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O'Neill: Developing Our Young Players Remains Our Focus
Monday, 8th Feb 2021 17:22

General manager of football operations Lee O’Neill says the Blues remain committed to bringing through their own youngsters, despite the January transfer window having seen them make four loan signings, taking their total to six, three of them youngsters from the Premier League or Championship.

O’Neill says the situation in January was far from ideal due to the financial impact of Covid-19 and the League One salary cap.

“I made the statement and Paul made the statement, it wouldn’t be our preference, we would prefer to have our own players to develop because you’re only ever develop players to go on to other areas, whether that’s the Championship or the Premier League,” O’Neill told TWTD.

“But the landscape has changed over the last 10 or 12 months. Two things, the Covid situation, that has affected the financial structure, and secondly the salary cap, that has massively changed the ability for teams in League One and League Two to look at [permanent deals].

“Where a lot of clubs would probably have done permanent deals in the last window, some 70 per cent of clubs are doing loans now.

“That’s just how the landscape has changed and we’ve got to adapt to that and use it as best we can to support the current squad.”

But he reiterated that the club’s long-term plans are still in line with the Five-Point Plan released in 2016 with young players being developed at the heart of the thinking, pointing out that plenty of Playford Road graduates have been involved this season.

“Absolutely, we still had four or five people play against Crewe, if you include subs coming on, there were a few more, from the academy,” he said.

“If someone had said a few years ago that you’re starting some games with 50 or 60 per cent of the squad homegrown, it’s a good achievement from the academy staff that are working very hard to continually develop players and a credit to the manager for putting them in.

“We’ve got some very good minutes in League One with academy players playing. If we’re not top, we’re definitely one or two in this league in terms of minutes played by young players.

“Last week we had Myles [Kenlock], Woolfy [Luke Woolfenden], Andre [Dozzell], Flynn [Downes], Teddy [Bishop] came on and all of a sudden you’re looking at five players. Aaron [Drinan] came in later but there’s another player there, so that’s encouraging.

“We’d love to get more through, I’d love to have a team with more academy players, homegrown players coming through, it’s about getting that balance right.

“Some are ready now, some are going to need a little bit longer, some need that loan to go out and get some senior men’s football as well in order to come back, as we did with Flynn and Woolfy.

“Andre didn’t need that, Andre came straight into the team and he played regularly, so it’s getting the balance right with those options that we had.”

Reflecting on the additions of Luke Matheson, Troy Parrott, Josh Harrop and Luke Thomas during the window, he added: “In the first half of the season, as you know and as has been well-publicised, we had a lot of injuries and it was very difficult to field the team that the manager wanted to field.

“From one aspect that was really good because we had a lot of young players go on and make their debuts and get appearances.

“I think going forward, calculating today, 12 games in five and a half weeks, Saturday-Tuesday, we’ve got to make sure we can sustain that and have the squad that’s going to be able to compete.

“So that was one of the reasons we looked at certain areas to try and strengthen, and add competition for places as well.”

The additions look like a financial vote of confidence in the manager from owner Marcus Evans, backing up his public statements.

“Yes, I think that the finances are tight like every other club at the moment,” O’Neill continued. “I think everyone’s trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got and we’re no different.

“Marcus has been very good in allowing us to try and strengthen the squad and obviously our main aim is to towards those top spots, so in order to do that we felt we needed to make some additions, so we were very supported by Marcus through that process.

“It was incredibly difficult with the cap because of our limit, we can’t do anything with the senior side of things, so we had to be quite calculated in relation to who we could bring in and the experience we could possible attract in that window.”

O’Neill admits Town aren’t where he hoped they would be at this point in the campaign. The Blues moved up a spot to 10th via Saturday’s 2-0 home victory over Blackpool but are still four points off the top six, although are now only nine points off Hull City in second following the Tigers’ shock 1-0 loss at Burton at the weekend.

“I think we would definitely love to be higher and we’re trying very hard to get back to [where we were]. The early stages of the season were promising, we obviously got a run of results when everyone was fit and we were playing some good football.

“I think that has been a challenge for us over October, November and going into December, it’s been a lot tougher.

“We recognise that and that it’s a tough job ahead and Paul and the staff are working very hard to get things back on track to where they were at the start of the season when we had a few back-to-back wins and some good performances.”

Lambert recently said that he wasn’t ruling the Blues out of the automatic promotion running despite the current position and recent form.

“I don’t think you can rule anything out in this league, if you look at it everyone is beating everybody,” O’Neill concurred.

“What we will have to do is take points off people who are above us, that’s pretty simple and easy for everyone to understand. If we want to be in and around it, when we play those head to head games, we’ve got to get some points on the board.

“Yes, it’s definitely an aspiration for us to look for automatic promotion, that’s where we would want to be and obviously at the very least the play-offs.”

