Doncaster Rovers: Why Liam Mandeville's departure shows there is plenty still to be done to boost youth set-up

The departure of Liam Mandeville highlighted one considerable issue for Doncaster Rovers - the drive for a player production line at the club is far from finished.

Sunday, 9th June 2019, 11:54 am
Liam Mandeville

At one time, Mandeville represented the best opportunity in years to deliver a player from youth team to first team and, most importantly, keep him there. A superbly talented individual, with cool and calm to belie his youth and inexperience, the forward had shown flashes of promise before his extended run in the team during the first half of the 2016/17 campaign.

Injury halted his progress before a clash of personalities with then-boss Darren Ferguson sparked the beginning of the end of Mandeville's time at the Keepmoat.

Too laid back for his own good, he infuriated Ferguson at times - never more so than when he brushed off all too nonchalantly being told he would be dropped to the bench against title favourites Wigan Athletic last season. Ultimately that saw him miss out on the squad altogether, and began the decision-making process which saw him transfer-listed last summer.

There is a case to suggest that Mandeville has been somewhat unfortunate and circumstance has dictated his departure from Rovers.

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After clashing styles with Ferguson, he then found himself, albeit briefly, working under Grant McCann who failed to see enough in him to reverse his predecessor's decision to make the forward available for sale.

Mandeville's languid style does not particularly gel with McCann's high intensity, fast paced football in the same way Luke McCullough's precise, considered approach in defensive midfield did not.

But pure circumstance does not compensate for the lack of progression into first team football for youngsters.

Prior to Mandeville there was James Husband, who left the club in 2014.

Prior to Husband, Paul Green?

Others to have departed and found success elsewhere in the Football League are minimal too - Jon Maxted, James Baxendale.

And there are the case of the likes of Mitchell Lund and Will Longbottom who have failed the sufficiently push through in even more recent years.

Rovers are however looking to address that.

There was a time not so long ago when it was stated the club wanted to sign five or six youngsters to professional deals every year - a sweeping statement that appeared to discount so many factors.

But since then there has been credible and significant attention put into injecting life into the youth set up.

Ferguson sparked a significant shake-up of coaching and organisation following his arrival, with plenty of good work managed by the now-departed Kieran Scarff.

And it is a mindset that has continued under McCann, with Tony Cook now at the helm at the Academy.

The U18s side has enjoyed an excellent couple of years and there has been a closing of the gap between the senior side and the promising youngsters, who train regularly with the first team.

McCann is determined to forge a strong U23 unit next season, build with the club's own young talent and those plucked from outside, particularly non-league.

Thankfully, the work of recent years leaves Rovers with several players who could yet push through into the first team squad. Danny Amos, Cody Prior, AJ  Greaves, Branden Horton and most recently Rieves Boocock and Lirak Hasani are just some with their eyes fixed on the first team.

But Mandeville's story shows that potential does not equate to any guarantees.

Circumstance around an individual player cannot be discounted but the club knows they have to be better on several fronts to make such a factor less of an issue in the future.

There is the potential investment the owners could make to shift the Academy from category three status to Cat 2, which is being regularly pondered. The annual outlay required is considerable, particularly for a club of Rovers' side, and multi-million pound investment will always require a decent return in one way or another. It is not a simple case of spend and prosper.

There is a strong drive to improve recruitment also - to make sure talented youngsters are not snapped up by bigger name neighbours in Yorkshire and see a genuine opportunity to make it through the system.

What would likely drive both of these forward is seeing a player make that progression successfully - either by becoming a first team mainstay for years to come or being sold on for a considerable fee.

It is a cycle which has yet to start and for that reason all contributing parts to the machine are not as strong as they might be.