AS Hearts prepare to integrate more youth academy graduates into their first team, a word of caution is offered by the wily Rudi Skacel.
“You definitely can’t put five or six youngsters in and think you’ll be fighting for the title,” explained the Czech midfielder, talking from experience.
Riccarton houses some of the finest young talent in Scotland, but Skacel is wary of promoting too many over the coming weeks and months. He suffered relegation to England’s League One with Southampton in 2009 after a similar plan to utilise youth went wrong on the south coast.
Hearts will dispense with several high earners at the end of the season and bolster their squad with academy pupils in an effort to reduce costs. The potential is clear, with teenagers like Jason Holt, Jordan Morton, Denis Prychynenko and Fraser Mullen already edging their feet inside the first-team dressing-room.
Skacel is keen to see them and others develop further and become major components of a successful Hearts side. But he warned the club not to expect the transition to be seamless.
“We have a few very good youngsters who hopefully have good futures ahead for both themselves and the club. But they need time,” said the 32-year-old. “Football isn’t about putting in 11 older players or 11 younger players. You need to find the right mix of experience, good players, fast players, young players. It’s very difficult to build up a good team. A lot of the youngsters have bright futures but you must take it step by step and work hard with them.
“You definitely can’t put five or six youngsters in and think everything will be okay. You have to put one or two in and slowly integrate them, because youngsters are always inconsistent.
“When I was at Southampton, for example, they were relegated when they tried to play too many youngsters, so I know from experience that you need a mix of kids, international players, middle aged players and experienced players. You see now Southampton are on a great run and have a lot of young boys — but they’re getting help.
“You need the right mix and a great dressing room to help the team. When I was a youngster I was lucky because I played for a big team in Slavia Prague. We had a lot of experience. Pavel Kuka played in the Bundesliga and for the national team and Jan Suchoparek played in the Euro 1996 final.
“We had three or four players like that who were international players and five or six of us played for the under-21s, so it was a great mix of experience and youth — which I think is the best way for success. But I am only a player and this is my opinion. I just hope Hearts are successful.
“It doesn’t matter if I say this is the best way because football, unfortunately, is about money. You can’t go for 20 consecutive games playing a group of youngsters. Yes, Hearts have good kids and if the club work hard with them and are careful with them then, hopefully, one day they will be big players for the club.”