Rangers: Youth development and first team integration

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If I was to have written this just a few months ago it would have been a damning report on the failure to blood any youngsters in the past couple of seasons however Stuart McCall in his short tenure in so far has given the youngsters the opportunity to come into the first team and show us what they can produce – we have seen this in chances handed to Andy Murdoch, Tom Walsh, Ryan Hardie and also Robbie Crawford with the youth making up some of the bench too in young Sinnamon and Liam Kelly.

The young lads have not only came in and played to a standard expected but they have exceeded the performances of the players they are replacing and bring with them bundles of energy, pace and enthusiasm alongside their undoubted individual talent. They are on a great run right now in the developmental league and just beat Celtic u20s 1-0 away thanks to an early Callum Gallagher goal which brought another Celtic penalty claim turned down – masonic conspiracy anyone?

Andy Murdoch is a player I have admired for quite a while and have been looking for him to be given a chance and to be fair to him he has taken his chance with both hands and has not looked back with Ian Black reduced to last 5-10 minute appearances, playing in a midfield 3 helps Andy and also other players like Nicky Law and Dean Shiels to be more comfortable on the ball with this being more and more common in modern football in the need to dominate the midfield.

While the chances given to these lads is good I would hope that it would go further at times, for example I am a big advocate of Ryan Sinnamon being given a chance at right back with Darren McGregor moved into his natural centre back position with Lee McCulloch making way but that seems like an impossible task (unless he is dismissed). Darren Ramsey is performing to a very high level for the u20s and would offer our midfield an alternative in excellent passing range, vision and creativity.

With the exciting but sometimes frustrating Barrie Mckay and Airdrie young player of the year and players player of the year Luca Gasparotto both back in the summer from respective loan deals I would hope that both would feature in the first team going forward,to be fair to Barrie I have heard excellent reports from Stark Park this season and his manager gives him glowing reports being the player that can change the game this is evident in his man of the match awards.

Robby McCrorie is a very exciting prospect and is being tracked by many top English Premiership clubs, Arsenal were rumoured to be alert to his talent previously. In Liam Kelly and Robby we have two excellent young keepers who both represent Scotland at their separate youth levels, both youngsters can go far in the game and personally I see them both as long term improvements on Cammy Bell, whether we can keep them both is a different prospect and a very difficult thing to manage considering their potential.

The trouble with some of our outfield u20 squad is many of them are talented but are around 20 years of age and have not had any first team exposure which is not great for youth development, it is not the end of the world but personally I would prefer to see 17-19 year olds sent out on loan to get game time or the most talented youngsters given a set amount of games, I wouldn't advocate 40 games a season but 10-20 games with correct rest periods is valuable at that age.

Why not play them 40 games a season? Well research has shown that in many cases that if you play very young lads and are demanding high levels of training and playing time alongside high expectancy levels which Rangers will always demand then it can cause niggling injuries or “burn out”. Burn out can have disastrous impact on the careers of youth athletes and can stop or slow their development which can stop that talented wonderkid ever reaching their potential so we have a duty of care.

So we have determined that playing a youngster almost every game of the season can have disastrous effects what about not exposing them to first team action if talented enough? In my personal opinion this can have the same effect, players will become disillusioned and potentially lose the desire and become so disgruntled with no obvious passage from youth team to first team that they will look to alternatives, we have seen this with Charlie Telfer and we run the risk of the same thing happening with Ryan Sinnamon.

Another thing to look into with integrating youth into the first team is knowing the types of games that they can flourish in, say you face a team that just kicks wingers all game is it really wise to introduce exciting Tom Walsh, we have seen with Ryan Christie that although he now is commanding a first team place with Inverness, earlier this season and before he was given game time then rested or brought on late in games sometimes to devastating effect it's all about being smart and looking after the interests of the youngsters alongside the clubs. (PS we should sign that kid, one year left on deal a young talent, great passer with lots of creativity who can open up defences and would be cheap given we go up ourselves.)

Let's have a scenario - we sign Haris Vuckic on the cheap this summer and in 2 seasons he has continued to develop performing to a high standard in europe as well as Premiership that English Premiership clubs are lining up £6-8 million bids and let's be honest at that price we would most likely accept, first thing would be a consultation between academy director/coaches and manager to give an honest assessment - do we have any youngsters able to slot in place if not then only then do we look for a good deal in the transfer market.

For me I see no value in ageing players such as Steven Smith, Kris Boyd etc for back ups I would much rather just assume the youth team can step in to fill gaps, injuries and rest is part and parcel of the modern game so these youngsters will get their chance and in many cases will develop to be better than the first team player or be able to fill in if and when they are sold for big money.

Coming to a famous club who heavily looks to youth players Barcelona the world famous La Masia is the envy of many top football clubs however one simple thing they do that I know many big British teams don't follow is from the youngest age range to the first team they play the same tactical system and formation clearly this is important as when the young lads move up each stage they are far more comfortable doing so as they know their job already, it eases transition and it simply amazes me that we do not follow this.

In conclusion Paul Murray has already indicated that youth development is key to the future of our famous club and I completely agree, we don't have the riches of the Premiership and other massive clubs but we do have training and youth facilities that are the envy of some of the top clubs, it is high time we took advantage of the youth facilities and talented youth players we have.

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