This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
There have been plenty of positives, for once, at West Brom so far this season – top of the table going into the international break; the exciting brand of football on display; the chances given to youth.
When Slaven Bilic was appointed as their new manager in the summer, sporting and technical director Luke Dowling said these words:
“We want to return to what West Brom have been good at – unearthing some gems that people might not know too much about.”
To some extent, this has come true.
No one will have heard of Grady Diangana or Matheus Pereira before they joined on deadline day, but now they certainly know all about them considering they have been two of their most valuable players to date – scoring six and assisting seven between them, per WhoScored.
But on the other hand, their actual youth setup has hardly been given a whiff of opportunity.
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Sam Field and Jonathan Leko have been sent to Charlton Athletic on loan to garner some valuable game time, as Bilic knew they wouldn’t be able to feature as much as they would have liked this campaign.
Though, the same can’t be said for Rekeem Harper, who despite encouraging comments in August, hasn’t received a look-in whatsoever.
He picked up just six minutes as a substitute against Nottingham Forest on the opening day and hasn’t been seen since – the 19-year-old hasn’t even been named in a matchday squad in any of their last nine fixtures.
Considering the lack of options behind mainstay duo Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers, who have started every Championship game – it’s all quite baffling.
Either way, it’s not affecting their league progress, so it’s not a widescale problem.
But that doesn’t mean the Croatian boss shouldn’t think about things over a longer stretch – this lack of exposure to men’s football is only going to seriously impact the career of what appeared to be one of their most promising youngsters in recent history.
In the summer, he was linked with moves to Serie A giants Juventus and even the Champions League winners Liverpool, yet he stayed in the west Midlands and signed a contract extension.
In order to limit further damage to his career, Bilic must send Harper out on loan in January – Field and Leko are showing it can work at the right club as both have featured in at least seven games this term.
All three could come back in the future and make a serious impact as homegrown stars.