With Aston Villa enjoying a remarkable Premier League season thus far, Dean Smith will no doubt be incredibly proud of the work he and his players have done.
The Villans lie just outside of the top ten in the table, but have a game in hand on both Leeds and Arsenal above them, with a win being enough to seeing them leapfrog the two into ninth place.
But while Smith has done a fantastic job in turning things around so impressively since last season – Villa, of course, only managed to avoid relegation back to the Championship on the final day of the campaign – there is one major criticism that should be levelled at him.
A report conducted by CIES Football Observatory collated data from clubs all across the Premier League, to find out the “percentage of domestic league minutes by footballers who had not yet turned 21 at the time of the matches played this season”.
In it, Villa have the eighth-worst record in terms of giving minutes to it’s U21 players, with just 1.4% being taken up by those who fit that criteria – in comparison, Wolves, who have the best record in the division, have handed out a whopping 16.2% of their minutes to U21s.
It’s a report that exposes a worrying trend at Villa, and one that should have Smith ashamed given the incredible number of young talents coming through at the club via the academy system.
You only have to look at how Villa’s youngsters captured the imagination in their FA Cup third round defeat to Liverpool to see that the club have got a real golden generation coming through, while the side are also competing in the latter stages of the FA Youth Cup this season.
The likes of Louie Barry, Aaron Ramsey and Kaine Kesler to name but a few have surely shown that they are worth bringing into the first-team fold and being handed minutes here and there.
With the modern game seeing more and more British-based youngsters heading abroad to seek out first-team opportunities – the likes of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham at Borussia Dortmund spring to mind – Villa desperately need to start mapping out a better plan for their crop of talented youngsters.