Dave Seddon’s PNE pressview: Quality over quantity is Preston’s youth ethos

This week Preston North End opened-up about the youth policy and their expectations for how many home-grown youngsters they bring through into the first-team picture.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 15th August 2020, 12:30 pm

Quality not quantity was their stance, the counter argument of some fans being that the academy is not bearing enough fruit and more could be done to bring players through.

It is an interesting debate, with good points made on both sides of the argument.

Some clubs put a huge focus on their academy in the hope of there being a regular supply of players from the youth ranks into the senior picture.

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Josh Brownhill was developed by Preston before joining Bristol City before subsequently moving to Premier League Burnley

If they get it right, it cuts down on the numbers of players needed from outside the club and the best could eventually be sold on for a decent profit.

That does take some investment to get right but can produce a good yield with some patience.

North End’s approach is more of a drip feed, one or two scholars graduating every year to be taken on as first-year professionals.

Then there’s that issue of the gap between youth-team football and the first-team with no Under-23s side to bridge it.

In terms of competitive action for the lads in between, PNE look to get them out on loan – sample men’s football elsewhere.

Clitheroe, Lancaster City, Stalybridge Celtic, Altrincham and Hyde United have all been temporary homes for Lilywhites youngsters in recent seasons.

North End choosing not to go down the Under-23s route is partly financial and partly down to their doubts over the quality of it.

Are players by that stage of their development learning much just playing against lads of a similar age?

At times Under-23s football seems that bit too nice. One experienced youth scout described it to me as almost ‘non-competitive’.

The fact that many Premier League clubs look to loan their best youngsters out rather than have them hang around in the Under-23s for too long, perhaps backs-up that line of thinking.

Might more of a reserve team league better serve the development of younger players?

Growing up watching PNE, it was the first-team at Deepdale one week and then a trip back the following Saturday afternoon to watch the reserves.

Different era I know, but the reserves back then were a good mix of senior players and youngsters.

The experienced players were either coming back from injury or had lost their first-team place and wanted it back.

It made for a much more competitive environment than the Under-23s set-up of today.

Back specifically to North End and there have been players come through the academy to do well but maybe not at the rate we’d all like to see.

The success stories of the last few years have arguably been Ben Davies and Josh Brownhill.

Davies we have seen blossom into a talented and cultured centre-half, via a good number of loan spells.

PNE point to those loans as being key, those serving him better than a spell in an Under-23s would.

All but one of Davies’ loans were with league clubs, York, Tranmere and Newport in League Two when he was with them, Fleetwood an even bigger learning curve in League One.

The exception was a short spell with Southport who were in the Conference (now the National League) at the time.

While Davies came right through PNE’s academy from a young age, Brownhill arrived later after being on Manchester United’s books.

However, North End still developed him and gave him plenty of first-team football from the age of 17 onwards.

Brownhill left at the end of his contract but money was recouped by a youth compensation fee paid by Bristol City at the time (about £300,000).

Then North End got a shade more than £1m from a sell-on clause when City sold him to Burnley in January.

Josh Earl is another of the academy graduates to have got himself a decent amount of first-team football.

Should he kick-on this season and get himself into regular contention, there’s a success story there.

The others in the Preston first-team squad to have come from the academy are Mathew Hudson, Adam O’Reilly, Jack Baxter and Ethan Walker.

Local boy Walker was the only player from last season’s second year scholars to be taken on professionally.

Alex Neil saw enough in Walker to give him his debut at the age of 16 against Aston Villa in December 2018, then to use him again in the Carabao Cup at Bradford this time last year.

Hopefully the winger can kick-on again, perhaps get some games on loan at a good standard if he’s not going to feature here straight away, to aid his development.

A good mentor in the PNE dressing room for any young player is Paul Gallagher.

Hence it was good to see him agree a new contract this week to keep him at Deepdale for another year.

Could North End have afforded to lose Gallagher’s experience on top of Tom Clarke’s exit in the summer?

That would have been a big hit and Gallagher staying on keeps that older, wiser head about the place.

It might be that he plays less games than the 33 he did last season – 22 starts in the Championship and 11 sub appearances.

Others might get their chance ahead of him, Tom Bayliss surely needs to be given his chance in the campaign ahead.

But having Gallagher around the place as well as being able to call on his playing talents, will be important.

On his day he can use the ball better than anyone and he’s still got the legs to cover the ground.

Gallagher is going to carry on with helping coach the Under-16s at the academy, something he started last season. It’s so important he passes down his knowledge.