Preston North End’s emphasis on youth is paying off says boss Alex Neil

Tom Barkhuizen typifies the Lilywhites' policy of unearthing young talent
Tom Barkhuizen typifies the Lilywhites' policy of unearthing young talent

Preston are currently benefitting from an ‘accumulative effect’ which is hopefully starting to pay dividends on the pitch.

That is the view of boss Alex Neil, who believes the decision to invest in youth by the club’s hierarchy many years before he took over as manager, means the Lilywhites are in rude health.

The average age of the team which took to the pitch against Sheffield Wednesday was 25, with goalkeeper Declan Rudd at 28 the oldest player in the team.

In terms of the outfielders, Billy Bodin was the senior player at the age of 27, while North End boasted four 25-year-olds and three 24-year-olds.

Looking at the squad in general, only Paul Gallagher – who came on as a late substitute against the Owls – the injured David Nugent, skipper Tom Clarke and out-of-favour defender Paul Huntington are past the age of 30.

At the other end of the scale, Neil has youngsters such as Tom Bayliss , Ryan Ledson and Jordan Storey at his disposal. They are all in their early 20s.

The fact that the majority of PNE’s players are in their mid 20s means that they are in or approaching their physical peak and reaching primes of their career.

“What we have got is a lot of young players who we have plucked from the lower levels or maybe from Under-23s teams who haven’t played, and given them an opportunity.

“That has been accumulated over the past four or five years seasons now.

“ So it began before I came here and has continued since I’ve been here.

“We are now at the state where we have got a good healthy competitive squad.

“Whoever we put in and whoever we take out, I don’t think there is massive variances in terms of quality.”

One player who has benefitted from Preston’s policy of trying to unearth young talent looking for a chance is Tom Barkhuizen.

Released by Blackpool in 2015, the pacy forward rebuilt his career primarily with Morecambe before earning his big move to Deepdale in January 2017.

Now at the age of 26, he has more than 100 Championship appearances to his name and is integral to Neil’s plans..

“He’s a runner is Tom,” said Neil. “His biggest asset is stretching the play and getting in behind so it doesn’t matter where he plays, whether it’s off the left, the right or the 
centre.”