In the 69th minute on Saturday, Barnsley hit a diagonal ball from deep in their own half, 50 yards from left to right. Joel Bagan was nowhere to be found and despite James Collins’ best efforts to track back, Toby Sibbick was through on goal and struck across Dillon Phillips to equalise.
Now had that been right to left and Perry Ng was the guilty party, I’m sure he would have still been held accountable, but I doubt he would have had people writing him off. This is what Bagan and all the other academy graduates are up against this season.
The problem is that these players require patience from a club that has very little.
I guess there are plenty of reasons for that. This is an era where the club have often adopted a revolving door policy for signings. Especially during the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Russell Slade eras, players would come and go, before barely registering. There are also very high stakes in the ultra-competitive Championship, where individual mistakes can lead to dropped points and could be the difference between making the top six or narrowly missing out.
As far back as Dave Jones, mistakes from young players were not tolerated. Adam Matthews, the Bagan of his day, was slaughtered by Jones for perceived errors and Matthews couldn’t wait to leave in the end.
Cardiff fans have been crying out for academy graduates for years, but now they’re starting to filter through, they help need to help looking after them. In the social media age, it’s a race to be the first person to write someone off as shit, but young players will make mistakes. They’re learning on the job, so it’s inevitable. You can either get behind them or frighten them to death. It’s make or break time.
In some respects, I don’t envy Bagan’s lot. Left back, or left wing back, used to be a position of strength. With Joe Bennett, Greg Cunningham and Bagan, there was an abundance of riches. Bennett and Cunningham were keeping Bagan out of the picture, but now he’s very much on his own. Yes, you could crowbar Ryan Giles, Joe Ralls or Ciaron Brown in there, but as Leandro Bacuna will attest, playing out of position does very little for your reputation.
In minutes, Bagan has only played the equivalent of about six senior games for Cardiff. He has not had the immediate impact that Ng and Tom Sang made on the opposite flank, but his potential is evident. He is also a bit more tentative and looked rather nervy during the opening exchanges on Saturday, but that is natural in front of a big crowd, after 18 months without supporters.
Bagan was unlucky last season that he dislocated a shoulder at a time when he would have enjoyed a run of games through to the end of the season. Shoulders also have a tendency to pop back out again, so it would be understandable if that is also at the back of his mind.
A Championship season is a slog and Bagan would have benefitted from both the support and competition of another player in his position. The truth is that we do not yet know if he is up to the task yet, but he deserves the time, support and a fair crack of the whip.
The same goes for Rubin Colwill, Kieron Evans, Sam Bowen and Isaak Davies. If you don’t water your plants, they won’t grow, so if you don’t intend to bring your watering can to games, is there any point in even having an academy?