Anyone that takes an interest in pro-youth football will be aware that “game time” is a hot topic. From Under 11’s through the age groups you will he it discussed on the sidelines and its on the agenda of the majority of coach/parent reviews at every club.
The Development League fixtures at under 11’s and the first half of the under 12 season are four seven-a-side games, in which two are played simultaneously, allowing the rotation of a squad of around twenty players. From the second half of the under 12 season through to under 17’s the games are played over ninety minutes in three thitty minute periods (a bizarre decision by the powers that be changed under 15 fixtures to two forty minute halves, reducing the available game time by ten minutes), the under 17’s being the other exception where the game is played over the conventional forty-five minute each way. This provides a structure to rotate a squad, which on a game by game basis is usually 16/17 players ample time to allow a decent amount of game time for all. Although these games are non-competitive there is at least a structure to the fixture list, with the first half of the season’s fixtures released in August and the second half in January.
Personally I feel by under 17’s the games should be competitive and a league table published. A competitive element is available to Rangers via the Glasgow Cup. The round robin format means eight games and since it has gone to this format it has always been an Old Firm final, so the likelihood is nine competitive games.
Then problem arises for players in the under 18 – under 20 age group. In the past Rangers always played in the SPL Youth League, which this season has changed to an under 20 league. Three additional clubs, Dunfermline Athletic, Hamilton Accies and Falkirk were added and it is now a fifteen team league. Only people inside the club know why Rangers are not the sixteenth club, a minority view is that not invited, but the more common opinion is that they declined to take part. Had Rangers been included it would have given the club thirty competitive fixtures, and a schedule that takes them through to May.
So what was the alternative for this group of players ? An entry into the SFA Youth Cup gave four ties until they were eliminated by Kilmarnock and the club’s entry into the “any age” SFL Reserve League provides another thirteen fixtures.
At the start of the season the club had twenty players in the 18-20 age bracket, Lewis McLeod is a first team regular, Barrie McKay has played a fair bit of first team football and Robbie Crawford and Fraser Aird have been first team squad players. Kyle McAusland got a season long loan move to Ayr United and Kamil Wiktorski has left the club. So how have the other fourteen players fared in terms of competitive game time ? It’s not good news for most of them.
Injury and suspension has had an impact is some cases but the overall pattern is obvious. In the four youth cup ties only Blair Currie and Luca Gasparotto played all of the 360 minutes (under 17 player Ryan Sinnamon also achieved this), Callum Gallagher was only eleven minutes short. At the other end the scale Stuart Urquhart(45) and Charlie Telfer(148) were on the pitch for less than half of the 360 minutes.
The SFL Reserve League stats are if anything worse. With the Queen’s Park game still to be played and being unable to confirm the lineup for the Stenhousemuir game, I have looked at the other eleven fixtures. Out of a possible 990 minutes, only three of the group played more than half the game time. Luca Gasparotto (630), Callum Gallagher (539) and Stuart Urquhart (477). Players that spent less than 300 minutes on the pitch included Matty Clarke (296), Jamie Burrows (269) and Charlie Telfer (214).
Player game times a s follows, the first figure is youth cup ties (360 max) the second is SFL Reserve ( 990 max) and the final figure is the total (1350 max).
Luca Gasparotto 360/630/990
Callum Gallagher 349/539/888
Blair Currie 360/315/675
Jordan Wilson 194/405/599
Andy Murdoch 204/355/559
Darren Ramsay 198/329/527
Stuart Urquhart 45/477/522
Matty Clarke 225/296/521
Jamie Burrows 225/269/494
Charlie Telfer 148/214/362
Gregor Fotheringham 259/86/345
Craig Halkett 173/27/200
Alan Smith 0/0/0
Kris Gibson 0/0/0
So there you have it, the best case being Luca Gasparotto who has played the equivalent of eleven competitive games, while Charlie Telfer and Gregor Fotheringham’s game time has amounted to less than three games ( I’m guessing the Stenhousemuir game might have taken them just over it). How does that help these players development ? There is talk of a Reserve League Cup,but at present what teams would enter it, Rangers included, and what format it would take is unknown. As it stands at the moment these players have ONE competitive game, the reserve game against Queen’s Park to aim for for the rest of the season.
The slack is taken up with bounce/friendly games, which are usually arranged at short notice.The opposition can be a lower standard with one-sided games (Queen of The South, Manchester Football Academy) or ironically SPL sides such as Hearts, Hibs, Motherwell and St.Johnstone. It’s likely that these players couldn’t tell you when their next scheduled game is, unless something has just been arranged in the last couple of days. At least Callum Gallagher and Gregor Fotheringham have secured loan moves which will hopefully mean regular competitive games.
With another ten players stepping up from under 17’s at the end of this season and only Alan Smith of these fourteen players will not be under 20 next season. If the same decisions are made next season by what ever party, a structure needs to be put in place to ensure these players get regular games against decent opposition. In December Charles Green said games against English opposition would be arranged at youth level, we are now in February and the only game so far was a “closed-door” reserve game against Carlisle United.
I’m pretty sure the lack of game time and lack of opportunity for coaches to see them in action has been a barrier to a few more going out on loan. A repeat next season could see a delay in the progression of these players.