O'Neill: Youngsters' Contractual Situations Should Not Be a Concern
Thursday, 6th Feb 2020 15:39
Blues general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill has sought to allay concerns regarding youngsters Andre Dozzell and Armando Dobra only being tied to Town for another 18 months.
The duo are all contracted until the summer as things stand - as is Bailey Clements who made his one and only senior appearance so far at Luton in the Carabao Cup - but with the club having an option to keep them for a further year which they are certain to exercise.
Asked whether the situation ought to concern supporters, O’Neill said: “Concern, no, because we’re working through. We have active conversations with those players and agents, not just now when 18 months is triggered, we have conversations all the time on how they’re doing, how they’re developing.
“It’s something which needs to fit for both parties, from the club’s perspective and the investments we make into those contracts, and the players, that they have the opportunity to play and want to be here. It’s both scenarios.
“There are ongoing conversations that will happen all the time, not just when a transfer window finishes or opens. It’s an everlasting cycle which just keeps going round because squads of a size have contracts which run to different years and different times, so it’s an everlasting conversational cycle that both myself, [owner] Marcus [Evans], [manager] Paul [Lambert] and other key members of the club are talking about regularly.
“We get to a certain stage in their contracts and decisions have to be made. Sometimes we have to wait a little bit longer to see whether and how they develop and how they player and the situation of the club, what league we’re in, all of those are key factors as to what we can do going forward.”
If there are no agreements then might it be that the stage where decisions have to be made comes in the summer when their contracts will have just a year to run and their values will be reducing?
“Yes, exactly that, or we’ve already done the deal and everything’s sorted out,” O’Neill added.
“It might not be to the summer that you have to wait, these are ongoing conversations and they’re the same conversations that are happening at every football club.
“Those players that you mentioned there, they’re all doing very well in different avenues. I think some would like more game time than others, that’s understandable, they train every week, they want to play football.
“It’s about what we can offer them going forward with that opportunity to play and if they want to be part of it. Some might have aspirations to play in different leagues or abroad or wherever, but hopefully both paths align and we can sort out new deals for players going into the last part of the season.”
TWTD revealed on Friday that Town had turned down an offer of £350,000 from Premier League Brighton for Dobra, the Seagulls presumably seeking to gain a bargain due to the 18-year-old’s contract situation. We understand talks have taken place regarding new terms but with no agreement so far having been reached.
O’Neill wouldn’t be drawn into a discussion regarding a specific player’s situation: “I don’t want to comment on him in particular because I think that’s unfair because the kid has enough pressure on him at the moment to try and play football,” he said.
“I think what is important to understand is that a player under the age of 23/24 has protection rights through compensation, so there’s already a level of investment that we put in the academy.
“If a club feels that they can put in an offer for a player based on a contractual situation, it’s not always the case because there are contingencies in place to protect clubs.
“But going back to the point beforehand, we don’t really want players going into the last 12 or 18 months of their contracts not knowing what their futures are going to be like. We want to commit to players as well as them wanting to commit to us.
“So, it’s a two-way process. I think weighing-up all those options, on the financial side of things and the playing ability.
“We might have other players coming through that we can develop and we can slot in, so we might be in a situation where we can let a player go.
“But also situations where we don’t and the best thing for the club is to keep that player here and nurture him over the next two years and actually reap the rewards in 18 months’, two years’ time from now by them being fully fit and available to play in our first team.
“There are ongoing conversations all the time about contracts with players and situations with players.”
A table shared on social media in the last couple of days showed that Town are 18th in League One on minutes given to players aged under-23 this season.
O’Neill says he’s not surprised that that’s the case with younger players having been less involved since Christmas with 13 players, mainly youngsters, currently out on loan.
“I think before we were obviously having options for players to go [in to the side] and the team might have changed slightly from week to week so players might have got a little bit more of an opportunity that way,” he said.
“I think from Christmas onwards that might have settled down a little bit so certain younger players are playing but we’ve also sent a lot of players out on loan out of the club, some players that may have had some appearances off the bench or some more minutes may not be here at the moment, are actually at other clubs.
“And also there’s no given right, they still have to earn the right to get into the team. You’ve got experienced players that have played in both the Championship and at this level, who aren’t playing week in, week out.
“They’ve got to get ahead of them as well, so it’s tough for them to do that but it’s something that we look at with younger players and something that we’ve talked about quite a lot but it’s not just about young players, it’s about the players that have got experience and the players who we’ve bought in that also need game time. So it’s getting the balance right across the board.”
O’Neill says there is a pathway into the first team for young players: “I believe so and I think Paul has said that in his interviews.
“At the end of the day, if you’re good enough and you’re performing week in, week out on the pitch, you’re going to be starting and that has proved to be the case with some of the players who are playing week in, week out at the moment, they’re the ones that are playing well.
“If you’re doing well, your rewards are probably that you’re in and around the training environment for the first team and then if they get an opportunity, it’s down to them to take that opportunity when they get it and to embed themselves in the first team and keep their shirt. Once they get it, it’s theirs to lose as he says.”
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