Yes, I was firmly #StamIn, but try not to hold that against me. Results didn’t go our way, performances were lacklustre at best, but I still felt uneasy about the sacking. Everything has gone wrong for us this season since our the final two kicks at Wembley.
I hoped we’d hold on and regroup in the summer, but since we find ourselves where we are, here are my early thoughts.
First things first, the free market for managers is terrible at the moment. Whilst it’s the best of an uninspiring bunch, given Jaap was firmly Brian’s man, this appointment does have an air of nepotism about it. Ron and Paul were together at Chelsea, which shows Ron exerting his influence as CEO to an extent. Is it a good use of past relationships, or jobs for the boys?
When Jaap joined us it felt like we were trying something different, a young, exciting, high-profile manager that set us apart from other clubs. I might be blinded by how much I liked that approach, but it does feel like that edge has been diminished - we’re just another club on the failed manager merry-go-round. That “failed manager” tag has been debated extensively on social media, so I won’t continue on that track.
At least stylistically - in terms of playing style - we aren’t tearing up what we have been working towards the last few years. A point for cautious optimism.
That aside. Why am I sceptical?
Youth and academy
One massive criticism of Jaap Stam was how much he under-utilised the youth. To an extent, I see where that came from, pushing Leandro Bacuna to fullback with Omar Richards emerging being a key point.
However, consider the following:
Liam Kelly, Tennai Watson, Danny Loader, Omar Richards, Axel Andrésson, Andy Rinomhota, Tom Holmes and Sam Smith.
All were given their first team debuts by Jaap Stam and have thus moved their development along quite a bit. In hindsight, despite controversially letting Aaron Kuhl, Craig Tanner, Tariqe Fosu, Jack Stacey and others leave, we saw the use of academy move up a notch with arguably younger and just as talented (if not more talented) young players coming through.
Now let’s compare that to Paul Clement across his time at Derby County and Swansea City.
- 67 league games
- 0 league debuts for academy players
You could, arguably, give him kudos for Oliver McBurnie - although given his 15 appearances for Bradford before joining Swansea at the age of 17, that’s debatable in the same way as taking credit for Shane Long being our academy player.
Hopefully we won’t see history repeat itself here given we are now reaching another watershed moment with the academy. We have a handful of products across the pitch who will be expecting some form of involvement or signs of a pathway to the first team in the next 12-24 months.
All of the following can arguably stake a claim for involvement of some form or another.
George Legg, Lewis Ward, Luke Southwood (goalkeepers),
Tennai Watson, Omar Richards, Axel Andresson, Tom Holmes, Jake Sheppard (defenders),
Andy Rinomhota, Tyler Frost, Josh Barrett, Ryan East (midfielders),
Andrija Novakovich, Sam Smith, Danny Loader (forwards).
No doubt we will see some movement of young players over the summer, and some will be loaned out. But if we don’t see some of this batch given chances next season, or a pathway to the first team, the ramifications through our academy could be hugely detrimental to us going forward.
In Clement’s first window at Derby he signed nine experienced first teamers (Chris Baird, Darren Bent, Scott Carson, Alex Pearce, Andreas Weimann, Tom Ince, Jason Shackell, Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson) on top of what was already a strong and extensive squad on paper.
If that happens and the pathway is blocked, we could lose a bigger and more talented group than the likes of Tanner, Kuhl and Fosu.
Not only would the good grace our fans have diminish quickly (we’re precious over our future starlets...) but that could have ramifications throughout younger groups of academy players. We have some even more exciting talents coming through, like England youth internationals Jack Nolan, Oliver Pendlebury, Jeriel Dorsett, Claudio Osorio, Harvey Collins and Roberto Nditi.
But now isn’t the time for negativity and you can’t fault Clement’s coaching credentials - there’s potentially a very exciting manager in there. If he’s learned from past experiences and the next eight games go well, we have the foundations for a very bright future.
He’s said in his first interview he wants to use the academy, I’ll believe it when I see it. I just really hope I see it.
Good luck, Paul.