We’ve made our first signing of the close season, albeit professional contracts for some youth teamers. Now, I’d love to be one of those people who can say they spotted Josh Kennett, Andrew Gunn and Billy Beechers when they were in the academy, but to tell you the truth I can’t tell the difference between one youth team player and another.
Bringing on local lads from the mythologised Oxford United Youth System has to be a good thing; it bonds the fans to the players, it’s far less likely that they’ll be cremated on their debut never to be forgiven just for mis-queing a free kick. However one must remain sceptical, a typical youth teamer makes a handful of late substitute appearances, looks quick and direct, and then disappears into obscurity.
Oxford have a history of catapulting players to the top level; John Aldridge, Ray Houghton, Matt Elliot et al all graced The Manor before they moved up to collect pots of silverware and play for their countries, but they were never products of the youth team system. The most successful youth teamers in recent years; Dean Whitehead and Sam Ricketts have both succeeded in spite of the system, not because of it. Whitehead only became the player he was because of the much-maligned Ian Atkins, Ricketts was jettisoned by the U’s before being picked up by Telford, Swansea and then the Welsh national side.
Most youth teamers burn brightly before fading; even the likes of Joey Beauchamp, Bobby Ford and Chris Allen were all great players at Oxford who quickly burned up when they left the fold. In truth most U’s youth players are simply not built for the outside world. Let’s hope these three don’t follow the trend.