Clark not afraid to give youth a chance
Blues fans awoke this morning to the news that three academy graduates have been offered new contracts.
As the Birmingham Mail reported here, Mitch Hancox, Will Packwood and Amari'i Bell have been offered new deals, whilst Callum Reilly has had an option in his contract exercised by Blues to keep hold of the midfielder for another year.
It has been a while since Blues had such a talented crop of young players at their disposal - over the years there are not many players of a higher profile than Darren Carter and Andrew Johnson to speak of - so it is encouraging to see years of hard work finally coming to fruition.
Whilst these players were being nurtured long before he arrived, there also has to be an acknowledgment towards the role Lee Clark has played in the emergence of the aforementioned youngsters.
Yes, Clark has had his hand forced by injuries to include these youngsters in the squads. But the injury situation has rarely reached levels where Clark has had no other senior options to utilise in the starting XI ahead of youth.
When Reilly made his first start of the season he partnered Papa Bouba Diop vs Crystal Palace despite the likes of Ravel Morrison and Morgaro Gomis being available for selection. Since then he has developed with every game, as the transfer link with West Brom testifies, and impressed enough that Clark feels he can overlook the experience of Hayden Mullins and Gomis to give the youngster a regular chance in midfield. In fact, during his 18 appearances this season, Blues have only lost three games.
Clark has also not been afraid to keep Hancox in the team, despite the return of more senior professionals to the squad. With David Murphy out injured for a long while, many managers (including our last two) would have been tempted to bring Pablo Ibanez in to centre-back and shift natural full-back Paul Robinson into his familiar role. Many will say that Robinson has revelled in his new centre-back position, but that opportunity only arose because he couldn't get into the side in his favoured spot due to the faith in Hancox of Clark.
In a recent webchat, Colin Tattum said that he could not remember seeing a Blues manager who was so consumed in his role from the senior level right down to the academy and the introduction of these youngsters and management of their workloads definitely points to that being the case.
Add that to the recent scintillating form of Nathan Redmond and Ravel Morrison and the emergence of Koby Arthur amongst others and there is proof that if you are good enough, with the right mentality, Clark is not afraid to give the youth option a chance.
That thought should be quite reassuring for Blues fans with a summer overhaul expected. It is possible that Clark may have very few senior players left by the time we kick off in August, but we can rest assured for now that if we do have a plethora of youth next season, it's in the right hands.