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    Young Guns update


    Young Guns by John Jones. (Two week blog)
    This week I will discuss the '96 and '97 birth year players that have been the most prominent during the first few months of this present season. With the date of being born on January 1st 1996 or later as the criteria for being eligible for the forthcoming Wales U-21 squad these are some of the young men who will be considered for selection. Undoubtedly, as there are some number of younger age players that have garnered varying amounts of optimistic comments suggesting a forecast of continuing success for the Wales senior team in the future, there will be strong competition from them. That is a subject for more in depth discussion next time and I will just say for the moment that I think the majority of the squad will contain those that come under scrutiny this week.
        Daniel James has been a member of the national U-21 squad since earlier this season and has done nothing to deter one from thinking that he will be one of the first names penciled in next time around. He has continued to consolidate his reputation with strong displays for the Swansea U-23 side and this has warranted an appearance on the bench for the first team as well. Though he did not get on the field for a Premier League match, it does seem that this will be rectified in time. When that will be, very much depends on how Swansea's season develops in the coming months. Another who is trying very hard to persuade his manager to give him a first team opportunity is Harry Wilson. His goal scoring exploits for the Liverpool U-23 side this season is just a continuation of a forte he has been able to maintain throughout his career, starting from when he was a fledgling schoolboy and onwards. He is, I am sure, chomping at the bit as it were to have an opportunity to hit the back of the net at first team level and this is an understandable desire to have. An opinion as to when this may occur is a difficult proposition to venture with a preference at Liverpool to have their young players remain at the club, opposed to making them available for loan. Not only is there a deep pool of players in the first team squad, there are many young players making enough of an impression to be considered as being on the verge of first team involvement. Perseverance is the only suggestion to make in Harry's case, keep at it and the chance will eventually come. Joe Rodon has already played for Wales U-21 as well and will be a strong contender for further involvement. He was involved with the early pre-season Swansea squad that competed in the U.S.A. but this has been the extent of his first team exposure. He has performed well for the U-23 side which is having a very good season in their league as well as being in the sides playing in the Checktrade Trophy. Dominic Smith is another who has won U-21 caps and is hoping to impress enough to add to his tally in the future. In his time with the Shrewsbury first team squad, it has been a case of intermittent appearances in the team as well as loan periods in non-league football. After the first few weeks of this season he was loaned out to Barrow and was eventually recalled to the club after a manager change. This has resulted in some appearances in the side of late and it may be a chance for him to get a regular run of games if he can continue to impress. Though predominantly a central defender, he has apparently been used as a right back, a position he played whilst at Barrow. Whether this is in a defensive role or as a wing back, I do not know, he certainly has pace aplenty, a big asset to have as a wing back. Cian Harries started the first couple of months of the season the recipient of favourable press reviews, at times they were extremely positive in regard to his display. George Thomas was also his team mate in the Coventry first team on occasion at that time but their inclusion in the side has been much less since those early weeks of the season. It has been a mighty struggle for the team throughout the first half of the season and will need a significant improvement to have any chance of avoiding relegation. In such circumstances comes the inevitable team changes in a search for success on the pitch and young players are prone to be victims unless they can show that they obviously belong in the first eleven each week. Both seem to have the quality to most likely continue to get an opportunity in the weeks ahead, it is just a question of being able to make enough of a contribution to get another regular run of games to further their experience at that level.
        It is a group of young men with only a very limited amount of collective first team exposure but by the same token there is also the possibility that a good number of them can eventually remain in the fulltime professional game at some level. Many are performing well, in some cases very well, in their respective U-23 sides and though it is an unknown as of now, it does maybe give a small clue as to whether they can negotiate that next big step into first team football in the future. Keston Davies and Tom James are the captains of their U-23 teams at Swansea and Cardiff respectively and are getting praise for their performances this season. Tom has been on the field of play in the Premier League, an introduction for the last very few minutes of Cardiff's final game in the Premiership before their relegation. It was a reward for a fine season he had whilst still a youth team player at that time. With all the subsequent turmoil at the club, it is not that surprising that it is Tom's only first team involvement so far. Up in Scotland, Dylan Thomas is captain of the Aberdeen U-20 team and gets quite a few accolades for his performances. Hopefully he can continue in this vein and start knocking on the door of first team opportunity at some time in the coming months. Charlie Harris, Joe Morrell and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans at Bristol City, Ashley Baker at Cardiff, Tom Leggett at Aston Villa and Owain Jones at Swansea are all regular U-23 team members and will have some claim for an U-21 squad place, Owain having been called up as a replacement player already. Tom Lowery has made some first team appearances for Crewe this season and though maybe cannot quite be regarded as a regular member of the side at the moment, it is an indication that he is pushing hard to do so. Although Jake Charles has gained a number of U-21 caps already, he can only be regarded as being amongst this group of players at best at this moment in time. Allowed to leave Huddersfield earlier in the season, he was quickly snapped up by Barnsley, but they have now loaned him out to York City in the National League. He will need to perform very well at that level to beat out others in the competition for a place.

