Why Lewis Mayo’s performance yesterday proves youth system is not working.

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Lewis Mayo of Rangers reacts during the Pre-Season friendly match between Tranmere Rovers and Rangers at Prenton Park on July 10, 2021 in Birkenhead, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - JULY 10: Lewis Mayo of Rangers reacts during the Pre-Season friendly match between Tranmere Rovers and Rangers at Prenton Park on July 10, 2021 in Birkenhead, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images) /

Youth players, do they really have a chance to make the grade at rangers?

In previous seasons we have seen the emergence of young Alex Lowry, Leon King and Adam Devine, all of whom have been unable to nail down regular first team football at Rangers. Why is that? To me it’s a variety of reasons.

In my opinion, at other clubs that don’t have the same heavy expectations on winning, they tend to allow young players to play regular minutes, make mistakes and develop as players in general. We as a club don’t give young players enough playing opportunities.

Last season when we sold Joe Aribo, the jersey was there for young Alex Lowry to be a ready-made replacement in a position that only had Ianis Hagi and Scott Wright. That didn’t happen and further additions were made in that position such as Tom Lawrence who, let’s be honest is a better player than Lowry at this juncture, but on a bigger pay packet and we didn’t get much football from Tom due to injuries.

It worries me that we don’t give players enough of a chance as a club, albeit certain managers and  coaching staff know better about who is good enough, but as a club are we giving these young players a start against say St Johnstone at Ibrox? Letting them come in play, gain confidence, match experience and overall development at their work.  While playing Leon King in 3-5 Champions League games wasn’t ideal, there needs to be a balance between when and where the players are given opportunities.

Now I’m not saying we should put out 11 youth products to play for the benefit of their careers, but I think Rangers coaching staff could be picking moments when we are winning safely at home or away to bring one youth player on to get a taste of men’s first team football. There was six months of playing for nothing at the tail end of last season where nobody was given a fair chance. What was wrong with young Zak Lovelace playing instead of a demotivated Alfredo Morelos?

Look at what happened when Giovanni Van Bronckhorst gave Bassey a run at centre back in the Europa league run. Fine, he made mistakes at first but ultimately developed into a monster who got the club 20 million Euros. While I’m not saying we do this, I’m saying we should give out more opportunities to players in smaller matches to allow them to develop. We can pick and choose our moments when games are already won to give the boys a chance to come on and produce something to catch the managers eye. Sending Lowry on loan was the best move as he is getting games at a good level for a ball dominant club.

Are we as a support too quick to judge?

Look at Twitter (or X as it is sadly now known) when we unveiled Leon Balogun. It was the Rangers social media team asking a question about what convinced each player to sign for Rangers. It comes to Alex Lowry and he says he didn’t know because he was 10 at the time. He then got absolutely slated from our support on the platform for not having an on-the-spot answer. Is it necessary that we judge and criticise a young boy for an answer like that. What could the comments do to the boy’s confidence? Does it make him feel wanted by the Rangers support? This is an issue that I feel strongly about and if we as a support aren’t going to let these young boys come on and develop on the park, then what’s the point in having a youth system? While the club could do far more to support youth development in terms of first team opportunities, it is equally important to show the boys game management and give them vital first team experience.

Now onto the shambles of a youth system in Scotland, why not bring reserve football back? This helps bridge the gap between youth football and first team football, while giving first team players minutes to be fresher for squad rotation. Playing against pros coming back from injury in a competitive reserve league would be a far better chance for youth players to standout. Imagine Lovelace scoring a hattrick against a Celtic reserve side who had some players coming back from injury, creating a bigger dilemma for Michael Beale and giving the player a chance to be in a bigger shop window on a playing front. The support would want these players to be given a chance if their producing at a better level that reserve football would give.

The Lowland League has been beneficial but it’s not beneficial enough for Rangers to develop young players, nor other clubs playing in the SPFL. I think there is a way the SPFL could utilise the Lowland League, but there needs to be something above that for us to produce more youth players. In Scotland, this is a problem that sits at their door because the current system clearly isn’t working. I’m a big fan of the return of the reserve league or something similar, think of the gate receipts and extra revenue clubs would get.

Lewis Mayo’s turned in a man of the match performance yesterday, keeping quiet £15 million worth of talent. Maybe, just maybe if Rangers had kept the boy on our books and given him a few first team opportunities he could have proved to Michael Beale he was good enough to make the grade. Instead, we have an injury prone John Souttar getting nutmegged from a long throw which lead to us conceding the only goal of the game.

I’ve spoken about what we could do moving forward from a Rangers perspective, but ultimately it’s up to the powers at be at the SFA and SPFL to pull their heads out of balancing the books to suit their own agenda and put some decent thought into how we can produce more talent as a country, creating a realistic pathway to bridge the gap between youth football and first team football and give young players a bigger platform to flourish.