Nov 272009

As Arsenal fans we like to think of ourselves as proud of the way young players are developed by the club, patient with them as they progress through their inevitable raw phase, and then justified when they come out the other side shining.

Some make it all the way, some fall by the wayside, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing both sides of that particular coin. For every Cesc, there is an Owusu-Abeyie, for every Bendtner, a Lupoli. Players who, for whatever reason, never fulfilled their exciting promise, those early eye-catching days, and were eventually shipped off, many never to be seen on these shores again. Those that remained in England often dropped down the leagues, justifying the decision to let them go.

But sometimes I fear those judgements are made too soon. Not by the club, who are impressively loyal (and with mixed results – for every minute believing in a Song, time is also invested in an Aliadiere), but by every one of us, giving our opinions on the development of players from the minute they come on to our radar. For some with detailed knowledge, that can be from reserve football, but for most, that day comes when they get blooded in the Carling Cup for the first time.

An starring role in such a tie can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, it is proof to the player that they can make it, motivation to get to that level regularly, and it can be a wake up call to first teamers that a youngster is after their place. All good stuff. But on the flip side, it can raise expectations to an unrealistic level, with some expecting a string of performances at the same standard, a level of consistency no teenager is capable of, no matter how prodigiously gifted or driven.

Every young player goes through peaks and troughs. But in the era of 24 hour news, the peaks are magnified beyond hyperbole, putting even sharper contrast on the inevitable dips in progression, that period in any young career where it doesn’t come as naturally or easily. And that is where constant analysis is dangerous. Players can be written off in an instant, the victim of the media obsession with the ‘build them up, knock them down’ approach.

Look at the first team squad – Van Persie had people doubting whether he’d ever be fit enough, Eduardo and Rosicky suffer the same fate now. Walcott had many calling him overrated eighteen months ago, while Bendtner, Eboue, Song, Denilson and Diaby are all regular targets for the critics. Even Cesc bore the brunt for a month or so when he stepped into Vieira’s shoes. No one is safe.

Many of the players listed above battled past the doubters, and proved themselves. Some are still in that process. Others are more affected – Senderos springs to mind as a player so bereft of confidence, so shattered by criticism of mistakes, that he will never be the player he could have become. Touted as a future club captain when he was 20, did expectation and subsequent struggles destroy his chance?

Perhaps, but perhaps not. We follow the progress of our players from a much younger age these days, so we often get the impression that they’re older than they are, and consequently write them off too soon. Senderos is only 24, believe it or not, well short of the peak of his career, and more pertinently only a year older than Nani or Ryan Babel, two players still regarded as prospects for the future. Why then is Senderos seen to be finished already?

He is only one example. I’ve already mentioned Walcott as a player written off by many when he was still only 18, simply because he wasn’t justifying Sven’s decision to take him to the World Cup. Theo is still only 20. Bendtner and Denilson are 21, Diaby 23. Even Clichy, who is part of the furniture, is only 24. None of these players should be complete at their age, yet somehow we expect them to be.

The latest to come under fire is Carlos Vela, who according to some is not developing as expected and is showing signs of ‘not fitting in’. What would satisfy these people? His start against Liege was his first of the season in any competition (he hasn’t even begun a Carling Cup game because of injuries), his other four appearances coming from the bench, often after an injury break. And he is criticised for not terrorising opposing defences from the first minute?

It seems a tough ask for a 20 year old to make sporadic appearances and sparkle. It seems we only expect that of Vela because we know he has that capacity – he has proved it in the past. So is that why he’s being written off now? It strikes me as odd that the players to find themselves under fire are those who have shown glimpses of outrageous talent, only inconsistently. Surely they are our most exciting players, the ones that can be honed and developed into stars? Why on earth would we want to knock them down?

I worry for others too – Wilshere is now the ‘great English hope’, so what will happen when he has a few dodgy Premiership performances as an 18 year old? It is an inevitability that he will have his struggles, his dips in form – that is how players learn. There were even voices of discontent at Ramsey’s contribution in our defeat at Sunderland last weekend.

I’m not saying young players should be immune to judgement. Most of the excellent blogs (and you’ll see them in my links) take a realistic approach, saying that a player may not be ready, or ‘looked raw’ in a particular match. Those are usually perfectly fair assessments. But some others take a much more extreme view, writing them off in a heartbeat, penning entire articles on how such and such has been a disappointment and should be shipped out.

Our young players get chances long before they would at other clubs. In the long term, that can only be a good thing for their development, and therefore, provided the balance is right, the club will benefit too. The danger is that it exposes them to the sort of vitriol the tabloids and corners of the internet enjoy dishing out.

And that is destructive. There are fans like that in the stands today, groaning whenever a teenager misplaces a pass, rather than encouraging him in the embryonic stages of his career.