        Although this is not all the players from this two year group that are employed by either Premier or Football League clubs, the ones mentioned are in my mind the ones most likely to be considered in the present evaluation scenario. In reality, it is still very much guesswork with any selection process many months down the road from this moment. Most of the decisions will be based on whatever is happening at that particular time, allowing for the possibility of various twist and turns to take place in the fortunes of these young men in the meantime.

        All that is left for me to add is to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas with the hope that I have provided some amount of enjoyment in your reading of the "young guns" over the past few months.

    This week it is the '98, and '99 birth year players who are the focus of attention, as well as those from 2000 who were born in the early part of that year allowing them to be school leavers and become scholars at their clubs. In normal circumstances it would be a case of using a crystal ball to judge such a young group's potential influence on the Wales senior team some years well into the future. Most of the conjecture would be based on what could be derived from achievements in schoolboy and youth playing conditions. It is not the case for this review, as there has been what can only be described as astonishing progress accomplished by some of these very young players.
        It is not possible to produce any more words to add any substance that is meaningful and so I shall move on to discuss Ben Woodburn. He just has to be the first one and as so much has been written in various publications already, it is doubtful, probably unnecessary, for me to say more. Still, one's ego does insist that I add at least something to the verbiage. He has, more or less, completely bypassed youth football as Liverpool deemed him ready to be acclimatized to a more challenging scenario. His exploits in pre-season showed he was ready to move into the U-23 team at the start of the season and of course more recently into the first team squad. It has been a case of mainly watching from the bench so far, but he certainly made an impact in the brief exposure to be watched by the Anfield faithful. It is now a waiting brief as club and international management wisely assess how to proceed. Although Ben has done extremely well in the year or so since leaving school, he is not the only one to be lauded for some amazing football achievements. Hot on his heels in terms of well-deserved accolades is Ethan Ampadu who is in fact a few weeks short of a year younger than Ben, having only fairly recently reached school leaving age. Ethan has quite a few more first team appearances under his belt at present than Ben does. He is an Exeter player and so his opponents have mostly been at League 2 level, although one of his more significant performances did occur in the EFL Cup against a team that plays its league football 2 divisions higher. That and a number of league games took place in the weeks leading up to his 16th birthday and so in my opinion Ethan and Ben should be equally applauded. To have 2 players that one can give such plaudits to, leaves one unsurprised that optimism is much on the minds of Welsh supporters but it does not end there, with Tyler Roberts making it a trio of significant youngsters that are at points well above average expectations in comparison to most former schoolboy internationals at their age. Tyler does also have a Premier League appearance on his resume already, having had some minutes as a substitute for West Brom. in May of this year. That came at the end of his first season as a scholar, one that also included a lot of time in the U-21 team as well. Club management decided that he was very much ready for exposure to first team football as the next step in gaining experience and so agreed to loan him to Oxford United in League 1. As I understand it, this ends early in the new year, but the U's are very keen to secure an extension of this timeframe. There must be satisfaction in how he has performed for them to propose such a desire even though I have been slightly surprised at the evidence I see. Tyler has been used in the majority of Oxford's matches, but it has almost exclusively been as a substitute. This is just an observation on my part and not a criticism. I am  sure that those in charge of his welfare are more knowledgeable than I am and it is done for the combined benefit of club and player, one in fact that may be preferable from West Brom.'s perspective rather than subject him to an overload of challenging football at early part of his career.
