Over the last few years I, along with many other Blues fans, have loved seeing players come through our youth academy such as: Nathan Redmond, Jack Butland, Demarai Gray and not to forget Jordan Mutch. The years since Mcleish left has seen many new players given the opportunity to stake a claim in the first team due to, perhaps, a lack of quality in certain positions and also because of squad rotation.
This season, however, has perhaps been a more difficult one to bring through new young talents and to allow them to show the St. Andrews faithful just what they can provide to the team. I believe that the reason for this is that for the first time since we were relegated, Blues seem to have an array of strong fringe players, our bench against Bristol City was the strongest bench we have seen for years; although this is a great thing for the team, this strong bench of more experienced players may effect the chances of many new younger players getting the chance to play first team football.
Viv Solomon-Otabor was drafted into the squad at a clever time by Rowett. The departure of Gray was on the horizon and to throw Solomon into the ring after his departure would have left the 20 year old with big shoes to fill. By adding him into the equation while Gray was still at the club gave him chance to play with less pressure and even meant that we could watch him score a brilliant solo goal against Fulham. With a few games under his belt, he is now relatively established in the first team and his efforts do not go unnoticed and he recently signed a new contract at the club to hopefully keep him at B9 until 2019. His chances may however be hindered when Cotterill returns from injury and may be used further as an impact player.
With such a strong squad and new found depth in positions across the pitch, many U21 may find it ever more difficult to become a member of the first team. A prime example of this is Emmanuel Mbende, a signing from Borussia Dortmund at the start of the season after a successful trial at the club, has impressed over the last few months playing for the Under 21’s and must feel slightly hard done by with the signing of Ryan Shotton as he would be hoping to enter the first team frame.
Charlee Adams earned his debut from the bench a few weeks ago against Ipswich and looked eager to impress, but again, may find his chances lessened due to Rowett’s further increase in bodies during January’s transfer window.
The big question is, should these youngsters and others such as Reece Brown, whom I hope will stay and continue to fight at Blues, and Nicolai Brock-Madsen be loaned out to other clubs in division one or two, or should they stay at the club and attempt to break into the first team. Rowett seems keen for them to play in the Under twenty ones, but ultimately, it must be down to the individual player to decide whether they should stay, or if they should leave to try and gain first team experience in the lower leagues in England, or maybe even abroad.