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OPINION: Jeff Stelling's rant was nonsense and a team of homegrown players could be Exeter City's Moneyball

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 23, 2014

By Simon Larkins

MattJay

Exeter City's Matt Jay, one of the talented under-18 players at the club - Picture:Pinnacle

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IT never rains, it pours. It is a phrase used when good or bad things don’t just happening a few at a time, but in large numbers all at once.

Depending on your view of rain, it tends to lean more on the side of bad than good.

And for City on Saturday it was certainly on the side of bad when the St James’s Park pitch was subject to a heavy downpour at around 1pm.

Having already had the Wycombe Wanderers match postponed on New Year’s Day, the rain and the calling off of the Morecambe match was a blow.

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Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale described it as a ‘real kick in the teeth’, from a cash-flow point of view.

And while it would have been less of a concern, they could have also done without Sky Sports Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling having a rant at how unfair the postponement was on the Morecambe fans.

“I’m not having a dig at Exeter,” said Stelling after he had done just that.

“Why is there not a cut-off time when clubs have got to have a pitch inspection? If there’s any doubt, call the thing off so travelling supporters don’t have to go.”

Now I’m a fan of Stelling, and was at least pleased to see him later on that day retract his rant by saying that City were a victim of freak conditions, but I am having a go at his suggestion.

It is an ill-thought idea to suggest that games should be called off before fans set off travelling if there is any doubt on the conditions.

Games are in doubt all the time during winter and weather is one of the most difficult things to successfully forecast – just ask Michael Fish.

It also takes roughly five hours to get from Morecambe to Exeter. Were City meant to call the match off at 10am, with the pitch perfectly playable, just on the off-chance they might get hit by a freak storm?

Say they were and other teams are allowed to do the same.

Is it not possible that some clubs might then, with injury problems and suspensions, use it as an excuse to call off a match for their own means?

The only solution really is a winter break, but even then storms can hit in April.

However, the weather and Stelling’s rant wasn’t the only topic of discussion at City last week.

The club last Thursday held a successful fans’ forum, in which more than 100 people turned up to hear Tisdale talk about the club’s vision for the future.

The City manager reiterated the club’s ethos of bringing through young players and said that he would like to field a team made up of fully homegrown players soon.

It was some months ago that Tisdale, when chatting with the local media at his usual Thursday press conference, referenced Moneyball – a film that follows the fortunes of baseball team the Oakland As and their battle to find a formula to compete with teams with greater financial resources than their own.

The City manager said the film, if transferred to football, could easily be about the Grecians – and it could.

Moneyball is based more around statistical analysis and how baseball undervalues certain skills so it doesn’t directly correlate. However, Oakland As and City’s search to find a way of winning games in an unbalanced financial field is the same.

City’s policy, and it has been for a good 10 years now, has been to invest in youth.

Simple economics will tell you that it will cost less if you put the time, effort and money into producing your own footballer than it would be if you went out and bought the ready made product.

The downside of this is, of course, time. It takes time to build the academy, it takes time to get the best players in at a young age and it takes time to develop those players into great footballers.

However, thankfully City started this process a while ago. They have already developed top players such as Dean Moxey, George Friend and Danny Seaborne. They are also currently attracting some of the best young players in the South West to their academy because of its growing reputation.

Five homegrown players are also now in the Exeter City starting XI, with many more on the bench and performing well in the under-21 and under-18 teams.

Therefore, you suspect in 18 months’ time it might be fitting to say: ‘When it come to producing their own players at City, I guess it never rains, it pours.’

And that is meant in a good way of course.

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