Dom Howson's Sheffield Wednesday column: Why the lack of opportunities for youth is an issue for Owls

Two of the oldest squads in the Championship will go head-to-head at the Cardiff City Stadium tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 10:59 am
Updated Thursday, 17th October 2019, 3:25 pm

Experience can count for a lot in the hustle-and-bustle of the second-tier and Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff have plenty in their ranks. Both clubs clearly believe having older heads gives them the best chance of securing promotion to the Premier League this season.

So far the Owls have used 22 players in their 11 league matches and the average age of their starting line-up has been 28 - the highest in the Championship - while the Bluebirds have the second highest at 27.

But what is slightly concerning from a Wednesday perspective is the number of minutes players 23 and under have played during the 2019/20 campaign. A big fat zero.

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The Owls have gone from one extreme to another with their youth development in the past 12 months.

When Jos Luhukay took over from Carlos Carvalhal, he inherited an injury-hit, bloated, ageing group and the quiet, undemonstrative Dutchman attempted to inject some pace and energy into the team by promoting a string of academy players. The likes of Keiren Westwood, Sam Hutchinson, George Boyd and David Jones were all frozen out as Luhukay gave youth a chance.

Luhukay had one eye on the future and stubbornly stuck to his guns. Although it was commendable what Luhukay tried to do, he got the execution all wrong. Only results at first-team level give managers time to implement their long-term vision and Luhukay simply did not win enough matches to enable him to stamp his authority on the club.

There has been a lot of upheaval at Wednesday since Luhukay lost his job last December but the cold hard facts are that the club have stopped giving opportunities to youngsters at senior level. The pathway into the first-team set-up seems blocked as the Owls continue to persevere with tried and trusted seasoned pros.

Young Owls midfielder Alex Hunt

Yet several members of Wednesday's squad are in their late 20s and early 30s and have entered the final years of their contracts. This could well be the last big hurrah for stars such as Steven Fletcher, Fernando Forestieri and Sam Hutchinson. It feels like now or never if this group are going to seal promotion and cement their place in Owls folklore.

Boss Garry Monk has already cast his eye over the club's young talent in the short period he has been at the club, with academy starlets Conor Grant, Alex Hunt and Liam Waldock among the players to have trained with his first-team squad since he replaced caretaker manager Lee Bullen. It is a small step in the right direction, but Monk had made it clear he will only blood youngsters when he feels they are ready to make the step up.

“The point of a manager when you use young players is not just to put them in for the sake of it," he said. "Some clubs like to do that for the PR side of it but my job as a manager is to have a good look at young players.

“There is no better feeling than giving a young player an opportunity."

Monk has a good track record of giving young players a chance so it has to be hoped that he will be the man to give more opportunities to the next generation.