        The follow up on the words above will most likely be viewed as rather low key although it is certainly not intended to be so. Now comes the description of how other players in this age group are doing and it leaves me with something of a dilemma. There are a number of other players that deserve a mention in this piece, done under the guise of providing information as to who have been doing well this season along with the clich of ones to watch for the future. In order to keep the discussion at the proportion close to normal for my weekly offerings, it is necessary for me to be brief and may not fully encompass the praise they deserve. Regan Poole has in the past shown an ability to give good performances at League 2 level when he was at Newport and, as a consequence, became a Manchester United player. He has been a regular member of the U-23 side, possibly his only omissions have been when matches clashed with international duty. As I understand it, he has put in some good performances as a constant in the central defensive role that I believe best suits him. His only exposure to first team football in his time at Old Trafford is a few minutes in the Europa League last season, but must be well thought of at the club as he has been incorporated in first team training in the past. A query of mine a few weeks ago as to how Nathan Broadhead was progressing was answered in stunning fashion with his goals for the Wales U-19 team showing that he has lost none of his touch at what he was quite prolific at in his time as a youth player. I stated that I was a little surprised at his lack of U-23 appearances at Everton, but also know he is not only up against competition that has a lot of talent but is also older and probably more physically developed. I'm sure his time will come. Mitchell Clark at Aston Villa is another that seems ahead of the curve as it were at this time. His inclusion in the U-23 team on many occasions is unusual for one who still has many months of youth team football eligibility. He was not able to answer the call for duty with the U-19 Welsh team, I'm assuming it was due to an injury. Cameron Coxe, Liam Cullen, Fergal Hale-Brown, Ryan Harrington, Mark Harris, Ryan Leak, Rhyle Ovenden and Matthew Smith are seemingly on course to forging a career in professional football as they continue to do well at their respective clubs. Unfortunately, it is just a mention by name without adding any specific details which I apologize for not doing so. There may well be other players that equally deserve to be included in that list and I add my regrets at not being aware enough to do it.
        It is fair to say that what I have strongly hinted so far in this week's effort is a good reason to be excited about the potential development of at least some of these young men culminating in them being players who will have a major influence in the Wales senior team. It is a group of lads with an abundance of talent along with the ability to perform well during the challenges that have been posed to them to this point in their careers. What has to be taken into consideration is that they are young and have further hurdles to overcome before reaching their goal of regular first team football. At what level can they maintain adequate performances when they do so is also a question unanswered at the moment. I certainly don't discourage any optimistic feelings that are likely to be prevalent amongst many of you, I am just suggesting the element of caution should also be added to it. There is almost nothing that I would enjoy more than being witness to all of these young men have excellent careers and would hazard a guess that if it came to fruition, then the Wales senior team would be replicating the feats of the past summer regularly. The odds are very much against it though unfortunately, as it not only takes ability but also an elite mental and physical prowess along with something of an x-factor that is impossible for me to define to get to anywhere near the top level in any sport.
        Well, it just remains that I realize that it is time for me to "shut up" as it were. I sort of enjoy the idea that I can "wax lyrically" in my mind and think that I can go on doing so. In reality it is probably the opposite, I am likely repetitive and boring and apologize to those that find it in that manner. Unfortunately, it is the limit of my capability, but I find it a pleasurable hobby. Finally, it is a time to wish all of you a very Happy New Year as we ponder what awaits us in 2017.

    Posted: Wednesday 4th January 2017
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