Development Squad stars of the future?

On Monday evening Charlton's Professional Development team (u23s) played at the Valley against Hull City in the Professional Development League (PDL) National Play-Off Semi-Final. Jason Euell could have picked Phillips, Konsa and Aribo but, quite rightly, stuck with the group of lads who had won the PDL South and thus qualified for the play-off. It was a fantastic match which grew in excitement and intensity as the evening progressed.

The score at ninety minutes was 0-0, largely due to four excellent saves by Dimitar Mitov. One in particular (in the very last minute) was quite brilliant. By ten minutes into the first period of extra time Hull were 2-0 up and it looked all over. Amazingly, Charlton levelled through Brandon Hanlan and Karlan Ahearne-Grant and then a sublime strike by Regan Charles-Cook gave the home side a 3-2 lead. Hull equalised with almost the last kick and went on to prevail 5-4 on penalties.

Mitov was the stand out performer and Anfernee Dijksteel also caught they eye. CAS Trust member Nigel Pamment below shares his experience of watching this squad throughout the season:

"I have been watching Charlton teams below first team level on and off for many years – certainly back to the days of Carl Leaburn and Jason Lee – and I remember seeing young players such as Sol Campbell playing for opposition teams. There are a hardy band of regular spectators at these games, and while I’m not really an authority on the subject, I hope I can offer some insight into our youth sides.

Our Development Squad won our professional development league by a huge margin over Millwall this season. This is a squad who have been together for a while and they are used to being winners at this level: their winning margin was 11 points, and they have only lost eight out of 32 games in all competitions at this level this season.

It has been a hugely rewarding experience watching these players develop, and for me, the added pleasure is contemplating these youngsters having a significant (if not substantial) career with Charlton. To my mind, if we have to let players move on, then the example of the brilliant Billy Bonds, who played 100 games for us before moving to West Ham United, is the kind of scenario that would justify having a youth system at all.

One thing I have learned about watching all the various players up to the age of 19 or 20 is that, no matter how good they are against their peer groups, the leap to men’s first team professional football is the hardest one of all. It is easy to forget how intimidating kids just one year ahead of you at school seemed, until it stops mattering any more when you reach your late teens or twenties. For young players, the thought of and experience of stepping into the men’s arena can shape a whole career.

It is because that leap is such an important one that I have learned to be cautious regarding predictions. Some players begin with an impact like Diego Poyet, but other good players like Harry Arter and Michael Turner are released yet develop later in their careers. It is rare to contemplate a nailed-on certainty at under first team level but at Charlton there have been a few who were quite obviously good enough, like Lee Bowyer; Paul Walsh; Scott Parker; Jonjo Shelvey; and latterly Joe Gomez.

The reason I mention caution is because, of the present crop of players, over-eager fans will often say that Archie Edwards is ready, or Brandon Hanlan or whoever. Don’t get me wrong – Archie and Brandon are fine young footballers, but they still have to make that very precarious leap into men’s first team football.

It is a complex and inexact science regarding the introduction of young players. Get it wrong, and promising careers can be set back or even devastated. Yet of course each new generation of players has to start somewhere. We have quite a few potential first teamers at Charlton, and I will comment on three of them from a purely personal perspective.

Archie Edwards at left back is a genuinely gifted player who has an innate understanding of the game that is difficult to teach. I understand he was the best player of his age group in the whole of Essex. However, it could be argued that at the moment his physical development has not caught up with his mental ability. Indeed it seemed that a long term injury this season would be a major setback but his recent performances for the U23 team have seen him back to the Archie we are used to.

Aaron Barnes is a highly intelligent young player who has mellowed in the last two years. He was in the habit of losing focus; being over eager; questioning the referee; and not looking special enough to justify his challenging stance as a player. I used to think he was no more than average – yet all of a sudden it seems he has blossomed. A long-term injury held him back a bit, but also the important matter of his education was something he needed to concentrate on too. Now that he has successfully completed his A-levels, and come back from his injury, he has renewed mental strength, and is able to show what he can do – he is a prospect. Interestingly, he has been playing in the same team(s) as Regan Charles-Cook since the age of eight, as I understand.

George Lapslie is another decent prospect. He has the chance of a long career in football if things go his way (i.e. steering clear of serious injury; building up his stamina; and maintaining consistency in his performance). Incidentally, in terms of consistency, Anthony Barness is an example of a young player who came through our ranks with a great level of consistency as I remember it. George Lapslie is a teammate’s dream of a player. He will back others up; is prepared to take responsibility; he makes good decisions, has no shortage of technical ability; and works like a Trojan.

With all of the players I have mentioned, there remains the trickiest leap of all to overcome – getting into a first team and staying there.

We have had a good record at Charlton in recent years, and I hope it can be maintained. Indeed, look out for young Alfie Doughty. But let’s not heap pressure on these young guys, and certainly let’s not see them as commodities."