For all the time spent on the training field and all of the minutes of action they receive at reserve and youth level, sometimes it is impossible to tell whether a player will be able to cope with the step up to senior football until they are thrown into the deep end.
Recent years have provided us with contrasting examples in this regard. It was evident from Jack Wilshere’s sashaying performances for the under-18s as a schoolboy that he possessed something special, then he stepped things up a little in his brief spell in the Reserves before progressing almost seamlessly to the first-team squad.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, on the other hand, would appear something of a world beater for the reserve and youth teams, due to his height and strength advantages over many of his opponents coupled with his sublime skills, but, when the time came for him to make an impact at senior level, he failed to do so either at Arsenal or out on loan and now finds himself somewhat out of favour at Ipswich.
One player who knows Emmanuel-Thomas very well is approaching a similarly decisive point in his development. Sanchez Watt has begun the season in sensational form, with seven goals in eight matches at Reserve level, and has been rewarded with a new contract and two Carling Cup call-ups.
However, the 20 year old still has a point to prove when he mixes with the big boys. His first loan spell, with Southend, was not exactly profitable and, although he helped Leeds earn promotion to the Championship in 2010, Watt, who also spent last season with the Elland Road side, saw his progress hampered by injury which somewhat restricted his impact during his second spell.
Now the time has come for a fourth loan spell and, despite his new deal, Watt knows that he will have to make something of an impact if he is to remain in Arsene Wenger’s thoughts. There have been calls for him to join a Premier League side for the rest of the campaign, but the reality is that Watt has unfinished business to attend to in the Championship before he can even contemplate making the step up.
His transition to the very top, if it is to be made, certainly won’t be as comfortable as Wilshere’s, who only required a six-month loan spell at Bolton to propel him into the Arsenal starting line-up, but Watt will be hoping that his career takes a different path to that of Emmanuel-Thomas, who turned out for Ipswich Reserves against their Arsenal counterparts recently.
What it does go to show, however, is that, for all the promise demonstrated in the comfortable surroundings of London Colney, it is what happens in the rough-and-tumble of senior football that is likely to dictate a player’s future. The gap between the two levels can be a daunting one and Watt will certainly be hoping that he does not fall through it.