Nottingham Forest academy director Nick Marshall believes the new Development Squad system is ‘a big improvement’, but accepts it may be a while before The Reds reap the rewards.Forest will no longer use a reserve squad- instead favouring an Under-21 squad, a concept thought-up as part of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan.
Designed to help young players bridge the gap between Under 18’s football and the first team, participating sides are allowed to field only three over-age outfield players and one over-age goalkeeper.
Marshall explained: “The manager can still use it to give their first team players game time, but it also allows academies to say ‘okay, let’s keep that kid for an extra year and see if they develop further’, like clubs do abroad.
“It’s a big improvement. The current state of youth development is a massive, massive problem in England. In Spain, for example, reserve teams are part of the league pyramid, so young players are exposed to more competitive games than they are in an Under-21 league. They’re playing against men in front of up to 15,000 fans. Most clubs are in the equivalent of League One- Barcelona play in the Championship.”
Marshall is treating the new scheme with a certain cautious enthusiasm, and advises fans to take the same approach.
He said: “It’s not going to be an easy transition. We’re a Category Two club. The Category One clubs will already have a Development Squad. We had one three or four years ago, which worked quite well, but a new manager came in and didn’t like it so we’re starting afresh.
“Our Under-21 group consists of seven Under-19s - one of those is Jamaal Lascelles, who might play some games for that group but will train with the first team - and another is a goalkeeper. So we’ve actually got five outfield players who are all Under 19’s.
“We’re going to be in a situation where a lot of our Under-18s and first years will play in the Development Squad. This means we’ll also be moving a lot of schoolboys into the Under-18s, so it’s going to be a tough first couple of years.”