We are Arsenal. They are Arsenal. They deserve our support, and our faith. Believe in them, and you never know what they might become.

  15 Responses to “The kids may get chances earlier, but they get critiqued earlier too”

  1. you are quite right that a player is judged too early. This partially comes from the need to succeed at all times. There has to be space for our young players to learn and occasionally fail. Whatever the result at eastlands next week, dont jump to a quick judgement about the young players involved in that game.

  2. I strongly believe that a child that is learning to walk must fall several times but the ability of that child to get up quickly and try again for perfection is what matters. Lets continue to encourage and support our young players giving them enough time to mature into world stars.That is what makes us different and no other club can do it the gooners way.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Beautiful Groan, Arsenal Buzz. Arsenal Buzz said: The Beautiful Groan >> The kids may get chances earlier, but they get critiqued earlier too […]

  4. I don’t just mean the Carling Cup games, incidentally. Sometimes players shine in that unpressured environment, but then get slated as soon as they move into a league game and struggle.

    What we need to make sure we do is support them through that, and a worrying number don’t seem to.

  5. sooper article bg..

  6. Completely agree with this article mate.
    I feel that the next stage in the forward momentum of this club is in the cultivating of cultured fans.
    …and bloggers have a role to play in this.
    “With greater power comes greater responsibilities”

  7. What are you on about?,I have’nt seen anybody slaggin Vela for his first start??? or are you just filling pages with a no story/so I’ll make one,intention..Puzzling

  8. roger, I have seen at least three blogs slating Vela unnecessarily not just for his performance on Tuesday, but for not making the progress expected of him.

    That’s what drove me to write this in the first place (although it is a wider issue than just Vela).

    Anon, thanks – I guess some of the problem is the insatiable thirst for news. We know so much more about players so much earlier in their career now. That can result in some hugely harsh judgements.

  9. Excellent – well written and thought-provoking.

  10. A good example of shiiit blogs that always slander anyone and everyone that is connected with Arsenal is LE Grove. Why this guy calls himself an arsenal fan i do not know. I still have not seen one article that is positive about the club. They are all moan moan moan, buy buy buy, aw sucks aw sucks aw sucks. moan moan moan more.

    I mean honestly, if you disagree with the way the club is ran, if you think the kids are to immature and cannot do their job, if you miss silver so much that you rather slander your club off than support them, maybe it is time for you to turncoat? Support someone els? Support someone that plays football the way you think they should? With mature players that never fail and that all costed 10M pluss when they were bought?

    I for one love arsenal due to the way they play, due to the way they are brave enough to go for youth and develop players. We are always top 4, we have been in CL for god knows how many years, last year we got to the semis! How can you say that is bad? We dont win Carling cup because we give the young’uns a run, but id rather see them flourish and get knocked out in the quarter finals or the semies than to win it with our standard team. Why? Because they make Carling cup worth watching!

    My solution for all of you out there that are fed up and tired and do not like the way the club is ran and the policy it has on buying and using young players. CHANGE CLUB ALLEGIANCE! Because as long as AW is manager(and lets pray he lasts atleast 10 more years) the policy will not change. So either live with it and give our young players some slack(Like Diaby,Vela,Denilson etc) or support someone ells that matches your view of footy better!

  11. Gallas,Arshavin and Rosicky apart- it will be at least 5 seasons before Arsenals current first eleven players are approaching peak. The fringe players even longer than that.
    The mind boggles at how good they could be! Chelsea will have to drastically rebuild and spend half a billion AGAIN to keep in front. Watching that- that’s the real fun. Sit back and enjoy the fact that they can’t beat Arsenal on skill- only at kick and rush. Without doubt, Chelski are the HOOFBALL champions of Europe. Pity everyone prefers to watch FOOTBALL.

  12. It certainly surprises me sometimes when you look at the age of some of our players.

    Because the youngsters come through so early, it is actually really easy to overestimate the age of the first team regulars. Clichy at 24 is an example – I must admit I think of him as being at his peak, yet he’s actually years from that. Exciting stuff, certainly.

    The same is true of almost everyone in the squad. Gallas and perhaps Almunia apart, all the rest have time on their side.

  13. Pete,

    Another top post.

    I think impatientance is a probelm for the whole of society not just for some of our so called fans.

    Society on the whole seems to have lost it’s ability to wait for something be it a young player to develop or to save up for something they want to buy.

    Everything appears to be geared towards instant gratification. Buy now on credit rather than save.

    I for one am happy to wait.

    I do sense that some footballers can also be impatient but Arsenal seem to do well to not only develop their youngsters physically but also mentally.

    Arsene will have his work cut out keeping the exisitng team (who, as you have pointed out, are still young) and the upcoming youngsters.

    But I think it is a nice problem to have and should ensure we have the best of the best in our first team.

    Any who do not quite make it are set up to suceed elsewhere.

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