Do We Give Youth A Chance?
By Matthew Harold
Robbie Neilson has a youth problem. It's something that hasn't been talked about it either of his spells as Hearts manager, but he has a problem with developing young players.
This comes up on the back of the blog post by The Old Castle Rock and following on from Gary Mackay's column in the Edinburgh Evening news questioning the youth set-up at Oriam.
Mackay, in his column, asserts that youth players that who were given starting under his favourite punching bag Craig Levein were either not ready or not good enough to be in the first team.
It fails to mention the fact that the club just made seven figures from an academy graduate who had less than 12 months left on his contract. Unfortunately, if the current trend continues with Neilson, then the Hickey deal will be a rarity.
Everyone will look back at the 2014/15 season and talk about the abundance of young players at Neilson’s disposal and how they helped the Jambos steamroll towards the Scottish Championship title.
The thing is, all of those players that Neilson gets credit had double-digit appearances under Gary Locke and some, under John McGlynn before him.
However, when it comes to continuing the development of those players given their start by the previous regimes, only Callum Paterson, Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson can be considered any type of success.
Jason Holt found himself out in the cold within six months and shipped on-loan to Sheffield United while Kenny Anderson came in. That lack of faith eventually led to the club losing another prospect, who given what arrived after him, would have surely been a mainstay in years to come.
Along with Holt, Scott Robinson, Harry Paton and Liam Gordon are all players who were at the club during the first Neilson reign and are now regulars in top-flight first-team squads.
During his original time in charge of Hearts, Neilson handed out league debuts to Jack Hamilton, Liam Smith, Sean McKirdy, Nathan Flanagan, Robbie Buchanan, Calumn Morrison and Lewis Moore.
Only Hamilton and Smith played any real minutes out of that group under Neilson and in Hamilton's case that was due to the botched move for Matt Gilks when Neil Alexander was moved on from the club.
The problem with Neilson is that he seems to have either a fear or a reluctance to pull any faith in young players, instead opting to go for the ready-made option.
Unfortunately, that method has led to a revolving door of journeymen players who arrive at Tynecastle and within 18 months are never seen from again.
This creates a financial problem, as the cost of bringing in these players, paying them first-team wages, then ultimately having to pay them off when we're unable to find a suitor for them once we realise they aren't up to the task, is something the club can ill-afford.
This insistence on so-called ready-made players has already begun to hit the youngsters within the squad. Anthony MacDonald basically punted over to Spain by Neilson and Calumn Morrison was shipped away to Falkirk, where he's showing everything that Hearts require from a forward-thinking player.
Left behind are the likes of Lewis Moore and Euan Henderson, who were both finding faith under Daniel Stendel last season and now have found themselves dumped to the sidelines in place of experienced pros like Jordan Roberts, Elliot Frear and now Aidy White who have all yet to show any meaningful improvement on the youngsters that have been discarded.
Also suffering under Neilson is Andy Irving, who last season despite former coach Jon Daly telling Radio Scotland he'd rather start Loic Damour for the league game against Rangers at Tynecastle, showed his worth.
Now the Portobello Pirlo is sitting on the sidelines, with Olly Lee and Andy Halliday preferred, even though they offer neither pace nor creativity that this season's outfit is desperately crying out for.
Other youngsters such as Harry Cochrane, Conor Smith and Chris Hamilton have been shipped on-loan for the first half of the season, but does anyone have any real faith that they'll be involved after the New Year or just sent back out, while Scott McGill, who got minutes during the group stages of the Betfred Cup, which felt like a move similar to what Neilson did with the League Challenge Cup, in giving young players a chance, for them to be never seen again.
The Hearts gaffer needs to make sure that the this doesn't happen with McGill and the other young players at the club, as they can offer that creative spark that has been sadly lacking so far this season.
The main problem with this season's Hearts team is that they have been unable to put together a full 90-minute performance, which has been mainly down to pace and creativity.
They have plodded along and given the rest of the Championship a blueprint as to how to frustrate them and if Neilson doesn't bite the bullet and look towards the younger players within the Hearts squad, he's going to be saddled with disjointed performances that may well come back to hurt the club given current season set-up