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JIM SPENCE: Dundee United youth focus is admirable – but continued progress demands experience

Dundee United youngster Ross Graham (left) has learned from playing alongside experienced stars like Charlie Mulgrew
Dundee United youngster Ross Graham (left) has learned from playing alongside experienced stars like Charlie Mulgrew

“You can’t win anything with kids,” is a sentence often thrown in Alan Hansen’s face, but Dundee United boss Jack Ross may have some sympathy with the former Liverpool defender as he begins building his squad.

Manchester United went on to win the Premier League with six players under the age of 23 who appeared in over 10 games in their 95/96 season but, since then, no other English Premier League side has equalled them.

In fairness, talents like Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and David Beckham in one team only come around once in a generation.

Tannadice may have seen 17 academy players pull on the first-team shirt last season, but it’s still asking a lot for young lads to carry the weight of fans’ expectations for an entire season.

Craig Moore became the youngest Dundee United player to start a competitive match when he faced Rangers at Ibrox last season

It’s also asking too much of the seasoned professionals at the club to assume responsibilities which, in the long run, can be detrimental to their own performances and the team’s results.

Experienced hands and a squad with a decent depth of serious playing time are needed to bring the best out of the emerging talent at Tannadice.

Precociousness and the gallus adventurism of youth are a bonus for supporters who enjoy home-reared skills, but it’s too much to expect senior pros to carry the extra load of mentoring if too many apprentices are being tutored at one time in the furnace of competition.

All athletes begin to feel the aches and pains which accompany top level competition by their mid-20s – and sometimes before then.

They need to look after their own game and physical and mental wellbeing.

Charlie Mulgrew is now 36 – and has priceless experience to share with Dundee United’s youth hopefuls

While most senior pros will enjoy the challenge and the kudos which accompanies helping a young team-mate make his way in the game, there’s also a need to ensure they aren’t being over-loaded with so much responsibility it reduces their own effectiveness.

I’m a big fan of the United approach of giving youth a chance, but it’ll get its best opportunity to grow and develop if it’s garnished by the addition of a few more quality and time-served professionals.

In fact, there’s now a reasonable argument for United reigning in the investment in their youth development sector.

The academy system is now up and running well, and producing a regular crop of promising youngsters.

Dundee United have spent a significant sum upgrading Gussie Park for their youth academy teams

But bringing through the next generation isn’t the only game in town.

No club will ever produce its entire requirement from within its own ranks.

Youngsters fall by the wayside, develop at different stages and sometimes fizzle out before becoming fully luminescent.

All clubs must scour and scout for ready-made talent or players who need only a bit of finessing as opposed to two or three years of further development, without any guarantee of the finished product meeting their required standard,

Dundee United are, I suspect, at that stage now, and for the medium-to-long-term health of the club, the requirement now is for players who are almost fully fledged for immediate action.

Tony Asghar reveals Dundee United summer transfer timeline

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