June 24, 2009

Abolition of the Reserves – a good thing or a bad thing?

The club announced a fortnight ago that the Reserves will not be entered into the Barclays Premier Reserve League for the coming season.

The plan is, instead, for young players to be sent on loan to gain experience, and for private friendly fixtures to be arranged when first team players are in need of football (recuperating from injuries, general lack of match fitness, etc).

We don’t have too many players that fit into the “reserve” category thanks to Harry’s mass clear-out since his arrival. Since he joined, the following have left the club: Stalteri, Ghaly, Sanchez, Barcham, Daniels, Olsen, Mills, McKenna (retired), Rocha, Dawkins, Fraser-Allen, Hughton, Hutchins, Hutton, Maghoma, and Mtandari, all of whom would have been in and around the Reserve team.

I’m very keen to see our Academy players going out on loan, as Obika, Townsend, and Dervite all showed how well this can work last season. This latest move will no doubt send a message to Championship and League 1 clubs who will, no doubt, be in touch with Harry Redknapp.

As I see it, these are the reasons why scrapping the Reserve team may be a bad idea:

  • We may struggle to get our young players out on loan.
  • Young players out on loan are not guaranteed regular football (See Archibald-Henville at Norwich, or Fraser-Allen at Macclesfield last year for reference).
  • The popular local derbies against Arsenal, which historically attract good crowds in both home and away fixtures, are lost.
  • Some team spirit may be lost.
  • Players could miss out on regular match-day experience.
  • We could be failing to instil a winning attitude.

Equally, most of these points can be countered:

  • If we struggle to get our young players out on loan, then we arrange regular friendlies.
  • If our loanees aren’t getting regular football, we bring them back and start again – Archibald-Henville wasn’t getting football at Norwich, so he came back. He then went down to Exeter and played 19 games.
  • Firstly, is it worth playing the smaller games to small crowds, just to get the big games? Secondly, I suppose we can arrange separate Reserve friendlies with Arsenal if necessary.
  • Is there much team spirit within a Reserve side made up from a mish-mash of Academy players, and first team players who aren’t getting regular games? I’m not sure that Bentley was feeling the team spirit when lining up alongside the likes of Dawkins and Maghoma against Arsenal Reserves!
  • Regular friendlies at appropriate times will allow players to still keep up match-day routines.
  • Sending players out on loan to a League club gives them a more realistic view of the required mentality/levels of desire.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the majority of the players who would be playing for our Reserve side are still eligible to play Academy football, and I believe there’s a rule in Academy football that allows for three (NB: please correct me if I’m wrong, there’s not much evidence online so I’m only going by what I’ve seen at Academy games) “Overage” players per team (although I presume there must be a limit on how old they are – 21 perhaps? NB: again, please correct me if I’m wrong).

Overall, I’m fairly happy with the decision we’ve taken and, if it doesn’t work out, we can always re-enter next year. I’m interested to hear what others feel about the decision, so please do feel free to leave comments.

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