Albion youngsters must embrace Premier League challenge - Rusk
Simon Rusk does not envisage Premier League football bringing too many changes to his under-23 side, but told his players to embrace the '˜tough' challenge of breaking into the first team.
The academy coach believes that the youth section is already set-up in such a professional way that top-flight football will not have too much of an effect on the youth sides - particularly his under-23s.
Former Sottish under-18 international Rusk joined Albion in 2012 from Crawley Town, where he was centre of excellence coach for a year after retiring at the end of the 2010/11 campaign.
He has had previous roles with the under-18s and under-21s in his five years at the club, before taking the role of under-23 coach.
Academy youngster Chris Walton, Rob Hunt, Sam Adekugbe and Ben White have all had Championship first-team experience this season, while Tom Cadman and goal-getter James Tilley were involved in the Football League Cup squad.
But with the first team stepping up into the top flight of English football next season, there are some fears that those players on the fringes could find their chances limited.
On the difference of levels, Rusk said: “It’s striking that balance. At the end of the day every first team manager up and down the country is judged on wins and losses, but we still have to create that environment of pressure and first-team football, but still put development first.
“It’s not first-team football and it’s not going to have that physicality of course not, but there are a lot of good things going for it.
“I think sometimes it gets a little bit of a day press, but you judge it as you see it.
“How we judge success as an academy is to what players get into our first team at the end of the day. It’s a very big task ahead as Chris and the recruitment side of the club have done that so well, but that’s the challenge we want.
“I spoke to the players earlier in the season and said that is what you want. You want the challenge of getting in a Premier League squad, it’s tough, but the platers have to push them to achieve that success. It’s tough, but anything worth having is tough and 23s football into first team is exactly that, that is the challenge and you have to embrace it.”
With such a vast step from the under-23s to playing the likes of World Cup and Champions League winners at Chelsea and the Manchester giants next season, some players could be loaned out to Championship outfits to attempt to bridge that gap.
And Rusk believes that has been a successful move for some of his current players having made productive loan moves to play Championship and League One or Two football.
He added: “Reverting back to the loan moves we have Chris Walton who has had a couple of really successful spells with Luton and latterly at Southend. Rob Hunt has been an Oldham and it was success for us that Chris wanted to keep Rob around and put pressure on the first team in the full-back area.
“That has been pleasing for us and as a whole that is what we have to aspire to carry on doing that and have players that can put pressure on Chris’ squad and he can turn to as an option. Hopefully, that can continue to evolve as we evolve as a club.
“I am sure as a club we are always evolving and looking to progress and hopefully the Premier League step over the next couple of seasons, if we stay there of course, I am sure that will evolve the club in all different areas.”