U’s and me: The changing face of Colchester United
- Credit: Richard Blaxall/Focus Images Ltd
Colchester United’s plans for the future are centred around youth, rather than experience.
The U’s average age, depending on the exact make-up of each starting XI, is hovering around the 21, 22 or 23 mark this season, and that looks like being the norm for years to come.
The summer departures of Clinton Morrison (35), Brian Wilson (31) and Ryan Dickson (27) set the trend, with former manager Joe Dunne having acted under a remit of slashing the club’s wage bill during his two years in the hot seat, to fit in with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP).
And new boss Tony Humes, who has been in charge for six games, is continuing with that process of reducing the wage budget, to match the club’s income.
Jabo Ibehre, aged 31, has recently been loaned out to League One rivals Oldham Athletic, while Humes also revealed that fellow experienced professional, Marcus Bean (aged 29), had also been made available on a loan deal.
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Suddenly, the U’s squad has a very youthful look to it, and is certainly one of the youngest squads in the Football League.
With the exception of skipper Magnus Okuonghae, defender Sean Clohessy, midfielder David Wright and new recruit David Fox, no other U’s outfield player is aged over 24.
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The early indications, under Humes, however, are encouraging.
The U’s might be stuck in the bottom four, by virtue of a very slow start to the season, but they are playing well, and attacking with guile and energy.
It is entertaining to watch, with young players like Alex Gilbey, George Moncur and Gavin Massey encouraged to express themselves on the ball.
Humes’ men bowed out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on penalties (4-2) to Gillingham on Tuesday night, but not before they had played some fantastic football against the Gills – in the end, defensive errors cost them dear.
That was also the case at Preston last Saturday, when the U’s more than matched one of the League One contenders for promotion. In the end, individual mistakes at the back denied them any reward from the Deepdale cracker, with Preston emerging 4-2 victors.
It will be a tall order for the U’s, packed with up-and-coming youngsters, to join clubs like Preston, Sheffield United and Bristol City at the top end of the division.
History has generally suggested that the clubs with the most experienced players are the most likely to win promotion, and that those with the younger, less experienced squads tend to struggle.
But the U’s are still well-equipped to hold their own in League One.
Even stripped of the bulk of their former, and current, older players, such as Ibehre and Bean, the U’s will win matches this season.
Midfielder Gilbey is improving with every game, Tom Eastman has developed into a very reliable centre-half, Frankie Kent is a big player for the future, and attackers Sanchez Watt, Massey, Freddie Sears and Drey Wright will send shivers through many opposing defences.
In fact, the main problem may not come until January, when the transfer window reopens, especially if clubs start taking an interest in leading marksman Sears and first-choice keeper Sam Walker.
For the moment, there is still experience in the U’s ranks.