Paul Goodwin: Youth development ethos HAS to be quality over quantity

l-r Paul McKay, Liam Mandeville and Jack McKay
l-r Paul McKay, Liam Mandeville and Jack McKay

Make no mistake, Rovers’ excellent EPPP audit score is worthy of recognition and proves the club is serious about youth development.

Led by Paul Wilson, Paul Stancliffe and Ben Mawson, a lot of hard work went into retaining Category 3 status.

Rovers’ solid score of 59 per cent - an overall rating of the club’s performance in ten key areas including coaching, recruitment and facilities - places them in the top three Category 3 academies in the country.

But it was Rovers’ assertion that 17 youth team players have been offered first team contracts over the last three years that sat a little less comfortably amid the understandable pride at the EPPP audit outcome.

And that’s because the mantra at academy level has to be quality over quantity, not the other way round.

Chief executive Gavin Baldwin’s policy of promoting a handful of youth players to the first team squad every summer certainly has its merits.

It sends out a clear signal to young players’ parents that their child has a real chance of making the grade at Doncaster. They have something to aim for, something tangible within reach.

At a club that has often struggled to attract, or keep hold of, the best young homegrown talent - often losing out to nearby Leeds United or the Sheffield clubs - such a policy is a step in the right direction.

But the real badge of honour is not how many players are promoted from the youth team to the first team, it’s how many of them become genuine first team players.

Out of the aforementioned 17 - and that is some quiz question to try and name the 17 - only James Husband has gone on to cement a regular first team slot and then been moved on for a substantial return.

Liam Wakefield’s development is showing some encouraging signs. Harry Middleton and Ben Askins are also well thought of, the latter highly rated by the now departed Brian Flynn.

But until players of that ilk follow in the footsteps of Husband, and nail down a first team shirt, Rovers fans will quite rightly reserve judgement on the club’s youth set-up.

Last week Doncaster handed two-year deals to two young strikers who have alerted the attention of several scouts and agents up and down the land - Jack McKay and Liam Mandeville. The two of them know where the goal is.

McKay’s 35-yard rocket for the development team against Hartlepool said everything about his potential, while the equally clinical Mandeville has caught the eye with both his ability on the ball and his prowess in front of goal.

These two have got people talking. There’s a sense of excitement among fans about their emergence, a sense of expectation. Nothing unites a fan base like a young player coming through the ranks, especially a local lad.

So while 59 per cent is pleasing, the club’s true test is nurturing players like McKay and Mandeville and turning them into the finished article.

Should McKay or Mandeville fire them into the Championship, or score the goals to keep them there, then that really would be worth celebrating.