Youth Development: Giving youngsters first team games

A huge part of developing young players is, after becoming too old for the under 18s or after a loan spell away from the club, giving them enough games and getting them to play well enough to increase their attributes, and, if you’re lucky, value to sell them on.

Giving them exposure to your first team is absolutely vital but, also, can be quite a difficult task for the manager. For you, of course, the main concern is not developing youngsters at all costs. Your number one priority at all times has to be winning football matches. To win games consistently, especially with young players in the team, you need to have professional, resolute players who contribute to either scoring goals or stopping the other team score.

Bringing through a 17 year old winger with 18 crossing is a good example. You can play this player whenever your big striker’s on or their defenders are tiny and, unless he has a nightmare in a few other areas, can be confident he will get a good rating and hopefully an assist or two to win you the game. Long shots, height, pace and tackling are a few of these types of attributes that can be useful for a youngster to come through with.

Preparation for these things have to come early on though. As soon as you get a youngster you need to do a few simple things to make sure that, when he plays in some League Cup fixtures or gets a few sub appearances, he is a player who can make a difference to both your team and himself. Consistently high ratings equal increases in reputation and ability – both vital to the development of a youngster, as well as making his price rise.


Being a teenager and getting games in the first team can, of course, be an overwhelming experience – especially for those lacking in attributes like professionalism and determination, something youngsters typically do. Tutoring them is the best way to prepare their personalities for the experience as quickly as possible. I won’t go into any more detail on tutoring as our other article covers everything well.

Retraining players

Something I picked up watching the development of the likes of Jack Rodwell, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and quite a few other defenders in recent years is how their managers tend to retrain them to play in another position until they’re older and more experienced.

Jack Rodwell when he played for Everton

In Rodwell’s case, he came through as a natural ball-playing centre-half but, as we didn’t want to loan him out, he needed games and playing a teenager at centre-back in the Premier League is suicide, we began playing him in midfield. When he did get games, he’d simply defend, win headers and do simple things on the ball. His physique, good decision-making and the ridiculous fees being paid for young British talent meant we sold him to Man City for £12 million. If he’d stayed at the club, it’s likely we’d have worked on the defensive part of his game and, after some years of experience, been moved back to defence.

In Evans and Smalling’s cases, they’ve been played at fullback positions for Manchester United as opposed to midfield. This is because of Man United’s team – they don’t like playing technically limited players in midfield whilst they value good defensive ability in their fullbacks. This is something you can take into account too and is ultimately dependant on your style. Thanks to United’s financial strength, it is unlikely they’ll ever have to go down Everton’s route and sell these players, so it will be interesting to see them eventually being moved back to centre-back as their primary position in the next few years.

Developing useful players

As touched upon before, I believe it’s absolutely vital the players you bring through can do something to help influence games and earn them a goal or assist. This gives you the option of having a squad full of young players who can change the game completely when brought on. What you don’t want to see, in my opinion, is players like my biggest hope on my Everton save – you’ll have heard of him before.

Ross Barkley is, to me, a perfect example of a player with “too many 13’s” and not enough 15+’s which is not ideal for giving him game time. His only attributes over 13 are determination and stamina whilst he has 9 13’s and 5 12’s. This means that, until he’s older, a lot of his game is going to be based on being average at everything and trying his best for 90 minutes.

He could be a player who picks the ball up in a great offensive position, dribbles past a defensive midfielder and picks out a pass or smashes one in from range, or he could be a player who, until he’s a lot older, is capable of it but isn’t quite doing it to a decent standard because of his general averageness which will knock his rating and affect his development.

This is not something that’s a career ender. He has immense potential and, provided he gets enough games and is lucky with injuries, in a few years all those 13’s may turn to 16’s or 17’s and he’ll become one heck of a player. Or he’ll never get many assists or goals in the present and so it’ll be difficult for me to play him over someone bursting with pace or accurate finishing or crossing ability that can win us games. So not only will he not get many games, in the games he does play he won’t offer assists or goals or anything major that can boost his rating for him to develop.

To get him to develop well he needs either serious game time or a really odd-looking training schedule and patience. The only option I can take, with my team’s best interests in mind, is to loan him out and hope he gets enough game time to become a slightly better player I can actually give game time to.

You may have a few questions about that screenshot such as why is he in my under 18s, why is he playing friendlies for me and why haven’t I loaned him out yet. I haven’t loaned him out just yet for three simple reasons: my under 18s need central midfield cover until my scout finds me another one, I had a right-wing injury crisis so he’s been filling in for me there in pre-season and I’ve been tutoring him so, as there’s a month until the transfer market shuts, I’m hoping to get his determination to 16 before I loan him out. All those reasons mean it’d be silly of me to loan him out at the moment.

I am optimistic and I hope that he’ll do really well in the Championship and return to me with a few more 14’s and 15’s which are, at least, decent ratings I can use against small teams. If not then I’ll have to bring him back, give him a very well thought out training schedule and games whenever possible because he can be a superb player, every one of my coaches reckon he’s going to be the best player at the club. I could always take some big club for a ride, I’m sure there are a few who wouldn’t mind a young English midfielder.

3 comments on “Youth Development: Giving youngsters first team games

  1. The big advantage of a well rounded player, is the possibility of use him on many different roles. That will create lots of tactical options for your team.

  2. Great stuff, certainly some interesting points, such as youngsters being played in a different position first, but retaining the main aspects of the game. May actually look into that in my saves.

    • Yeah it’s something I’d never thought of (this is Jenko’s article). It can really help a player develop if you can make the most of their abilities in a different position and it’s definitely something that we can all use and carry through to FM13.

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