Thursday, December 2

‘There to help’: older players signed to guide hopefuls to the Premier League | Soccer


Fo Brighton, the seed was planted a couple of years ago when Bayern Munich lined up Nicolas Feldhahn, a burly 32-year-old defender hired solely to help develop the next generation of the Bundesliga club, in an under-23 game in your Lancing training base. Dan Ashworth, Brighton’s technical director, found it an innovative way to pave the way to the first team and that summer they decided to experiment. Andrew Crofts, then 35, rejoined a similar role as player-coach.

In June, Crofts stepped up to become the under-23 head coach and his former Brighton teammate Gary Dicker, who turned 35 in July, returned to take on the role of surplus player and mentor. . Brighton is fourth in Premier League 2 and given the way teens like Antef Tsoungui and Ed Turns, who last month became the seventh academy player to make his first-team debut this season, have been integrated without Problems next to Graham Potter’s high-flying, is a formula that seems to be paying off.

Brighton are pioneers of an apparent Premier League trend. In the summer, Manchester United and Southampton appointed former academy players, Paul McShane, 35, and Olly Lancashire, 32, respectively, to specialized roles with the aim of passing on their experience to their teammates, sometimes with little more than half his age. McShane is a player-coach and Lancashire, who is working towards his UEFA coach badges, is a “support player”. Lancashire, who left Crewe in the summer, turned down offers to stay in the English Football League to fill the position.

Paul McShane played for Manchester United under-23 against Everton last month at the age of 35.
Paul McShane played for Manchester United under-23 against Everton last month at the age of 35. Photograph: John Peters / Manchester United / Getty Images

The methods at Brighton’s booming academy, which developed Ben White, who joined Arsenal for £ 50 million in July, and Robert Sánchez, who made his debut in Spain last month, have drawn intrigue. “I think there are probably a lot of clubs that think, ‘Cor, why haven’t we done it before?'” Says Crofts. “The first are always the brave, to try it and give it a try. It seems that it has been successful in Brighton thanks to the players. [that have progressed] and the impact it has had on the age group. “

Opponents of the idea often return to the same question: Does the inclusion of an older player not hamper progress or block the path of the young? “It’s the opposite,” says Crofts. “It’s about trying to improve them as players, and the staff has to recognize when a player needs to be used and not used. For example, a first-year pro may not be ready to play every under-23 game. You don’t want to take away someone’s playtime if they’re on the right part of their journey. “

Dicker is not guaranteed to play – he has started three of Brighton’s eight games – and he is not immune from criticism, though Crofts insists that Dicker’s red card against Walsall last month was harsh. “It was yellow all day,” he says. Regarding the role, there is a mutual understanding. “They know that you are not there as a threat, you are not there to trample someone,” says Dicker. “You are there to help, to push someone else and to give them experience.”

Crofts, who played for Norwich in the Premier League, took on the fresh-out role of Newport and Dicker after six seasons at Kilmarnock, where he coached the reserves for four years. “Consistency with young players is perhaps one of the hardest things to achieve and I think experienced players know how to be consistent in their behaviors and actions,” says Crofts.

Gary Dicker faces Odsonne Édouard during Kilmarnock's game against Celtic in January 2020. He had six seasons at Kilmarnock and coached the reserves.
Gary Dicker faces Odsonne Édouard during Kilmarnock’s game against Celtic in January 2020. He had six seasons at Kilmarnock and coached the reserves. Photograph: Vagelis Georgariou / Action Plus / Shutterstock

Dicker often coordinates set pieces during the week, but knows his main task is to train like a regular player, pushing the standards and sharing “nuggets of gold,” as Crofts puts it, when it comes to matters such as communication and communication. game management. “You’re never standing around thinking, ‘Am I on the road here? Should I do this or that? ‘”, He says. “You don’t feel like a spare part, which you can do in a club. I think it’s an area where you will see a lot more clubs coming together and trying to replicate what Brighton has started. “

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Brighton will travel to Forest Green Rovers at the EFL Trophy on Tuesday and while the under-23 program may be short on “blood and thunder” and the musical taste of his teammates may make him feel old, Dicker is enjoying the dynamic. . “It takes a bit of adaptation,” he says. “Sometimes you can think ‘I’m desperate to win’, but the bigger picture is player development.”

There is a balance in your work. “There’s no point going in and spanking everyone, giving them pelters after every little mistake,” he says. “You’ll have a word with some guys and say, ‘that’s not good enough,’ but it’s about being the right character and understanding the role.”


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