Walsall comment: Young guns offer the hope of bright future
Walsall’s vision of building for the future, while tackling the present, could bear fruit for the Saddlers – but they need to be cautious.
There is no doubt that manager Darrell Clarke is still building his squad.
The 42-year-old, alongside chairman Leigh Pomlett, are both singing from the same hymn sheet when they say that it will take time.
While many want it all now, the structure and process that the club are building and going through could be prosperous in the future.
The summer recruitment wasn’t a resounding success and Clarke himself has admitted he got around 50 per cent of it right.
This project will need a handful of transfer windows to succeed, but Clarke needs more luck with the players he gets in.
But within that is a look towards what is to come and where the team can go.
The hierarchy at the club are looking to build towards next season and, although they haven’t given up on success this season, the younger lads coming through show promise for the next campaign.
In his breakout season, midfielder Alfie Bates has done superbly well.
He has had games where he’s struggled, particularly recently, but on the whole he has impressed.
At just 18-years-old he has shown a maturity beyond his years and has the potential to have a successful and impressive career.
If that wasn’t enough, the new year has seen the emergence of Sam Perry.
Clarke has given academy products a chance to dip their toes into first-team football this season, with Joe Willis and Joe Foulkes both getting places on the bench. After turning 18 on December 29, and also making a handful of appearances on the bench without getting into the action, Perry was given a start against Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy on January 7.
Despite being booked in the first half, the midfielder lasted the whole 90 minutes and put in an extremely impressive display on his debut.
And to have done it against a strong League One side too, made it all the more exciting.
To a club like Walsall, who do not have the biggest League Two budget, the academy is essential.
While the side mixes in experienced professionals, the squad will be bulked out with developing players who show real promise.
Bates and Perry certainly fall into that category, while Willis, Foulkes and even Mitch Candlin are vying to be involved.
Add in new signing Jack Nolan, and the squad has another 18-year-old – in a position that needed improving, who can develop at the club.
But this model must also come with a cautious approach.
Injuries have plagued some of their experienced players this season and the Saddlers cannot afford to have their squad become so thin that they regularly rely on these youngsters.
Part of this is luck, of course, but part of it comes down to recruiting players with a history of injury issues.
At times this season the club have had to rely on Bates more often than they would have liked, and his performances have somewhat suffered for it.
The balance needs to be there within the squad and it’s something Clarke is desperate to get right.
He’s after a young and hungry squad that has the energy to excite fans and the nous to win games the ugly way.
It’s not easy but it’s getting there and it’s likely they’ll build towards next campaign.