O’Neill was one of the 11 players and staff who tested positive for Covid-19 over Christmas and along with manager Lambert was affected worse than most, but the 39-year-old says he’s all but over it now.

“I’m feeling much better, as normal as we can be getting back to work,” he said. “Health-wise, the virus situation is a lot better than it was around Christmas time. I’m well, thank you.

“To be honest with you, as much as I want to get out and do exercise, I haven’t done that bit yet. Work has been taking up most of my energy at the moment, so it’s all been focusing on that.

“I think that’s the next stage that I’ll try and hit now that the window’s finished, we’ll concentrate on getting myself fitter and healthier ready for the summer. But I definitely feel better than I did, that’s for sure.”

Photo: TWTD

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Mark added 17:38 - Feb 8
Promotion should be a requirement for the manager, not an aspiration. Being behind the likes of Crewe and Accrington Stanley is unacceptable. I hope the new signing can help us to achieve a winning run, that remains to be seen.

Suffolkboy added 17:39 - Feb 8
As ever a measured ,sensible and reliable presentation and summary of where we are and what we both hope and aim to do !
It’s excellent news that he is moving towards fuller fitness , but indicates how much it can affect anybody so afflicted ! Wish him only the best of success on the road to 100% good health !
Let’s keep the objectives in mind , let’s get all the Management staff functioning at the highest level and embracing all of us involved in and with ITFC in the team seeking that success !
A little work yet to be done there !

BettyBlue added 17:39 - Feb 8
How about making a statement after the Posh game?

runningout added 17:47 - Feb 8
Sorry but what does this gentleman do on a weekly basis

tractorlad01 added 18:02 - Feb 8
The lack of ambition at ITFC is seriously worrying. The standards should be so much higher, the fact we aren’t challenging for automatics is utterly unacceptable.

aas1010 added 18:13 - Feb 8
Still here? When u go take lambert and Evans with u 🪓🪓🪓

tractorboybig added 18:17 - Feb 8
crap from evans, crap from lambert and crap from the mouth piece

rabbit added 18:26 - Feb 8
Thank goodness someone from the Management team has clarified that it is a "five point plan" as opposed to a "five year business plan" which some on this site get confused over.

Jumping to personally insult individuals is both unwanted and cowardly, it detracts from the relevance of this excellent site and I'm afraid being a youth is no excuse.

brian_a_mul added 18:55 - Feb 8
Some sensible comments from O Neill. Much better than listening to Clegg!!

dirtydingusmagee added 19:27 - Feb 8
Runningout i think he is a used car salesman in the East end ,akin to Swiss Tony

jas0999 added 19:27 - Feb 8
Too many loans again.

BeattiesBackPocket added 19:29 - Feb 8
Rabbit again we cannot implement his five point plan that has been going on for a few years now. Whilst category two for one reason meaning the best youngsters we have are sold off, bringing in someone else’s kids to give them games who in some cases are younger than ours Isn’t going to implement their plan. It appears some people come out the woodwork after a win against the mighty Blackpool let’s see if you’re still defending the owner if we lose against another top 8 side tomorrow. I hope we win I hope we finish top 2 which should be where we are planning for start of the season. I don’t mind O’Neil and he gets a lot of unnecessary grief but he is another puppet and o see why people get the jump with the same drivel coming from the club. I’d ask where the improvement is coming from? How can you say playing our own kids is the aim then replace them with someone else’s who will go back and not worry about us end of the season. If these kids were possible future signings fair enough

Daleyitfc added 19:31 - Feb 8

Upthetown1970 added 19:59 - Feb 8
Play our own youth ahead of the loans if this club is going to move forward in the future. If we dont blood our own youngsters in this league we will be in the same situation year on year. These loans definitely wont worry where we finish in the league the same way our own would.

Saxonblue74 added 20:05 - Feb 8
Upthetown, I love your sentiment but what happened on the pitch Saturday against Blackpool contradicts you.

Upthetown1970 added 20:19 - Feb 8
Saxonblue. How on earth do you think the club can move forward long term playing half a team of loans. I said blood our youngsters in this league now. I'm sure if we had played our youngsters on Saturday we would of had the same result. Saturday was the first game without our 35 year old fullbacks on either side.

LondonBlue73 added 21:10 - Feb 8
I sort of agree with you, I think too many loans over our youngsters is not good in general. Personally I think Parrot is a cut above our forwards be that normally or due to constant injuries, I think that's the right decision. I think when you talk about our 35 year old full backs, Ward was replaced by one of our own who has been a revelation for two games but constantly on here derided as not being good enough. Chambers has been out of position and I think we were hoping KVY would return. Who else would you have put in, Cotter but he's out on loan. McGuiness i believ we have due to injuries and Chambers covering RB if Wilson was fit and a Nsiala not headless I doubt he'd be here.
I do agree Bennett's and Thomas I'd rather see Dobra, El Mizouni but don't see them in training or under 23s
Harrop is a great player adds something we don't have but not sure.
Let's see if it's right or wrong and tomorrow will be a good judgement opportunity.

eddiespearitt03 added 22:44 - Feb 8
No more sentimental favors. If this club wants to progress it ultimately has to get more than a few off the wage bill. The win over Blackpool was a sign in the right direction and shows what can be done when you can put better players in the team. Keep the experienced pro,s who have had their day firmly on the bench from now on and let the young players express themselves. That breeds confidence !!!

bobble added 05:55 - Feb 9
if we get 36pts from the next 12 games we may not be relegated.

