Gary's grommets jetting for success

by John Davidson on May 28, 2012

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Alan Hansen famously said that "you can't win anything with kids", but obviously Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond disagrees and is following the Sir Alex Ferguson school of thought.

Van Egmond is assembling a virtual who's who of young Australia talent for the Jets for the 2012/2013 season. The former AIS coach has signed a series of Young Socceroos, ex-Joeys and Olyroos to create a very youthful-looking side that will take the field at Hunter Stadium.

Hansen made the iconic comment about youth back in 1995 when Ferguson had put together a very young Manchester United team boasting teenagers Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Nevilles. That Red Devils side went on to win the title and cup double in that season and install themselves as legends in front of the Old Trafford faithful.

‘Dutchy’ would clearly love to achieve similar heights with his "baby" Jets squad that boasts James Brown, Adam Taggart, Mark Birighitti, Ben Kantarovski, Conor Chapman, Scott Neville, Craig Goodwin, Josh Brillante, Jacob Pepper, James Virgili, Mitchell Oxborrow and Luke Remington. The Newcastle outfit has an enviable amount of players that have represented Australia at under-17, under-20 and under-23 levels, and will easily be the youngest line-up in the competition.

The influx of young blood comes as van Egmond overhauls the Jets - the likes of Jeremy Brockie, Kasey Wehrman, Tarek Elrich, Francis Jeffers, Ali Abbas, Byun Sung-hwan and Labinot Haliti have left or are leaving the club.

That in essence leaves 33-year old Michael Bridges, 30-year old Ryan Griffiths and 31-year old Tiago Calvano as the few older, experienced pros along with Jobe Wheelhouse, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Ben Kennedy and Ruben Zadkovich, in the Newcastle line team.

Van Egmond spent two years in charge of Australia's best young players at the AIS, before he re-joined the Jets in 2011, and has a keen eye for talent. He blooded young guns James Holland, Mark Bridge, Stuart Musalik and Jason Hoffman as he led Newcastle to the 2008 A-League grand final win over the Central Coast Mariners.

The former Socceroo is clearly a big believer in the power of young talent that he can mould to his way of thinking, as he seeks to implement a fast-paced, up-tempo passing and pressing philosophy. The Jets’ boss was also in the hunt to sign Gold Coast United gun Ben Halloran, who joined Brisbane Roar, and is reportedly in the mix for the services of Mariners prodigy Tom Rogic.

However, critics have pointed to the dismissal of Newcastle scout David Lowe, fan favourite Elrich and equal top-scorer Brockie as the signs are that the Jets are actually embarking on a cost-cutting exercise, buying young players because they can be snapped up cheaply. This follows club owner Nathan Tinkler’s fracas with FFA and his threat to hand back the license because of unsolved financial issues.

Cost-cutting or not, putting all your faith in youth is a bold play by van Egmond. There’s a big chance it could backfire. There is no doubt that the Jets have some very good young players - Brown and Kantarovski to name just two - but can they expected to perform week in and week out? Han Berger has previously railed against the inconsistency of young Aussie players in the A-League, can they prove him wrong?

Promoting youth is a worthwhile ploy, but how long will it take for the exercise to bear fruit? Will the Jets fans have enough patience to let the team build and grow if good results don't come early? Van Egmond's recruiting is not yet over, with the club looking for a senior striker or midfielder from overseas to boost the squad.

Surely his teenage charges will be fast and mobile, which is what he wants from his team, but is it wrong to expect a lot from a line-up so inexperienced and young?

We won't have our answer for another six months or so, but there is a lot riding on the Jets' transformation and it is more than just Dutchy’s coaching reputation.