Bravery, poise and technique - Farke's influence on City's academy ethos
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The easy option for Daniel Farke at Preston would have been to press Alex Tettey into emergency centre-back action again - the Norwich City head coach was brave enough to take a risk though.
Tettey's vast experience and defensive nous had been turned to last season in the Premier League during a defensive injury crisis but after the unfortunately timed injury blows for both Ben Gibson and Christoph Zimmermann, younger legs were turned to as Andrew Omobamidele made his first senior start at Preston on Good Friday.
The praise of both the Irish 18-year-old and right-back Bali Mumba, 19, but with some senior experience already under his belt, was yet another feather in the cap for the Canaries' academy system.
That conveyer belt of young talent has been well established in recent years, with the importance of 'focusing on the root rather than the fruit' spoken about by sporting director Stuart Webber, since his arrival four years ago brought renewed precedence for the academy.
Jamal Lewis was the first youngster to benefit, swiftly becoming established after recovering from injury midway through 2017-18. Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell followed during the early stages of 2018-19, with Aarons famously handed his first league start at Portman Road amid the intensity of derby day.
Ben Godfrey, fresh from loan success like Cantwell, would also become an important part of that successful campaign - all grasping the opportunity fully when it arrived and barely looking back. As Farke often says; he can take a youngster to the door, but it's up to the player to walk through it.
That influence of young blood has become a key narrative element of City's success under the coach they brought in from Borussia Dortmund II.
Adam Idah became the club's youngest ever hat-trick scorer when he demolished Preston in the FA Cup last January, a month shy of his 19th birthday.
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Josh Martin provided glimpses of his exciting creative talent with a goal and an assist during an eight-game stint in the team during the injury crisis of November and December, scoring a crucial equaliser during the 2-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Daniel Barden thoroughly impressed when Tim Krul and Michael McGovern were unavailable around the turn of the year and, as so often with the young players at Norwich, was swiftly rewarded with a new contract.
Tyrese Omotoye's prolific record at U23 level earned him chances prior to a January loan to Swindon, with the importance of the academy to City fans illustrated perfectly when the fortunate 2,000 fans inside Carrow Road in December roared 'YOUTH' and applauded as the striker maturely took the ball to the corner flag during injury-time of that win over Wednesday.
It may not be the most prevalent part of Webber and Farke's success but trust in youth is most certainly a crucial column that must continue if any degree of financial parity is to be achieved in the long-term dream of Premier League stability.
Mumba provides a good example. With Aarons returning from England U21 duty with a slight ankle knock, the summer signing from Sunderland was again able to press his claims to be in the mix as a potential right-back successor should one of the big boys cough up the kind of big-money bid which persuaded City to part with Godfrey and Lewis.
His attacking similarities to Aarons were obvious, being denied by a decent save from the Preston keeper and having a shout for a penalty turned away after being blocked as he turned to shoot in the first half. There was a harsh lesson awaiting in the game's dying embers though.
Mumba gave Brad Potts time to turn in the penalty area and with substitutes Marco Stiepermann and Oliver Skipp not reacting quickly enough to the danger either, the Preston midfielder's low shot deflected off Omobamidele legs and snuck inside the post, past an unsighted Tim Krul to equalise in the fifth minute of added time.
Swansea's loss at Birmingham later in the day and Brentford's home draw with Huddersfield on Saturday lunchtime meant that in the end, despite the injury and international issues which had dominated the build-up to the game at Preston, the leaders had edged another point clear of third to 15 with seven games to play.
It was a horrible way for a positive day to end but on reflection, the youngsters had played their part in an important draw which extended an unbeaten run to 11 matches.
Perhaps the most encouraging element of Omobamidele and Mumba's involvement though was how both seemed immediately comfortable in Farke's system, showing composure and technique in possession.
Newly-capped Ireland U21 international Omobamidele only played three fewer passes (40) than centre-back colleague Grant Hanley and had a pass completion rate of 80 per cent. Only four City players attempted more than Mumba's 47 passes and his accuracy was at 79pc.
Both are still at the beginning of their journeys, with Mumba having suffered an injury setback in November after impressing so much from the bench at left-back, providing the spark ahead of Stiepermann's crucial late winner against Swansea.
Their efforts on a testing day - when Farke was forced into four changes and both Hanley and Kenny McLean were playing their second 90 minutes inside 48 hours - spoke volumes about the passing ethos and attacking attitudes which the Canaries try to filter down from senior level into the academy ranks.
It may have ended in a draw but it really should have been an impressive win in the circumstances with the number of chances created, with Teemu Pukki in particular not quite able to capitalise - although by just a matter of inches with his effort which crashed against the underside of the crossbar.
In a couple of years we could well be looking back on that Good Friday at Preston in 2021 as the equivalent of Lewis' first start in the 2-0 win at Birmingham on Boxing Day 2017, of Aarons scoring in an impressive League Cup victory at Cardiff in September 2018 or when Cantwell set up Pukki's opener in a 2-1 win at Reading just 14 minutes into his league debut the following month.
Every young prospect can't make the grade but every academy player knows what Farke wants from them when he is able to provide those breakthrough opportunities.
Academy debuts under Farke: Jamal Lewis (19), Todd Cantwell (19), Max Aarons (18), Adam Idah (18), Josh Martin (18), Akin Famewo (21), Jordan Thomas (19), Bali Mumba (18), Daniel Barden (19), Tyrese Omotoye (18), Andrew Omobamidele (18)