kids, when they line up against Klasnic, Mark Davies and Sam Ricketts, they are probably playing against some of the best players of their short careers.
Losing to United’s reserves isn’t the worry. It’s producing players from our academy into our first-team.
It’s not all negative. We have a good academy set-up and under ex-‘White-Hot’ Wanderers; Jimmy Phillips, David Lee and Tony Kelly we are bound to give young players the best possible grounding and best start to their football careers possible.
Now we just need a player to force his way into the first-team, and if Danny Ward is that player- then it will surely be a victory for the loans system rather than the reserves system.
Thoughts? Are you a fan of the reserve system?
The future is bright. The future is White. COYWM!