MonkeyAlan added 09:30 - Feb 9
More excuses from Evans puppet. It's down to you O Neill, Evans and Lambert that we are in this division. Poor management from the top has caused this, not covid. Stop trying to dress it up. This all happened before covid. Nearly 3 seasons ago now, when you let a monkey sell all our decent players and replace them with cr@p. There was never any need to be in this position, regardless of the landscape now. Evans the muppet.

Bert added 12:01 - Feb 9
I understand why Evans rightly continues to be criticised and so he should but it cannot be argued that many of our home grown youngsters are not getting game time. Those who are not yet good enough are either in the wings or out on loan giving them good experience. One of the reasons why clubs let their young players come here is because we are still seen in the football world as a decent club.We know why we are in league one, we know who is responsible for that but simply posting personal abuse is pointless.

istanblue added 12:39 - Feb 9
''But he reiterated that the club’s long-term plans are still in line with the Five-Point Plan released in 2016...''

Hang on, so we're 5 years into this so-called '5 point plan' and what results have we seen exactly? Relegation, a mid-table League 1 finish, loans loans loans, an incompetent and spiteful manager at the helm and an un utterly clueless and inept owner running the show.

Just goes to show that Evans is a spin merchant and O'Neill is his puppet. #EvansOut #PRPaulOut #PELeeOut

rabbit added 12:39 - Feb 9

BeattiesBackPocket, I have done my best to decipher your post which appears to be aimed at my comments on this article although I cannot see what any relevance your comments have.
1. I have not mentioned how long the plan has been in place.
2. I have not mentioned anything in relation to what category ITFC are in
3. I have not mentioned anything about who has or has not been sold or how they intend to implement the plan.
You allude to me coming out of the woodwork because ITFC beat Blackpool and defending ME, firstly I do not live in woodwork, so please refrain from the insults, and secondly I have not defended ME.
After more rambling you ask a few more questions relating to the article, I have no idea why you are directing these questions to me, perhaps you will enlighten me.
I can only assume that this diatribe you are leveling at me is because within my post I touched a nerve somewhere. It is also disappointing to note that you feel it acceptable that scathing and cruel personal insults are acceptable.
Finally some weeks ago you did make an allegation against a statement ME made that you said was untrue and you could provide the evidence, for the record to date you still haven’t shown that evidence as you said you would.

BeattiesBackPocket added 13:00 - Feb 9
Rabbit get a grip what makes you think I’m talking about you coming out of the woodwork so before getting on your high horse with anyone banging on about me accusing you of something check you also are not pointing accusing fingers at other the hypocrisy is rife with you sometimes! ‘Don’t live in wood’ how is that an insult???? Lol you really are being petty with that remark.
Please tell me in those five years of the five point plan (we get it’s not five YEAR the clues in the title) where is the improvement evans eluded to?? Five years in and since this ‘plan’ of his we are actually worse off as a club?? That’s simple and obvious we finished our lowest position in over 60 years FACT!
Can you also point our rabbit where the insults were??? You mention insults where what saying some people come out of the woodwork after ONE win? Where’s the personal insult in that? And no my questions were not all directed at you other than the support you offer evans at every turn. Anyone who slightly questions his ownership is immediately down marked by you which is completely up to you but yes does show your constant support for him even after years of decline and a debt I keep saying HE HIMSELF is making yet more people we have paid fees for going for nothing in the summer that’s one big reason we have our debt it goes back to the Norris and leadbitter s we paid for and let their contracts run out and left for nothing.
No nerve hit with me we all want what’s best and some won’t agree whether it’s playing style managers etc that’s what forums are for and I love a good debate however what is clear is the owner IS to blame for most the debt, the poor quality in the side and underselling of quality players in the past. Other clubs fans are kicking off at owners or managers are being sacked at clubs a lot higher than us yet some on here just accept what’s happened.

BeattiesBackPocket added 13:03 - Feb 9
And rabbit where have I said I agree with personal insults? My post above I said O’Neil gets unnecessary grief and I have also agreed the chambers grief isn’t called for even though he hasn’t been very good for us past few years he is passionate about the team. I don’t see any passion from evans ever! Not at any point have I said I ‘find scathing insults acceptable?’ Where??

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