There’s nothing quite like seeing a player progress through the youth system and do the business on the main stage. Emerging from the wilderness of grass roots football to compete with the best in the world in the Premier League. The inclusion of young Anthony Forde over the last month or so has once again helped whet the appetite of Wolves fans, who keenly wait the arrival of the next ‘wolf’ off the production line.
Although there may be plenty of talent in our youth set-up, very rarely has it shined through in recent years. Wayne Hennessey is the latest to be classed as first team, after he was thrown in at the deep end back in 2007. Covering for an injured Matt Murray, the young Welshman was handed his debut in the play-off semi-final against West Brom – a game Wolves lost 3-2. Since then, bar a few spells where he found himself out of the team to the likes of Marcus Hahnemann, Hennessey has become a regular name on the team-sheet.
Since Hennessey, there has been little to talk about down at the Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground in terms of gems. Although there has been plenty of talk of international appearances and youth tournaments, none of it has been transferred onto the Molineux turf.
There was once a time when we heavily relied on our youth system as a way of putting together a team every Saturday, and many of those players have gone on to experience hugely successful careers. I’ve had a look around and picked out some of the best ‘cubs’ to have mixed it with the best.
Robbie Keane – Arguably the best product of our youth system, it is no secret that most Wolves fans would love to see the Irishman back in old gold and black. With combined transfer fees pushing past the £70 million mark, captaining his country, and a career spanning the globe, Keane has become a very recognisable name in football and done his Wolverhampton roots proud. That said, it might be difficult for Wolves fans to see him donning the Aston Villa shirt for the next couple of months.
Joleon Lescott – There was always an agreement in the stand that Lescott was destined for great things – and he has not disappointed. After leaving to join Everton, he went on to join mega-bucks Manchester City for a transfer fee that only we could dream about spending on a player. Now a regular member of the England squad, what we wouldn’t give to have Lescott back at the heart of our defence to help bring a bit of structure back to our infrastructure.
Matt Murray – Regarded by fans and the media alike as ‘the best goalkeeper England never had’, the giant goalkeeper was one of the best to ever hold the number one jersey at Molineux. Despite having his career cut short by injury, there is no doubt that the play-off final hero would have gone on to achieve great things at Wolves, and maybe beyond. Happily, Matt has put his injury problems behind him and is carving out a successful career both in the media with Sky Sports, and at Wolves as a Community ambassador.
Lee Naylor – An example of ‘local lad done good’. Although only spending one year in the English top flight with Wolves, Naylor picked up plenty of silverware during his time in the SPL with Celtic. Two SPL titles, a Scottish Cup, and an SPL Player of the Year award – Naylor definitely made an impact. Naylor is also one of very few graduates, along with the likes of Keane and Lescott, to have competed against Europe’s elite, having played in the Champions League .
While we have been quite lucky in producing players such as this, Wolves fans must be wondering when the next superstar will come out of Compton. The internationally-capped Jonny Gorman is yet to make a league appearance for the club, while Zeli Ismael was once predicted to be the ‘first £100 million player’. Yes, it may be much harder to break into the first team in the Premier League with such a high level expected of players.
But why not give a player a chance? Forde has shown over the last few games that he is in no way out of his depth and has not looked out of place in the first team. This is a promising start and I for one hope we see more youngsters given the opportunity to shine. Ten minutes here and there, the odd cup game, a couple of loan spells all of it can help. Just remember, every superstar has to start somewhere, and that next superstar could be cleaning Roger Johnson’s boots as we speak.
Bring on the cubs!