Analysis Opinion Insight

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reserve Football, Schoolyard or Graveyard.

It wasn't more than a year ago that I, along with hundreds of thousands of other United fans were pondering the playing futures of Messers. Nani and Anderson. I had posted my thoughts on the possiblity that both young lads needed time on the pitch ( not on the bench) to develop their skills, decision making and confidence. I wrote that if they couldn't get time on the pitch at Old Trafford, they may as well get playing time at Moss Lane for the Reserves. The reaction from a majority of fans was that being "sent" to play in the reserves would kill the players' confidence and hasten the end of their respective careers at Manchester United.

Anderson asked then Reserve team Manager Ole Solskjaer if he would be able to get a game with his side, given he wasn't selected to play for Brazil during international break and he hadn't played for the first team for a month. The initiative shown by Anderson was heralded by Sir Alex in the media, as a change in attitude and a sign of the players growing maturity in regards to his profession. It worked wonders for his confidence, as he bossed that game, ran the midfield and scored a goal as well. He soon won a place in the first team and started to play an important role in the sides title push. The humbleness demonstrated by Anderson, to go in search of match practise is what Gary Neville described in a post-retirement interview as the driving sense of "you've never made it here", which pushes even the best players to continually seek improvement. In the last few months, Neville, Brown and the legend that is Paul Scholes, all dropped down into the reserves to get match practise and retain sharpness.

The English media's incessant need to inflate expectations surrounding young players only serves to put unbearable amounts of pressure on them. If the press were to be believed, Jack Rodwell, Jack Wilshere and Josh McEachran are future world cup winners, alongside Walcott, Welbeck, Hart, Henderson,Gibbs, Smalling and  Sturridge. Less than half of these are certain starters for their clubs, let alone internationals, so why are they all of a sudden "to good" for the reserves?

Darron Gibson is having a similar problem with his national coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who believes that he should move to a  club that will ensure Gibson plays the majority of games. Gibson, on the other hand believes that simply training alongside players of  the highest quality is better for his career progression than playing regular football amongst lesser talents. Both the player, and his club coaches, ( Ferguson, Phelan, Muelenstein & Joyce) all acknowledge that Gibson is getting better by training with the first team, and that to continue his progression, he must also play competitive games on a regular basis, whether they be 1st team games or fixtures in the reserves. He is very much in a similar position as Bebe, Obertan, Fabio and until the start of this season, Ritchie de Laet.

But what sets these players apart from the likes of Nani, Anderson and Rooney? Is it simply the pressure of expectation placed upon them with the price tags upon arrival? Does a 17mil or a 24mil pound player always too good for the reserves, regardless of form, fitness or sharpness? Is that why we perceive the difference between "retaining sharpness in the reserves" and "getting dropped to the reserves" ? Even that theory can't be true, because England's most expensive defender, Rio Ferdinand played a game in the reserves on his way back to fitness after his previous injury; and even if we had had to pay a transfer fee for Paul Scholes, I'm sure  he'd still be a willing reserve team participant if deemed necessary.

It's high time that both fans and the media realise this erroneous double standard that is placing enormous pressure on young players to keep their places in the first team at clubs challenging for silverware, and let the kids of the game take their time making an impression.

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