When Joe Hart arrived back to Manchester City after a successful loan spell with Birmingham City in 2010, one question faced boss Roberto Mancini.
To play the exciting young prospect, talked up by many as the England Number One for decades to come, or to field the experienced and well-respected Shay Given. An ever-present and ever-impressing Premier League goalkeeper, it would’ve been hard to say no to Given.
But that’s exactly what Mancini did. Since then, three years later, Hart finds himself a weekly fixture in the Man City eleven, and an established England international, with tournament experience to his name. The risk of opting for youth worked for Mancini, and it led to wide praise.
A similar headache faces Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest following the signing of the experienced Dorus De Vries to rival academy product Karl Darlow. A position that many felt didn’t need strengthening, but a move the manager has now made.
As he lined up at Pride Park against bitter rivals Derby County, it didn’t take long for Darlow to become a fans favourite. Furthermore, it didn’t take Jamie Ward long to court the opportunity and attempt to intimidate the youth keeper, shoving him into the post with Darlow in mid-air. Darlow calmly approached Ward, like a teacher to a pupil, placing his glove on his cheek as a form of belittlement and gave the Derby wind-up merchant a firm talking to, establishing control.
This incident was a clincher for a lot of Forest fans. Not only did he look sure of his ability, but he looked certain of himself. In his second league start for The Reds, in a local derby full of jitters and anxiety, Darlow was a breath of fresh air. Confidence and belief, with a walk that almost mirrored that of former Forest keeper Lee Camp, in his better days.
After the Derby game, Darlow continued to play brilliantly. Key saves at key times against the likes of Burnley, Leicester and a tense end at Sheffield Wednesday. All he had to do was breathe, and chants of ‘Darlow, Darlow’ could be heard circling around the City Ground.
A Forest youth product with much promise, a rare sight for supporters at the City Ground over recent years and something that is relished. The threat in De Vries then, isn’t welcomed by many.
Promotion with Swansea looks great on the C.V of De Vries. A double-relegation with Wolves though, doesn’t look so encouraging. Wanted by Brendan Rodgers a year ago at Liverpool, De Vries can be labelled a bargain after signing him on a free. But with the impact Darlow made, it would be harsh for De Vries to be made automatic Number One.
The mentality of Darlow will be put to the test in the coming months, as he observes the seething Billy Davies look in training. The confidence that can often cross the boundary to a slight arrogance needs to be converted to true desire and grit as he battles for his spot. Having been quoted as saying he one day hopes to play for Man Utd, he’s shown his biggest expectant is himself.
The approach of Billy Davies to young players has been questioned through the years, and his decision for the goalkeeping jersey will be one in the spotlight this summer. For Darlow’s critics, they point to his lack of experience in the league. But how do you get experience, if whenever the opportunity arises, you’re being dropped for someone in their thirties?
How is Darlow supposed to develop if he’s constantly chucked out to the League One scrap yard to play in front of 5,000 fans, when he’s already proven himself on the big stage, in front of the biggest crowd in a Championship game last season. With two relegations in two seasons to his name, De Vries has got some proving to do himself.
Opting for De Vries may be a ‘safe’ option. But Darlow’s emergence and popularity didn’t arise from a safe option, did it? A decision from McLeish to abolish Lee Camp from the scene was popular, but not something that was an inevitability. The decision not to find a replacement for Camp in January was a risk, and one that paid off.
Darlow is no longer a risk. He’s got a lot to learn, granted. The presence of a recent academy product shouldn’t be underestimated as a major motivator for supporters too, turning up for games in the knowledge they’re watching one of their own can be a huge incentive, especially coupled with his fantastic ability.
A formidable back five will be integral to Forest’s season, in a similar fashion to the core created by Man City and more recently Man Utd, as they took the option of a young keeper and took the positives with the negatives, which led to one big positive; a major trophy.
A big decision for Billy Davies, and one that will be a major contributor towards hopeful success. Darlow or De Vries? Youth or Experience?
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