Doncaster Rovers: Development team is making a difference - Dickov

Luke McCullough and Liam Wakefield, both 19, have featured for the first team this season.
Luke McCullough and Liam Wakefield, both 19, have featured for the first team this season.

As the financial rewards become bigger and bigger, and the pressure to perform gets greater and greater, fewer and fewer football clubs, it seems, are willing to invest in youth.

‘If you’re old enough, you’re good enough’, that’s how the saying goes.

But in today’s brutal results business, it’s a muttering you tend to hear less and less from managers now more inclined to opt for the quick fix, the experienced pro over the spotty kid banging them in for the youth team.

Youngsters require time which managers don’t have. They need to be trusted, nurtured and encouraged.

And that’s exactly the culture that Paul Dickov has set about building at Doncaster Rovers - a club with few alternatives to developing their own.

Since those heady days of the late 1980s - the emergence of Mark Rankine, Rufus Brevett and Paul Raven et al - Doncaster’s production line (Paul Green apart) had come to almost a complete standstill.

The drop out of the Football League hardly helped matters. There was no system in place, no incentive for a young lad to join Doncaster.

However, the wheels on the production line are firmly in motion again. In James Husband, Doncaster’s talent of tomorrow have an obvious role model. In Dickov, they have a manager who has proven he is prepared to give youth its chance.

The club’s plan to build from the bottom up is already starting to make a difference. Rovers are challenging and changing perceptions.

“It takes time to do it, and you might not see the benefit for another couple of years yet, but I think we’re going in the right direction,” said Dickov, on the club’s polished youth policy.

“I don’t think there’s another club in the Championship that’s had three nineteen-year-olds making their debut for the first team this season like we have.

“It’s got to be the way forward.

“There’s a knock-on effect too,” he continued.

“We’ve already got first year apprentices wanting to do extra training all the time because they know younger players will get their chance here.

“And that trickles down to the School of Excellence.

“We don’t wan’t the young kids of Doncaster going to other clubs like Leeds or the Sheffield clubs.

“We want them to sign for Doncaster Rovers.

“That’s got to be our aim - and it’s only going to start happening if I show I’m willing to put our own kids in the first team.”

Youth team graduates Liam Wakefield and Alex Peterson have both made their Championship debuts for Doncaster this season, along with Northern Irish teenager Luke McCullough, a summer recruit from Manchester United.

And key to their involvement at first team level has been the club’s return to competitive reserve team football in the Final Third Development League.

Tonight that league will provide a platform for One Direction star Louis Tomlinson; an evening designed to raise money for charity and draw publicity.

But this evening is not just about Louis. The stage is set for some of the club’s potential stars of the future. The re-birth of the reserves has quickly become a vital component of Doncaster’s blueprint for the future - to invest in youth.

“We’ll definitely be continuing the reserve team,” said Dickov.

“It’s something we spoke about when we first came to the club last summer, as a way of bringing our younger players through.

“We’ve seen this season Alex Peterson and Luke Wakefield come in to the first team. Luke McCullough’s also played his part, although we brought him in from Manchester United.

“Harry Middleton and Evan Finnegan have been in and around the matchday squad too.

“And it’s probably the case that none of that would have happened if we didn’t have the development team this year.

“Jordan Binns and Josh Meade have also been out at Goole out on loan gaining experience.

“So, overall, that’s a group of players that came out of the youth team last season. That shows we’re on the right track.

“I’m a big, big believer that every football club should be bringing their own through, and I’m determined to make sure that happens at Doncaster.”