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Feature: West Brom youngsters have gone backwards but who is to blame?



Guiding a team to promotion from the Championship is an achievement very few have managed and one that takes a vast array of skills.

Not only must you build a side that is capable of winning matches, but they must also be able to do it regularly throughout a 46-game season.

There are also injuries, fitness concerns, transfers and individuals to manage, as well as the cup competitions.

All in all, the season places a huge amount of stress on a coach and often lesser priorities like youth development can be shelved in the pursuit of short-term success.

Few young players are able to produce the level of consistency week in week out at this level and as a result they often fall behind their more experienced counterparts in the pecking order.

In the case of Rekeem Harper at West Bromwich Albion this has been apparent, while Oliver Burke, Jonathan Leko and Sam Field have all been sent out on loan due to the lack of opportunities.

In their place, head coach Slaven Bilic has preferred older players like Romaine Sawyers, Jake Livermore and Matt Phillips, despite them having less potential in the long-term.

This is not to say Bilic is against using young players, with Grady Diangana, Kyle Edwards and Nathan Ferguson all receiving plenty of minutes this term, but it is clear that youth development has not been his priority.

Last year, Harper and Field made 23 and 18 league appearances respectively, often playing alongside one another in central midfield.

Harper in particular showed great quality with one goal and an assist from 13 starts, as well as 85.4% pass accuracy and 21.8 completed passes per match.

He also produced 0.4 key passes, 1.2 dribbles and 0.9 shots per game, all of which illustrates his level of involvement when selected.

This term he has made just two starts though, with his influence on the pitch also reduced in turn.

Like any young player there are areas of his game that can be improved, but you get the feeling he is now missing out on crucial development time.

Players like Kalvin Phillips and Eberechi Eze have shown dramatic improvement since they first made their debuts, but this has been the result of regular game time and the opportunity to play through bad patches of form.

On last season’s evidence Harper is a prospect of similar potential, but he simply has not been afforded the opportunities under Bilic.

The case of Burke is very similar, with the fact that both RB Leipzig and West Brom were willing to spend big money on him an indication of how highly he is rated.

But in the three years since he arrived at the Hawthorns, he has made just 24 senior appearances and has been shipped out on two separate loan spells.

On loan at Celtic last season he scored four goals in just 14 appearances, but has managed just seven starts for Deportivo Alaves in La Liga this term.

Seeing their young players struggling to push on will be a concern for the Baggies management of course, but given the money at stake if they miss out on promotion, they have placed their focus elsewhere.

Loan players like Matheus Pereira and Filip Krovinovic have impressed and with the club rumoured to be looking to be looking at making their moves permanent come the summer, this could push Burke, Field and Harper further down the pecking order.

In fairness, Pereira and Krovinovic have been the difference between the Baggies looking set for automatic promotion this year and just missing out last time, and if that is the case then it is understandable that the club have taken this decision.

It is always a shame to see young players have their pathway to regular football blocked, but in the case of West Brom this season it looks to have been a necessary evil.

Hopefully they can learn from this experience and come back stronger, but unless the opportunities become more regular in the near future they could be forced to look elsewhere.

ScoopDragon Football News Network

Article title: Feature: West Brom youngsters have gone backwards but who is to blame?

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