Date: 26th November 2009 at 12:28am
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Hearts current plight in the SPL has probably brought to the fore a big question in the minds of supporters – is the football academy producing the best possible standard of player for the first-team ? Up until recently, manager Csaba Laszlo seemed very reluctant to pitch any of our U-19 players into first-team games, preferring to list them as substitutes but hardly ever bringing them on.

Andrew Driver, Lee Wallace, Eggert Jonsson, Jason Thomson and Calum Elliot had already tasted first-team exposure when Csaba arrived, yet they are still young enough to be considered “learners”. In those 18 months, which of them could be said to have grown in stature as first-team SPL players ? In my opinion, only Wallace fits that description, and his form has now earned him full international caps.. Driver on his day is an exciting player who can cause problems for any defence – yet I can`t help feeling he should be contributing more for the team. As for the others, they`ve all had injury problems – yet none seems to have made any progress in terms of impact and achievement. It was only 6 months ago that Csaba said he`d make Jonsson into a “£2m right-back” – quite a bizarre statement considering the young Icelander had seldom played in that position before. Perhaps Csaba meant Craig Thomson instead !!

Craig has certainly been the most impressive of our youngsters, so we should give credit to the club coaches for nurturing him and having the courage to promote him to first team duties. However few others seem able to match Thomson`s ability to take the step-up in his stride – especially attacking players.

It`s hard to know what to make of Gary Glen, since the manager seems reluctant to give him a decent run of games. Would he turn out to be simply another Elliot – unable to transfer his training ground abilities to matchdays ? Mind you, he can`t score or make fewer goals than Christian Nade !! And what of Novikovas, who seemed destined for early first-team exposure ? More recently, Gordon Smith was fast-tracked into the first-team squad – but there was little in his game which suggested this was a sensible move. David Templeton is close to regaining fitness after a pre-season injury, so there are 4 young forwards who OUGHT to be hungry to do well and make their mark. However Csaba`s caution at handing them responsibility may actually be blunting their natural instincts. Contrast that to Jim Gannon at Motherwell, who has 5 U-19 players in his regular team.

Any criticism of these youngsters abilities should be tempered by the fact that all clubs discard large numbers of promising youngsters. There is often a gulf between success at U-19 level and suitability for an SPL first-team – for example, Hibs released several of their U-19 winners from last year, and Celtic let almost all of theirs go !! Hearts top scorer last year – Mark Cowan – was released, but has been snapped up by the mighty Brechin, so it`s likely that other senior clubs shared Hearts view of him. This “natural wastage” has been compounded in the last few years by Hearts disastrous signing of foreign youngsters Copil and Kostadinov.

My main worry is that we are not giving the best forward coaching to promising youngsters like the 4 mentioned above. It`s good to see another crop of Riccarton boys making the Scotland U-17 and U-16 squads – some of them strikers like Dale Carrick and Jamie Walker. However from the fans point of view, goalscoring is the only worthwhile benchmark to judge strikers by, and the Academy is surely falling short of its potential if it fails to deliver the best training in what is THE most important aspect of the game.


3 Replies to “Hearts Academy – is it good enough?”

  • The attrition rate at this level must be exceptionally high so perhaps the number of younger players coming through is about what we might expect – I don’t know. I can’t remember how long the Academy has been in operation but I suspect we might need to give it longer to properly judge the effectiveness. However, while I’m all for “protecting” young players I tend to fall more to the good enough/old enough school of thought. I suppose the problem is that there’s very little leeway allowed of a manager in terms of results which might tempt him to field a team of young players at the expense of an acceptable league position. In addition, I don’t think the aboloition of the reserve league has helped matters. But whatever you think we are currently in an unaceptable league position so bringing on some players a bit faster can’t really do any more harm than what we’ve currently got on the pitch! I watch the U19s when I can and do think that there are some good looking (as it were!) players there.

  • I think you are right that there is so little breathing space in this league that some managers can consider blooding youngsters to be too big a risk at the expense of vital points. Young players need protection and that?s why the old adage of a blend of youth and experience makes so much sense. A young John Robertson building his confidence and knowledge alongside Jimmy Bone comes to mind. My worry at the moment is that our precarious league position, strange tactics, the mood of the fans and Laszlo?s often less than encouraging public comments could destroy the potential that any newly promoted youngster may have.

  • Ahh… Jimmy Bone – now he was a REAL centre-forward !! We could really do with unearthing a 33 year-old striker with a good brain, but I honestly can’t think of any !! The Academy has been going for just over 6 years I think. Up till this season, only Gordon and Berra could be considered as having “made the grade”. Now hopefully Wallace, Driver and Thomson can be added to the list – with more of INM’s scouted prospects to follow. But none of these names are goalscorers !! Why ?

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