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Youngsters can make a case for Cambridge United selection

Leon Davies is part of the Cambridge United youth production line. Picture: Rich Marsham
Leon Davies is part of the Cambridge United youth production line. Picture: Rich Marsham

Looking to the future U's

Joe Dunne believes that pre-season can give Cambridge United the ideal opportunity to have a look at the emerging talent in their ranks.

The likes of Harry Darling, Matt Foy and Tom Knowles have all had spells out on loan this season, while Leon Davies has been in and around the first-team squad all campaign.

Interim head coach Dunne has full confidence in the youngsters at the club, but he believes creating a route to the first team is most important.

“I think first of all when we involve ourselves in that strategy, we must create a clear pathway,” he said.

“That comes down to squad sizes and so that’s what’s going to be looked at over the summer. Having those players, first of all they’ve got to be good enough, that’s important.

“If they’re good enough, we can give them the opportunity to develop.

“Whether it’s one or two games at the end of the season, that never really bothered me because there are going to be lots of games in pre-season so you’ve got the opportunity of maybe eight or nine games for them to show what they can do.

“We’ve seen enough of a lot of them to be happy, and accepting them into our environment, ie Harry Darling, Leon Davies, Tom Knowles and we’ve had other players over with us and that will continue to be the case.

“I’m comfortable with those young players, really comfortable with those young players in our environment, and it’s important we give them the right environment to develop.

“I’ve said this before, I don’t think they’re ready until they’re a little bit older. You have examples of 18 or 19 year olds playing in teams in lower leagues who may go to another team and go straight into their under-23s.

“Sometimes, if you develop well and get as many games as you can under your belt, you can leave here at 22 or 23 to go into another team’s first team, not into their development group.

“Not only those young players mentioned, we’ve got young players in the first team at the moment that need to understand that, there’s more time and room for improvement and that’s what we want to do.”

Finding the right opportunity to get first-team game time is one of the crucial aspects for up-and-coming youngsters.

It means that knowing when is right to put them in and out of the firing line is key for managers, according to Dunne.

“Relying solely on young players is sometimes unwise because you have to think about the stresses and pressures that people face these days,” he said.

“Strategy is important. If they play 10 games and they play well you might lose them, which is fine as long as it’s right for everybody.

“At that time, you’re going to see a dip at some stage and that’s the time to notice and have the eye to say just drop out for a bit, recover and then go again; that’s management of players.

“Players will always want to play every week, and sometimes they do but management of young players and game time is important because physically it can be demanding, especially in this league.”

Pressures, stresses and expectations are factors in getting minutes for youngsters, and has to be balanced against the demand from supporters for instant results.

It means getting the chance and stability to blood talent, with youngsters having to wait for their chances, and that brings with it the challenge of managing expectations.

“One thing you see with young players these days is no fear; it’s important to channel that,” said Dunne.

“When you have no fear, sometimes you have to dampen down expectations but the one thing you shouldn’t do is take away the confidence a player might have because that might be the difference between them excelling and not.

“That’s where experience in the changing room comes into play. We talk about young players but we must never ever forget the role Gary Deegan plays, the role Jabo Ibehre plays, David Forde plays, Greg Taylor plays, Harrison Dunk plays.

“It’s absolutely vital that we have that support structure for them. If you’re young, you’re invincible. You can take on the world and the future is not quite mapped out.

“It’s a free role, it’s enjoyment and you come in every day and it’s brilliant.

“At some stage you have to understand what it’s about. All we try to get into them is your preparation and how you look after yourself; it’s education.

“It’s educating them in the fact that this might not be around all the time, just give yourself the best chance because if it won’t be here hopefully it will be somewhere else.

“Some young players have super high expectations of themselves and we just have to manage that.”

Dunne spent four years as a youth and development coach, so managing things on an individual basis with young players is something that comes naturally.

“You’ve got to try to empathise and understand what now is available to them, ie social media, needing affirmation from other people, thumbs up, likes, all that kind of stuff. It’s a want, want, want,” he said.

“The key thing now for me for young players is don’t always be guided by external gratification.

“Be true to yourself and understand your happiness is key. Some people just enjoy the adulation that they get because they may be seen to be doing a good job but I think these days sometimes we reward average a bit too much.

“It’s important that they understand their own worth and their ability. As long as your happy and you’re doing well and improving yourself, that’s the key thing.

“We’ve got some young players here who I wish would have listened to me when I told them that.”


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