Bolton Wanderers boss Dougie Freedman has high hopes for a new wave of youngsters
DOUGIE Freedman hopes the examples set by Andy Kellett and Oscar Threlkeld at the end of the season can give impetus to the next wave of Wanderers’ youngsters.
Development of young talent and their progression into the first team has been a political hot potato since the Whites boss arrived at the club.
Despite his vocal support for bringing through youth, Freedman has often found himself at odds with supporters over when and where he would present opportunities.
It is certainly not an issue that began and ended with the Scot. Since the golden period of the early 1990s, when the likes of Julian Darby and Alan Stubbs became major stars at Bolton, there have been few examples of home-grown players who have gone on to command a regular first team position, or help fund the £1million-a-year Eddie Davies Academy.
Freedman’s predecessor Owen Coyle tried and failed to kick-start the conveyor belt but with the club now free of the pressures of Premier League, or the brush with relegation to League One – is now the time for youth to finally get their shot?
The appetite among fans to watch local lads wearing their colours was there for all to see as Kellett and Threlkeld burst on to the scene in the final two games.
The question is, have they opened the door to others and can they stay in the first team fold when the players return for pre-season?
Freedman refuses to lower the bar but desperately wants others to emulate Threlkeld and Kellett’s example.
“I wouldn’t put a young player in there unless I thought he was ready,” he told The Bolton News.
“I’m not going to pay lip-service to you guys or the chairman and say they are ready when they are not. It is a responsibility to turn out for this football club and it isn’t one I take lightly. I’m not putting players in there because I want to be seen as the manager who gives kids a chance.
“But I think the two lads – Oscar and Andy – I knew they had it in them to impress.
“If the Academy can continue to produce what I feel are good enough players when they will get their opportunity. I promise that.
“And this isn’t a question of finances. It doesn’t matter to me whether we’ve got no money or too much money, if I think they are right, they will be in there.”
The emergence of Threlkeld, who made his first two senior starts against Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City, and Kellett, whose two sub appearances brightened both games, have given rise to hope that more can follow.
Hayden White, Chris Lester, Tom Youngs and Andy Robinson have also featured prominently around the first team set up, while big things are also expected of goal-scoring threats Georg Iliev and Zach Clough.
Freedman also wants a knock-on effect further down the line, where Wanderers continue to vie for the best young players the North West has to offer with some of the game’s biggest clubs.
“It filters all the way down,” he said. “I’m hoping a young guy who’s got the chance of signing for Manchester City at 16 or Bolton will pick us because there is an opportunity there.
“If you are in my Under-21s then I want players thinking they have to play well because then the manager might give me an opportunity.
“It drip feeds right the way through the club and they will want to be in the position Andy or Oscar have been in.”