Joe Tweedie – at what age do you feel a young player is ready for the rigours of first team football?
ST – I don't put an age on it, you're ready when you're good enough. The age is naturally going to differ based on position, division etc, so there can't really be a consensus on a certain figure.
JT – in terms of developing players between the ages of 18-21, what is more beneficial? Training with higher quality players (i.e. exclusively training with the first team) or playing regular adult football at any level? Why?
ST – again, feels like it completely depends. Take two English examples:
Jack Grealish: Loaned to Notts Co, only to show he was technically far superior to almost everybody else in the division. That didn't last long (what's the point in him getting kicked up and down the pitch every Saturday?) and he was recalled and moved to train with the first team whilst asked to hit the gym (seen his calves now? o_O). He then breached the first-team and was starting games by 19.
Jack Stephens: A technically efficient centre-back who times challenges well and positions himself well. From a technical standpoint he was first-team ready over one year ago, but not from a physical POV. Was sent to spend time in the lower leagues playing against brutish forwards to train him with the Diego Costas of this world (still struggles with physical forwards a bit tbh). In this scenario, pushing him to first-team training at Southampton probably wasn't as beneficial.
JT – what is the ideal development strategy for a promising 18 year old at a club the stature of Chelsea? Loan or in-house development?
ST – if you're a talented, first-team-ready 18-year-old at a club like Chelsea (or Real Madrid etc.) you're in trouble. Good enough to play a role, but not good enough to start? This is a huge problem. Win-now clubs like Chelsea won't risk you - particularly when you need to get back into the Champions League - and you can miss years of development. Ruben Loftus-Cheek says hello.
A clever loan can be the difference. I sincerely hope Tammy is being treated with the caution he deserves after the long list of mismanagement stories that have come before him.
JT – which position is easiest for an Academy player to play at first team level? Why?
ST – I'd say fast striker - particularly if you're at a club like Chelsea. You don't have to adapt your game much, there's just a steep learning curve in the first few months on how to avoid much-improved offside traps. The general mechanics of what you do don't change as much as other positions.
Examples: Kylian Mbappe, Kingsley Coman (when he played a bit of ST initially), Jean-Kevin Augustin (Tammy Abraham?) GK or FB if you're under Pep Guardiola. Generally, I'm tempted to argue winger here, as you need to showcase a variety of things from the off to keep your place: willingness to track, ability to link with FB, understanding of back-post positioning during attacks on opposite flank, keeping width at right times, good decisions on the ball, crossing technique, and smart use of the ball in delicate situations.
I find winger the most difficult position to project from youth to senior level, as so much of it comes down to decision-making, which can drastically alter from one to the other.
JT – what constitutes an opportunity for an Academy player? A few substitute appearances? Consecutive starts?
ST – 5 consecutive starts ish
JT – any other thoughts about youth development?
ST – I wish clubs took greater care in where they sent players on loan; I wish they actually kept profiles on clubs around the world so they knew whom might suit who, and could therefore call at the beginning of the summer and say "would you like to take Jake Clarke-Salter for the season? We think he'd suit you perfectly."