Trust in your own: SCOUT NOTES, January 9th
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What’s the point in having a youth academy if you’re not willing to trust it?
That’s the question that could be asked of clubs at every level, from the big-time Premier League to the semi-pro Cymru Premier. If you aren’t willing to believe in the young players you’ve invested significant time, effort and resource into developing, then it constitutes a significant failure.
As you’ll go on to notice, trusting in your own is the theme of this SCOUT NOTES. We’ve had enough of coaches shunning home-grown youngsters because they ‘lack experience’ or ‘need to earn the opportunity’. Fuck that.
Anyway, let’s crack on with the newsletter, which so happens to be free for all of you lovely people to read. Subscribe now to have it drop straight into your e-mail inbox every Tuesday.
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Where better to start than with the blockbuster fixture from the weekend? An ailing Arsenal fired a whole load of blanks at Liverpool, who duly despatched them at the death.
Pertinent to us was that the visitors ended it with two little-known youngsters on the pitch: 2003-born Conor Bradley and 2005-born Bobby Clark. Both came on in the 75th minute, crunch time in an intense game and fervent atmosphere.
The former ended up having a significant impact on the result - coming on with the sole task of shutting down Gabriel Martinelli, who’d beaten Trent Alexander-Arnold twice in quick succession a few minutes prior - while the latter did a bit of running, and a bit of fouling.
Why is this important? It isn’t, really, to be honest, but it’s yet another example of the belief Jürgen Klopp has in his youngsters. Season after season, he and his coaching staff utilise a plethora of youngsters at key moments in their season. Often it’s out of necessity, of course, but there are ways they could’ve jibbed out of using them - shifting an ‘experienced pro’ into a position he’s never played before, for instance, or completely altering the team’s shape.
We’ve seen people use their involvements as a stick to beat Arsenal with, but the bigger sticks that would do more worthwhile walloping were on offer in the Champions League a month or two ago.
Arteta had Myles Lewis-Skelly and Ethan Nwaneri at his disposal as they romped to a 5-0 lead at half-time at home against RC Lens. Neither came on. Surely a dead rubber tie against PSV Eindhoven was the near-ideal opportunity to reward highly rated Reuell Walters with a long-awaited debut? 32-year-old outcast Cédric started.
AC Milan’s Primavera pluggers
Another club leaning on their youth team is AC Milan. A spate of injuries has decimated the depth of their squad, particularly at the back, and they’ve turned to youth to plug the gaps.
Jan-Carlo Simić has played a fair few minutes of late, slotting in at centre-back; Álex Jiménez, a loanee from Real Madrid’s academy, has covered both full-back slots; Kevin Zeroli has made his senior debut, and 15-year-old Francesco Camarda - scorer of many goals at junior level, including the UEFA Youth League - has come off the bench a couple of times too.
Another that’s made a splash in the first team recently is 2004-born Chaka Traorè. His backstory is a harrowing one, arriving in Italy on a small boat from Africa for which his agent was later convicted for assisting ‘illegal immigration’.
He started in Milan’s Coppa Italia win against Cagliari, scoring off a scrappy situation in the box, and followed that up with a debut Serie A goal on the weekend, rounding off a 3-0 triumph with a well-taken finish in transition.
In general, he’s an electric wide attacker that has the ability to zip past defenders with quick-footed carries, sharp little dribbles, and snappy movements. He can turn in little pockets, combine through lines and attack the goal too. Rafael Leão has been hyping him up for some time - now he might have an able deputy to take under his wing.
Héctor Fort is an exceptional crosser
La Masia is pushing through another core of very good prospects into Barcelona’s senior set up. Héctor Fort is one of the leading talents in it.
He also happens to be an exceptional crosser of the ball. We’ve noted that having watched him at underage level over the past 18 months, both in club and international competition. This is what Stevie wrote about him in one of our FIFA U-17 World Cup round-ups late last year:
“This guy is an elite crosser. Granted, playing 11 versus 10 for the majority of this game afforded Fort a bit of extra time and space to get good balls in, but we’ve seen it before and this was just further reinforcement of what we already knew. The weight and shape of his delivery is just wonderful; slightly looped, curving away slightly, sitting up, and just waiting to be latched onto.”
He backed that up on Sunday evening with another lovely assist. Starting his second-ever senior game for Barça, as a left-back no less in a Copa del Rey game against lower-league opposition, he angled onto his strong right foot to clip a curled ball to the back post for Raphinha to slam dunk in.
The shape on it was very typical of what we’ve seen of him before, and it obviously translates well to the men’s game.
Barça would do well to keep the faith in Fort for the foreseeable, instead of pulling another palanca to sign a rubbish right-back at an exorbitant rate. He’s physically mature enough to handle LaLiga minutes right now, and his crossing will be a useful weapon.
Start as you mean to go on…
Making the most of FBRef’s brand-new Stathead tool, we’ve found that four players born in 2006 or later have played over 500 minutes in a top-five European league so far this season. They include:
🇫🇷 Warren Zaïre-Emery (1,144 minutes in 14 apps)
🇪🇸 Lamine Yamal (802 minutes in 19 apps)
🇫🇷 Eli Junior Kroupi (755 minutes in 16 apps)
🏴 Lewis Miley (658 mins in 9 apps)
Broaden the criteria to include all domestic leagues in FBRef’s data set and the list bulks up nicely. It features 17-year-old Ajax captain Jorrel Hato, the highly-anticipated Asan Ouédraogo, Brentford-linked deep midfielder Yunus Konak, the cannonball that is Nestory Irankunda, lanky centre-back George Nevett, plus a throng of B-team starters in the Dutch and Belgian second divisions.
Who tops the list for minutes played? That would be the Leeds United golden child, Archie Gray. The 17-year-old has started all but four of Leeds’ 29 games across all competitions thus far this campaign, which is a remarkable feat for a player that had never played a competitive senior match until five months ago.
Predominantly a box-to-box central midfielder, one that has a hint of Jude Bellingham about him, Gray has found a role as (read: the) right-back in Daniel Farke’s promotion-chasing side, muscling out Luke Ayling and loanee Djed Spence.
We’re back again with another recommendation. This time, it’s Luka Topalović. The megaminds among you will remember him from last summer, when he stole the show as the creative hub of an exciting Slovenia team at the UEFA U-17 EURO.
Since then, he’s consolidated his role as a regular starter at NK Domžale and has put together an impressive highlight reel of innovative touches, clever dribbles, expansive passes, plus the odd thunderbastard.
He’s also great in Football Manager 2024. He was one of the first names we searched for when we first got our hands on the game and we weren’t disappointed. You can pick him up for about €500k at the start of your saves, which is basically stealing.
SCOUTED’s Reading List
The silky smooth voice of Joseph Donnohue is back on an audio feed near you - this week discussing the ridiculous achievements of Girona, the Spanish minnows currently leading La Liga. Ruairidh Barlow talks us through the influence of City Football Group, their standout young talents, and much more.
A heavy one, but Daniel Taylor’s investigation into the death of Maddy Cusack is a heartbreaking but required read. This week, Thierry Henry also shared his story of the unfathomable pressure his father subjected him to. Together, these stories begin to unravel long-held beliefs about professional sportspeople and the mythos of athletic toughness. For decades, abuse has masqueraded as the prerequisite sacrifice for top-level success - only through these kinds of stories might things change.