In the last decade, the Blues academy has been renowned for supplying high-class talent into the English game and continues to do so. Familiar names such as Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond and Demarai Gray developed into the high-profile players they are today during their time at St. Andrews, or the St. Andrews Trillion Trophy Stadium. However less familiar names such as Wigan’s Will Grigg as well as Forest’s Joe Lolley, who self-proclaimed that he can’t wait to play against us on his birthday, as he’s a Villa fan. Last season saw the emergence of talents including Wes Harding, Charlie Lakin, and Bez Lubala. Yesterday, all three featured in a 3-0 storming of Cheltenham, which included Lakin and Lubala both grabbing a goal.
Monk has shown the intent of making the most of the highly talented youngsters, especially due to the recently-imposed transfer embargo we are currently serving. Although our squad isn’t as talented as last year, with the likes of Sam Gallagher and Jeremie Boga returning to parent clubs, as well as Stockdale and Kuszcak’s expulsion from the first team, the only real weakness we display is our goalkeeper, currently being filled by Connal Trueman and Adam Siviter – both players developed in the academy. The academy has been providing talented stars for decades, even spanning back to Trevor Francis and Andy Johnson.
I understand the worries of many Blues fans when the likes of Nottingham Forest are smashing their transfer record, and that newly-arriving teams such as Swansea and Stoke make the Championship make it even tougher to get results, especially when we can’t buy anyone as of now. I agree. Our squad isn’t perfect, yet that doesn’t mean we should worry for the inevitably-challenging months ahead. We always do it the hard way, and this season is no exception. Garry Monk has been the most talented Blues manager since Chris Hughton, an opinion which will be shared by many, and throughout pre-season, the lack of togetherness in the squad has been fulfilled. Team bonding exercises performed in Austria was a focus by Monk, and I believe it will prove a success. Towards the end of last season, even though safety wasn’t guaranteed until the final day, faith was restored in youngsters such as Harding, Bailey and Lakin. Harding played almost every minute towards the end of last season and didn’t look out of place at all.
Many fans forget that we have the likes of Greg Stewart, Diego Fabbrini and Isaac Vassell returning from loans and an injury, respectively. Stewart and Fabbrini never settled at Blues, yet under a manager who is willing to provide them with faith and game-time, it’s a gamble that may pay off. During his loan at Blues, Fabbrini provided a spark in the midfield which was desperately needed, yet when signed permanently, he failed to shine. Like it or not, these players will likely remain at Blues until the transfer embargo is lifted, so if we see them on the team sheet in a match, have faith in them.
Monk will make the most of his resources, albeit limited, this season and I believe that the academy players will prove vital to us, just like Harding did and will continue to do so in the first team. I watched Charlie Lakin stand out in a second-string team against Cheltenham, and his gradual inclusion in the first team will be interesting, as he’s a one to watch for the future at St. Andrews. As is Lubala, who also scored against the Robins, even though it was a horrendous keeper mistake. Despite the obviously weak opposition we faced, both Lakin and Lubala were drafted into the first team towards the end of the season and provided Blues fans with a glimpse of their talent – talent which can only improve with time and faith within them. With the opening day of the season rapidly approaching, as well as deadline day, it’s becoming more likely that Monk won’t be able to bring in new faces through the doors of St. Andrews, but why can’t the youth players be these new faces?
They obviously aren’t as talented as new signings, but whilst playing in a team with fantastic togetherness as well as individual talent within others, I believe that this season should not be a season to worry about. Nobody knows what lies ahead for us regarding our financial situation, just like nobody can predict results, but as always, we will keep our heads up and keep right on till the end of the road.
Words by Jack Blenkiron
Photos by Andy Shaw