What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes
(From ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ by Wilfred Owen)
Early March brings a new intake of youth candidates to Hapoel Ashkelon. The Head of Youth Development (HYD), Avi Nimni, sends me an invitation to the trail match with our U19s, along with information about the candidates.
I always look at the information straightaway. I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation as I do so. Excitement because this is the start of some youngsters’ careers and, who knows, we may unearth a lad who we can sell on for millions. Trepidation, because there’s bound to be lots of dross and there may not be any decent players at all.
As I read the reports I pay most attention to Nimni’s assessment of their potential, plus their personalities. It’s immediately clear there’s at most three likely lads. Of these the most skilful, who’s already good at corners and free kicks, is said to be susceptible to injury, so he’s a non-starter.
I always attend the game, not because you can really learn anything, but because I want to show willing and support Nimni.
I’m sure he’s disappointed, though, when the day after the match I decide we should send them all home bar two.
In the event we sign just one – Chen Ben-Sa’adon, a ball-winner. He has acquired little skill to date, but he’s a hard-working, determined, guy with plenty of pace and perhaps he’ll develop. He’s left-footed too, which could be useful in terms of squad balance. And he’s obviously a leader: who knows, perhaps one day he’ll be club captain. There’s a long way to go before that happens though.
Normally if the harvest of youth candidates is meagre, I ask myself whether I should fire the HYD. But Nimni’s the only one of the backroom staff I didn’t fire when I took over and I don’t intend to fire him now. He’s good at what he does: he can judge a youngster’s potential; he’s determined and disciplined in his work; and he’s got plenty of spirit. What he’s not got is an employer that’s invested much in junior coaching or youth recruitment. Rather than fire him I give him a new contract.
I’m not too disappointed that there’s just the one recruit. Though we enter a team in the U19 league we have no U19 staff except Nimni. A single recruit I can throw into the first-team squad, whereas if there were several I’d have to start setting up an U19 structure. In the short-term, that would be a distraction; in the longer term it would be a burden on club finances. And it’s not as if we have decent youth facilities.
But thinking this through reminds me that I’ll need before long to get down to formulating a strategy for developing the club. Are we going to bit the bullet at some point and start developing a youth structure – or should we find some other form of long-term development?