Lambert: Kids get it too easy

COLCHESTER United boss Paul Lambert insists that the whole youth team system needs “a complete overhaul” at the Community Stadium.

Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United boss Paul Lambert insists that the whole youth team system needs “a complete overhaul” at the Community Stadium.

And the Scotsman also lambasted the modern-day trait of clubs wrapping up their teenage trainees in “cotton wool,” rather than making them do the old-fashioned tasks of cleaning boots and washing cars.

Lambert certainly pulls no punches when it comes to talking about footballing apprenticeships, both in general terms and with regards the U's.

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He insisted: “There's no question that the youth team set-up here needs changing.

“It's seriously lacking. Having a good youth policy is vital, but this one definitely needs a big overhaul.

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“The net needs to be wider (for recruiting young players) and the quality coming in has to improve. We're not just here to pacify parents dropping their kids off at the ground while on their way to Sainsbury!

“You have to have a real hunger and a desire to be a footballer. This club has a lot going for it, with the move to the new ground, but the youth system needs to be stripped back.

“Of course this won't happen overnight, and I'm not talking about the younger ones, those 15 and 16-year-olds. There are one or two decent ones in this age group, and I've been to Shrub End to watch them train. That goes for the nine, 10 and 11-year-olds as well.

“It's the ones just coming up (to the end of their apprenticeship) now, where we are lacking. That is the biggest concern,” added Lambert.

Sam Corcoran has been involved with the first team squad in recent weeks, and was an unused substitute in the 1-0 win at Millwall on March 31, but he has really been an exception to the norm with the current crop of youngsters.

And defender James Hammond and striker Fabian Batchelor, who were both first year professionals this season, were released earlier this year.

Lambert reached the very top of his profession, during his days as a player. He was a big hit at Celtic and scooped a Champion's League winners' medal when at Borussia Dortmund.

So he knows what it takes to make the grade, from his very early days at St Mirren.

“I was very fortunate to have some good people around when I was starting out, people like Alex Miller (St Mirren manager from 1983 to '86). They played a major part in my development as a footballer,” explained Lambert, who signed professional forms in 1986.

“We had to do all sorts of things, like washing cars and cleaning the boots of the senior players. We had to clean the stadium, trim the grass and help the groundsman.

“I remember having to paint a wall that was 300 metres long, using what at the time seemed to be a toothbrush! It's something I will never forget.

“But now the young lads do not have to do anything. That sort of work has all been taken away. I believe that you have got to be hungry to succeed.

“You see so many youngsters driving around in smart cars before they've achieved anything.

“I think that many of our younger players are wrapped up in cotton wool. You have to earn the right to make it as a footballer. It's not just given to you. That's my opinion,” added Lambert.

The U's will soon be announcing which of the older youth team players will be retained for next season, to follow in the footsteps of ex-trainees who have made the successful transition to the first team in recent years - like Karl Duguid, Martin Grainger, Dean Morgan, Greg Halford, Dean Gerken, John White and Anthony Wordsworth.

Lambert confirmed: “The younger lads played for the Reserves (against Leyton Orient on Tuesday) because I will soon be having to make some difficult decisions over their futures.

“It's not a nice part of the job, but it's a tough ask for some of these younger players to come through to the first team. There might be one that comes through to the first team, but I'm not so sure.

“At the age of 16 or 17, you are still no where near being a footballer. You still have a country mile to go, unless you have a unique talent like Wayne Rooney. For the majority, it takes a long time to make it.

“It's not easy for the younger players when a manager comes in during the season, as has been my case. It has not helped, because they have to prove themselves again.

“We're not just talking about natural talent, because mentally it's a big ask as well. You have to be able to bounce back from taking a few knocks,” concluded Lambert.

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