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When Is The Right Time To Give Youth A Chance?

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We take a look at the possibility of whether youth should be given a chance at Bolton, and when is the right time to do so

Michael Owen burst onto the scene with Liverpool after scoring freely in their youth sides
Michael Owen burst onto the scene with Liverpool after scoring freely in their youth sides
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

This season we've had plenty of clamour from various sections of the Bolton Wanderers support for youngsters Jamie Thomas and Alex Samizadeh to be promoted to the first-team due to their goalscoring exploits in the youth teams.

Alex Samizadeh has burst into the Bolton youth teams this season, scoring ten goals in seven games for the under-18s and scoring twice in three games for the under-21s - despite still only being 16. Thomas, who turns 19 in January, scored 15 goals for the under-18s last season - including four goals in one match against Blackburn Rovers - is now a regular for the under-21s, and was recently called up to Wales' under-19 squad.

Protestations for their promotion have been doused with cold water by manager Neil Lennon, who said Thomas in particular is not ready for first-team football.

This begs the question, how do you know when a youngster is ready for the big time? Here's a look at a few players that have defied their lack of years and been a success at the highest level of the game, and how they burst onto the scene.

Michael Owen

Owen was a revelation for Liverpool from the moment he made his debut in 1997, and swiftly became the club's number one striker. But prior to being called up to the first team he scored prolifically through the Liverpool ranks. As a 16-year-old Owen played for Liverpool's youth team - most of whom were 18 - and scored a hat-trick and extra-time winner in the quarter-final of the 1995/96 FA Youth Cup against holders Manchester United. He then scored another hat-trick in the semi-final against Crystal Palace, before scoring in the final as Liverpool defeated West Ham United.

On being called up to the first-team in May 1997 Owen scored on his debut at Wimbledon, then won the Premier League Golden Boot and PFA Young Player of the Year the following season - as an 18-year-old.

Owen's potential was obvious from a very young age as he represented England from Under-15 level upwards.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney joined his boyhood club Everton as a nine-year-old before making his first-team debut in spectacular style at 16. Rooney began his footballing life with Liverpool Schoolboys and scored 72 goals in one season, then played for Copplehouse boys' club, where his 99 goals in a season saw him snapped up by Everton. In 1995/96 he scored 114 goals in 29 games for the club's under-10 and under-11 sides and was playing in the under-19s side as a 15-year-old - scoring eight goals in eight games as they reached the FA Youth Cup final in 2002.

Rooney made his debut against Tottenham in August 2002, assisting a goal for Mark Pembridge as he became the club's second youngest player of all time - after Joe Royle. His first goals came as he scored a League Cup brace against Wrexham, before he announced himself on the Premier League with a stunning last minute strike to defeat Arsenal at Goodison Park.

James Milner

Milner became the second youngest player in Premier League history when he replaced Jason Wilcox in Leeds United's clash with West Ham United in November 2002 at the age of 16 years and 309 days. He then became the Premier League's youngest goalscorer when he netted for Leeds in a 2-1 win over Sunderland on Boxing Day 2002.

Milner joined Leeds' youth academy aged 10 after being spotted playing for Horsforth youth side Westbrook Juniors then joined the club as a trainee after leaving school. He excelled in the youth team while playing for England at under-15 and under-17 levels, helping the under-17s wn the 2002 Nationwide summer tournament against Italy, Czech Republic and Brazil.

Owen, Rooney and Milner all undoubtedly had great promise as they came through the ranks at their prospective clubs, and were adjudged by many to be mature beyond their years before they made their debuts as teenagers. It remains to be seen whether Thomas and Samizadeh have the maturity that would warrant but it goes without saying that if you're good enough, you're old enough - which all three of these players have demonstrated.

A wider problem for football is that managers often overlook youth players in favour of tried and tested, but tired, older professionals. But looking down the leagues there is evidence of teams bucking this trend. Championship Leeds are regularly fielding four young academy graduates - Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Sam Byram - in their first-team, while League Two side Portsmouth have fielded up to seven under-21 players in matches this season. More impressive is League One Walsall recently knocked Nottingham Forest out of the Capital One Cup with nine players under the age of 24.

With this in mind, and with the club yet again at the wrong end of the table after ten league games, is it time to give youth a chance at Bolton? I for one would rather see a promising youngster given a chance than see the club sign a washed up striker looking for one final payday, who we all know isn't going to score anyway.