Date: 1st June 2014 at 8:51am
Written by:

Wolves have just signed a fifteen year old striker, who has already played first team professional football, albeit with Airdrieonians F.C. in the Division 1 of the Scottish League. That`s good news for us, but before we count the goals he is going to score for us in a few years’ time, I would like to express a word or two of caution.

Not all precociously talented footballers realise their full potential as the maturation process can hinder an individual’s personal development as well as enhance it. Future stardom cannot be guaranteed. Progress cannot be projected along a steady linear trajectory, let alone an exponential one. Think Zeli Ismail!

In 2008, when Zeli was 14, our then Academy Director, Chris Evans, was quoted in the News of the World as saying that, ‘If he continues his progress up to the age of 21 he will become priceless`. Well, he will be 21 in less than six months and I cannot see us obtaining 1/200 of the £100,000,000 which Evans intimated he would be worth, were we to sell him in this transfer window or the one in January. Zeli is improving but slowly.

Of course, we have the facilities and structure to bring on young players like Allan and, if we appoint top class replacements for the directors we have just sacked, he will receive proper guidance. He seems a level headed, sensible lad, willing to listen to advice and to work hard at his game. He should flourish. However, he will be under enormous pressure. Already described as a ‘wunderkind`, how will he cope with the sort of hype that Zeli received , especially as he will be living so far away from his family and friends?

On a general note, it`s gratifying to see the change in attitude at managerial level towards the young players at the club. Danny Batth was not the only one who suffered under previous head coaches. Even so, the fact that Saunders ditched him once Johnson had served his three match suspension was particularly stupid and made me realise just how clueless he was. We are lucky that he (Batth, that is, not Saunders) signed a new contract (and that Saunders never had the chance).

Our success last season not only reflected KJ`s ability to sideline the malcontents who had made the atmosphere in the changing room so poisonous but also the commitment and enthusiasm of our youngsters. If they were raw and tentative in the early games, they rapidly matured and gained in confidence. They deserved their chance and proved their worth.

And yet, how many of them nailed down a place in the starting line-up? Only Danny Batth by my reckoning. Even Price, whom I thought was the perfect foil for McDonald in midfield, seemed to drop below Evans in the pecking order at the end of the season. In addition, Cassidy, Ebanks-Landell, Ismail and McAlinden had chances but failed to force their way into the side off the bench and, apart from Ethan E-L, all spent time on loan.

Of the younger players Eusebio Bancessi, Jonathan Flatt and Ibrahim Keita are squad members and Eusebio actually made the bench on a couple of occasions last season. Personally, I hoped that KJ would give him a game, especially in the Carlisle match when we had already won the division. As I was watching from the BW Stand, I could have assessed his potential at close quarters too. I doubt they will feature next season (even Bancessi, though it will be interesting to see what KJ does with him) and they will benefit from a period on loan.

The question is how many of these youngsters will secure a place in the first eleven in the coming season, one which will be far tougher than that of 2013-14, if for different reasons. Admittedly a pessimist where WW`s fortunes are concerned, I really think that we should temper our aims with a large dollop of realism. I bet KJ is under no illusions about the magnitude of the task which lies ahead. So, will he give the players, including the youngsters, who won us promotion the chance to shine in the Championship?

Judging from the rumoured signings, they will have to fight hard for their places from the off. That`s how it should be but at least we have them under contract. Can we sell bench-warming as an attraction to the likes of Harry Maguire, Tommy Rowe, Callum Wilson, Patrick Bamford and Conor Coady? And, what will their signing signify to Price, McAlinden and the others? I`m glad I don`t have the job of keeping touchy, highly paid prima donnas happy.

To be fair, I am just as keen for us to strengthen the squad as any other WW fan. For instance, I watched the Division 1 play-off final with a mixture of hope and disappointment. I wanted Leyton Orient to win because (a) I thought they would be easier to defeat in the Championship and (b) I would have liked us to sign Pringle, whose crosses were immaculate. He`ll cause us problems next season.

Roll on 9 June.