Which of Norwich City’s youngsters should stay at Carrow Road?
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Chief Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt focuses on the club's next generation, in the latest part of a summer series.
The natural conclusion following Norwich City's first FA Youth Cup triumph in three decades back in 2013 was that stellar achievement heralded the start of a new, exciting production line of talent.
The wonderful success of Neil Adams' squad in upsetting a far more illustrious Chelsea academy will stand the test of time, but not one of those young men have established themselves in the Canaries' first team.
Only four survivors remain at the club from the starting line up for the second leg of the final at Stamford Bridge. Josh Murphy looked to be blazing the trail when he forced his way into Chris Hughton's Premier League plans the following season but it proved something of a false dawn. Neither the exciting wide player, who last season was named MK Dons' players' player-of-the-year during an extended season-long loan switch, nor his twin, Jacob or Harry Toffolo and Carlton Morris have been anywhere near Alex Neil's senior set-up.
That is not an indictment of their individual quality or the club's coaching infrastructure. In part it is the expediency for instant success at first team level and the demand for results as Norwich veer between the top two tiers over the past few seasons. Supporters love seeing one of their own complete the journey from callow youth to first team regular, but not at the expense of watching a winning team.
You may also want to watch:
Undeniably there is a growing sense the development structure is not fit for purpose at the elite end of the game. You can already see tangible moves in that direction with the admittance of a number of category one academy clubs to this coming season's Football League Trophy in a pilot experiment. The very fact that FA Youth Cup-winning quartet were among a number sent out on loan by Neil to the Football League, or in Morris' case, north of the border to his old club Hamilton underlines the chasm between the sanitised world of development football and the hard-edge of the professional game.
Toffolo captured that dynamic perfectly during a season-long stint at Swindon Town in 2014/15, where he acknowledged the culture shock of being deposited into a dressing room with hard-bitten professionals who rely on a win bonus to pay a bill or two.
- 1 Former hunting lodge for sale for £1.695m with huge lake
- 2 Eagle-eyed plane spotter saves pilot's life
- 3 'Too close to home': Neighbours' shock as body found at Mousehold Heath
- 4 Never mind the limo - aspiring farmer rides tractor to prom night
- 5 Town's long wait for new £37m bypass nearly over as funding agreed
- 6 Which? warning to avoid sun cream brand for children
- 7 'The vibe is good' - Return to normality on first day of Latitude Festival
- 8 Man suffers injuries after road rage assault near retail park
- 9 Thunderstorms set to put dampener on weekend
- 10 Park issues warning over bacteria which is toxic to dogs
Toffolo's case is a curious one. That hugely successful stretch at the Robins, ending in a Wembley play-off final appearance, looked to edge him ahead of his peers at his parent club. The 21-year-old was a regular during City's pre-season 12 months ago, aided in part by the shoulder surgery for Martin Olsson and the protracted chase to recruit Robbie Brady, but Neil himself intimated the step up from League One to the Premier League is another seismic sea change. Frustrating further loan spells at Rotherham and Peterborough last season did little to advance his cause, but City's demotion back to the Championship clearly enhances the prospects of not just Toffolo but all the club's starlets.
Another factor will be the churn on a squad that will inevitably see summer departures, and which gaps they open up for the next generation. Josh Murphy may have endured the latest in a growing list of relegations at MK Dons last season, but unlike Toffolo, he was a regular Championship starter. The widely trailed close season exit of Nathan Redmond immediately presents a window of opportunity for both him and his brother. The duo have long since been hailed as the brightest jewels City's academy have produced in recent years but after numerous spells on-loan in the Football League they will appreciate the urgency of prizing open a route to Neil's first team.
The Scot is unquestionably an advocate of youth. That much is clear from his body of work at Hamilton, which arguably was borne out of financial necessity to try and compete with traditional Glasgow powerbases, but also at Norwich by signing a stream of young talent. A process best illustrated by the swoop for Coventry City's rising star James Maddison.
Timm Klose may have proved the best piece of business the club managed in a record January outlay that failed to retain their Premier League status, but Maddison's capture could well prove to be the smartest in the longer term.
This is an attacking midfielder who was coveted by both Liverpool and Tottenham for a considerable period before Norwich persuaded him Carrow Road was the perfect next step in his career. With that sort of hype comes expectation but it is worth noting the 19-year-old has still only made 16 league appearances. Those who view him as the natural heir to Wes Hoolahan may have to wait for the succession.
Of all City's bright young things Maddison is unlikely to force his way to the front quite as soon, but there is another factor that will have a direct impact on the chances of Norwich's youth brigade for the coming campaign. The removal of the emergency loan window mechanism across the Football League forces Neil to make some swift decisions on which of his youngsters he keeps closer to home and those he feels, like last season, may benefit from tours of duty elsewhere. Time may still be on their side to fulfil undoubted potential but to be part of Norwich's Championship fight back they must deliver an early statement of intent.