Just how important are our young players? Read on for more
As injuries and finances crippled our playoff push last season, one bright shining light was our influx of young players whom Neil Lennon had brought into the squad.
The first to be introduced was Josh Vela, a played who previously under Dougie Freedman looked likely to leave the club as it is believed that the Scotsman didn`t rate young Josh`s chances of making the grade at first team level. However, when thrown into the deep end by Neil Lennon as an emergency right back, the Salfordian showed just why the likes of Liverpool were monitoring his progress a few years ago. His calm and mature displays were reminiscent of a young Joey O`Brien playing as a right back despite wearing the number ‘8` shirt.
Next to come was Max Clayton, a double Wembley winning 20 year old forward whom Dougie had signed from Crewe for a hefty 300k before saying that he wasn`t ready for the first team. Clayton`s raw talent was clearly evident and although he showed at times that he still very young and maybe too eager as he snatched at a chance against Norwich, he made no mistake against Wigan after making a terrific run in behind the defence; he slotted the ball through the legs of Scott Carson with great finesse. This was followed by more encouraging performances- once he recovers from injury, Clayton will have a very important part to play for the Wanderers.
Perhaps the most exciting of all, Zach Clough was handed his debut next- and what a debut it was! Having caused problems for Wigan all game, Clough beat a helpless ‘keeper with the most exquisite of cushioned left footed lobs you`ll ever see. This followed injury, however upon his return he was back to his best with more brilliant goals- his free kick against Wolves stands out for me. He`s scored about 6 in 9 I think. He may well be one of the best players in the league, and we have to hope that his development can continue in the same vein.
Lastly, Tom Walker was brought in towards the end of the season, and did quite well too. Tall and athletic with a sweet left foot, Walker managed his first senior goal against (wait for it?) Wigan and continued to acquit himself to senior football. Although he seemed to burn out a little towards the end of the season which is to be expected, I think we can be very very excited about the prospect of Walker`s first season in first team football following a well-deserved break.
Here we have four very exciting players who under Dougie Freedman weren`t expected to make the grade. Just think about where we`d be if they didn`t? we wouldn`t have had those big wins over Cardiff and Wigan; we wouldn`t have had that cup run- our season would have been much worse than an 18th place finish suggests.
While Lennon took his time to introduce some of these players into the first team setup and maybe it can be argued that Freedman would have brought them in at the same time, it`s clear that Freedman`s methods failed to produce the same results as Lennon`s.
These four players will be spearheading what we hope to be a much improved season, and to think that for three of them, it all started with a goal against local League 1 Wigan?