When it comes to our famed academy, it’s time we started converting potential in point-winners, according to Drew Heatley.
At 16 years and 30 days old, Harvey Elliott is rightly grabbing all the headlines after becoming the youngest player to grace a Premier League pitch. It’s a record he took from former Whites player, Matthew Briggs.
Briggs’s fortunes since Lawrie Sanchez subbed him on at the Riverside 12 years ago have been well documented by the media this week. Nevertheless, Elliott’s emergence is great publicity for the club and for our academy.
Questions are now being asked: will Elliott get more minutes against Newcastle? Will he force his way into our starting XI next season? Look, it’s exciting that we’ve got a young player our management team deem good enough to make it – I just hope that Harvey’s six minutes at Molineux were the start of a bigger plan and not just a stunt to drive his price up at a tribunal.
We were asked on the pod a couple of weeks ago how many academy prospects would become first team regulars next season. My answer was “not many” – and I still believe that’ll be the case. Simply put: we’re great at cultivating talent in our academy, but not as great at turning these prospects into first team assets.
Stevie Humphreys, Cauley Woodrow, Emerson Hyndman, even Patrick Roberts. The list of starlets who have failed to live up to their potential at Fulham (and beyond) in the last five years is substantial. Ryan Sessegnon is, of course, the exception to that rule. You could include Moussa Dembele too, if you’d like, but the fact we lost him for a paltry fee places him in the “sh*t the bed” category, for me.
We have a number of players at the club who have been knocking on the door for months, if not years. The likes of Steven Sessegnon, Luca de la Torre and Matt O’Riley have all earned rave reviews in the under-23s and at international level, but only de la Torre has any first team league experience – in the form of five final-minutes substitute appearances. Sessegnon and O’Riley haven’t racked up a single minute of league football between them – at Fulham or anywhere else. Isn’t that a concern?
There’s the completely valid argument that inserting youth into a struggling side can do more harm than good to a young player. Then there’s the equally sound opinion that you shouldn’t tamper with a winning team. So I appreciate knowing when to blood youth isn’t straightforward. But when de le Torre’s less-than-30-minutes of first team league football for Fulham is the highest of any of our under-23 squad, you’ve got to admit there’s more to be done. If the likes of Tayo Edun, Marlon Fossey and Mattias Kait (who’s got 16 full international caps for Estonia but zero appearances for his club) are to make their names in SW6, we need to be a bit braver.
And we need to combine that bravery with pragmatism. Get some of these lads out on loan. There’s chat of Marek Rodak, on loan at Rotherham this season, coming back to compete for the number one spot next term. I welcome it. He’s been out, got experience, and is now in a much better place to challenge. More of that please, Fulham.
When I was 16 years and 30 days old, years of sitting on the bench meant my football career was already over. “In Da Club” by 50 Cent was top of the charts and I was pretending to be Louis Saha during my lunchbreak. Harvey Elliott’s clearly a special talent. Let’s make sure he’s nurtured to become one of the children of our revolution.