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 If the Kids are United
 Part 4 - Appeared in the Mag, February 2002
 



Since the last edition of the Mag, it’s been confirmed that United are to lose their Academy Director, when Alan Irvine leaves at the end of the season to take up a coaching position within the English FA.

While it’s undoubtedly a good move for Irvine, who has gained a reputation as an excellent youth coach during his time at Newcastle and previously at Blackburn Rovers, it has to be seen as a damaging blow to our Academy hopes.

Certainly Irvine’s standing among current and past players and parents is high, and his no-nonsense approach has earned him the respect of those he seeks to motivate and develop. One or two youngsters have fallen foul of his decisive actions when they’ve failed to carry out his instructions during games, and been “tactically” substituted as result.

However it’s noticeable that Irvine tends to be less demonstrative at pitch-side than one or two coaches at other Academies, both when praising and chastising his players, often preferring a low-key approach that seems to be appreciated by the youngsters. His insistence on high behavioural standards such as zero tolerance to dissent and foul language also does him credit – again a standard that a number of other clubs don’t seem bothered about.

At the time of writing it’s unclear whether United will seek to promote from within or bring in a new face, but whoever takes the job on will have a hard act to follow. It’s to Irvine’s credit that he’s revolutionised the youth set-up and insisted on professionalism from the youngsters despite being consistently short-changed when it comes to the provision of facilities.

It’s a sobering thought that even a percentage of the money blown on paying Marcelino to ponce about Tyneside gyms would have paid for the Academy facilities that are still denied Newcastle youngsters. Now it looks as if some work is finally underway to provide those facilities at Darsley Park, which should at least allow the club to retain it’s under-threat Academy status. 

However it’s come too late to retain Alan.

The Peterborough cup tie proved to be an interesting afternoon for all concerned, not least for those who question the club’s ability to produce their own players. Both Aaron Hughes and Jamie McClen found the net, while Brian Kerr made a fleeting appearance as a late substitute – three different nationalities, but with the common link that they’ve all come through from the youth side to the senior squad.

While the inclusion of Kerr and McClen was certainly due to the mini-injury crisis in midfield, the latter was certainly as involved in the game as his Chilean colleague Acuna, having seen other pretenders such as Gavilan and Bassedas fall by the wayside – so that’s nearly 8m of imported players being kept out of the team.

Whether McClen and Kerr will ever be more than stand-ins at Premiership level is a matter of opinion, but perhaps significantly the midfielders within the Academy that are currently showing good form and potential are in the lower under 17 age category rather than the under 19’s.

Central midfielders James Beaumont and Ross Gardner have enjoyed good seasons for the U17’s so far, while out on the left wing, Republic of Ireland youth international has put in some good performances but struggled for consistency at times.

While much attention has been focused on the young professional duo of Chopra and Offiong in the U19’s, in midfield things are slightly less rosy. The likes of Bradley Orr and Damon Robson don't at present look like moving up a level to the reserves - hence the interest in the fruits of other club's youth schemes, like Jermaine Jenas at Nottingham Forest. However, there may yet be a silver lining for them and the likes of Tommy English, Stephen Brennan, Chris Moore and others.

Our current loan policy has seen a number of reserve players shipped out of the club temporarily (with the rumour of yet more to go) and left reserve coach Tommy Craig with something of a team selection problem, especially in midfield. With what looks like being an increasingly inexperienced and youthful second team for the rest of the season comes the chance for players struggling to make an impact at youth level to salvage dreams of “making it”.

The irony is that the lads will be playing against many of their compatriots from other academy sides – in last week’s 2-3 defeat by Leeds, their opening goal was scored by Jamie McMaster, who also netted when Leeds reserves won at Kingston Park earlier in the season.

Hopefully at least one of the lads will take the opportunity afforded them by exposure to reserve team football by getting back on track before the end of the season. An update on their progress will follow in the next issue, but for the first of our Academy player profiles we’ll put an Under 17 team player in the spotlight:

Name: Ross Gardner

D.O.B: 15.2.85

Position: midfield

Joined Newcastle: age 9 – spotted by toon scout Alan Milward.

Playing History: 

Youth football with Whitburn and Cleadon. 
Representative games for Washington & Chester-le-Street boys.
Newcastle United Academy teams – currently in U17 side.
England U17 side.

This season: 18 appearances for the U17 side, 4 goals. Highlight has to be his goal at the start of the second half of the Derby home game. The Rams kicked off, only for Ross to dispossess their centre forward and set off for goal. Having dribbled past four opposition players, he then played a 1-2 with striker Guy Bates, before taking the return ball and beating the goalkeeper with ease. 

Prospects: Good – recognized at England youth level, and should benefit from international experience as he bids to make his stay in the U19 side as brief as possible and force his way into the reserve side in a “problem” position.

Reminiscent of: hint of Gazza in willingness to take the ball to the opposition and produce well-aimed passes. Potentially a John Collins-type of ball player.

Looking forward to: celebrating his birthday with a professional contract at Newcastle and trying to get in the senior side. More immediately, winning his 14th England cap against Slovakia on February 13th at Broadhall Way, home of Stevenage Borough.

Did you know? He’s represented by Paul Stretford – best known as Andy Cole’s agent

Biffa

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