Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What will become of the Likely Lads

"Just like the PSG first team qualified for the prestigious Champions League this season, the PSG U19 squad will also measure itself against the best in its on the continent," declared the club website today, after the draw was made for the group stage of the 2012/13 Next-Gen series.

You may have read about the competition, which pits the under-19 sides from many of Europe's top clubs against each other in a sort-of adolescent Champions League, and after a successful first year it is following the model pioneered by it's big brother and becoming as bloated as it can. PSG are one of a number of new competitors, and our under-19s have been plonked in a group with Manchester City, Juventus and Fenerbache.

PSG's youth teams have enjoyed plenty of success in recent years, and indeed our current under-19s reached the final of the national cup - a competition the club won in 2010 and 2011 - again this season, though they failed to make it a hat-trick of triumphs as they were beaten 3-2 by Auxerre. Playing teams from other countries will no doubt aid the development of these young players, but I worry whether we'll see any of them in the first team.

Let's take the example of Neeskens Kebano and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, probably the club's most highly-rated young talents. These likely lads - our Pete Doherty and Carl Barat if you like, only with less guitars and no drugs - broke through in 2010/11, and signed their first professional deals last summer. But the influx of new signings meant both have had limited opportunities to impress this season: Bahebeck featured in 16 games, mainly as a substitute in the Europa League, but hasn't been seen on the pitch since January, while Kebano was called upon just twice. 

Their cause was probably not helped by the change of manager: Antoine Kombouare, the man who handed the dynamic duo their debuts, was always going to be more inclined to give them a chance than Carlo Ancelotti, who I doubt knew much about them before arriving at the Parc-des-Princes in January. And with more new signings on the way both would probably benefit from loan moves. Bahebeck was reportedly courted by Nice, Ajaccio, Valenciennes and Evian TG during the January transfer window, but chose to remain in Paris. Having spent six months kicking his heels in the reserves one imagines he'll be more keen to get away this summer. Defender Loick Landre, another who agreed his first pro contract in the summer, has been at Ligue 2 side Clermont since Christmas.

Knowing when to introduce young players is a tricky business, but I hope that - be it this coming season or the next - Bahebeck, Kebano and Landre will be involved in the first-team squad. QSI gave it the big one about wanting to unearth the new Messi when they first took over, but all that seems to have been side-lined in the pursuit of players who will boost the club's short-term hopes in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. It's inevitable that more big-names will arrive, but unless we can integrate some home-grown players too our participation in the Next Generation Series will be little more than a vanity project.


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