A blog on the developing connections between Wrexham and the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League.
Last weekend Wrexham welcomed English Premier League side Stoke City to the Glyndwr University Racecourse to complete the teams pre-season campaign with a high-profile fixture. Stoke arrived with strong Welsh representation in their management team, but for Wrexham, the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League was well represented in their squad. Over the last few weeks, Steve Tomassen, Anthony Stephens, Leon Clowes and Nick Rushton have all featured for Andy Morrell’s side, and all have benefited from gaining senior football experience in the domestic top-flight. The importance of using the Welsh Premier League as a development tool for young players has not been lost on Morrell as he prepares his side for another promotion challenge, and the benefits attached will no doubt lead to a number of other players sampling the national league as they start out on their professional football careers.
Andy Morrell is well-aware of the benefits attached to bringing youth players into the senior team, and the player-manager acknowledges the part that the Welsh Premier League can play in promoting this ideal. “Part of our plan is to get these lads, and there are some good players there, if we can, in our first team,” said Morrell during the summer. “If that means having a year out in the Welsh Premier League, playing in some men’s football and finding out what it is like to get three points on a Saturday when it’s someone’s job on the line then that is what we will do. It’s completely different to kids football and it has worked, you can see how Anthony Stephens and Steve Tomassen have come back, and Nick Rushton, it has worked for them and we will be doing it again with a couple of others because it would be great for them to get out and get some experience. I think it is a plan that works and we will be looking to get them out into the Welsh Premier League”.
A stigma of negativity is invariably attached to the decision to loan players out to clubs at a lower-level, but approaching such a move with the right attitude can help a young player progress. “I really enjoyed it,” said defender Anthony Stephens on his return to the club from Welsh Cup winners Prestatyn Town. “It had its ups and downs but it ended on a big high with winning the Welsh Cup. I have got nothing but praise and good things to say about Prestatyn, they took me on, progressed me and I feel they made me a better player. Andy Morrell said I have come on since I have been at Prestatyn and playing competitive football so it was a good thing for me going there.” But while Stephens and his club have benefited from the move, the influx of professional players also has obvious benefits to the quality of the Welsh Premier League product. With games televised live on a weekly basis, there is no hiding from the flaws that leave the league open to criticism, but with better players playing in the league on a regular basis, the more attractive the product becomes.
Leon Clowes played for Airbus UK Broughton on-loan during the 2010-2011 season. The Wingmakers have emerged as one of the most progressive clubs in the Welsh Premier League, and competed well in the UEFA Europa League last month. Mark Creighton is a well-respected judge of central defenders, and Creighton is another who acknowledges the benefits of players gaining senior football experience at a young age. “I’ve always felt Leon has exactly the right attributes for a centre half,” said Creighton. “He reads the game well, he’s strong, he’s quick and brave and he’s good in the tackle. He’s got a bit of everything and he just needs to get a run of games. I’m sure he will be consistent when he does because he’s an old-fashioned type of defender who, even if his game is not going for him, can do the horrible side of the game and do it very well. I’m pleased Leon took his chance at the end of last season because it backed up what I’ve said about him for a long time.”
Like Morrell, Creighton is another senior figure at the club who appreciates the importance of developing young talent. “The young lads who have signed on again are potentially very good players and hopefully they are the future of this club,” he added. “There comes a time when everyone has to be given a chance and maybe now is their time. It’s down to them because I’m sure they will be given a chance in pre-season and they have to lay down a marker. Steve Tomassen and Anthony Stephens have had season-long loans in the Welsh Premier League and played a lot of football so hopefully they will be returning with quite a bit of confidence, and rightly so because they have proved they can do it. It’s now just a case of doing it at Conference level.” Creighton is right to talk about confidence too, Anthony Stephens returns to the Racecourse with a Welsh Cup winners medal, and the belief that he can add a league championship medal to his list of honours this season.
But while the Welsh Premier League connections referred to in this article centre around the positive steps of progress being made in a young players professional career, building relationships with Welsh Premier League clubs can also have benefits for those not fortunate enough to make it in the professional game. With only a small percentage of young players making it into the senior side, the Welsh Premier League has emerged in recent seasons as an attractive alternative for young players who find themselves released from their professional clubs. With decent wages on offer at the majority of the twelve clubs, the possibility of qualifying for European football and regular live television coverage, the Welsh Premier League has more to offer than other leagues of a similar standard. The live coverage being particularly important as a showcasing opportunity for those young players keen to return to the professional game.
While Wrexham are not the first professional club to loan players in to Welsh Premier League clubs, they are the first to do it consistently, and also the first to use the league as an important part of their youth development strategy. The mutual benefits mean that this arrangement is likely to continue for a number of years to come, and its success should encourage other clubs to use the potential of the domestic league to their advantage. For clubs in the Welsh Premier League, such arrangements will ensure better quality players arrive, and on wages subsidised by the parent club. The potential attached to building links between professional clubs and clubs from the Welsh Premier League cannot be underestimated, and Wrexham’s belief in the league is quickly becoming a model for others to follow.
This blog was also featured in the official match programme of Wrexham FC for the friendly against Stoke City on Sunday, 4th August 2013.