Despite a fairly young squad and continuous faith in their youth policy, Crewe Alexandra once again did enough to survive in League One and will be hoping their young stars can push on this season. Under Steve Davis, they have a Crewe man who has guided the club nicely through the last four years.
Last Season: League One (20th)
Manager: Steve Davis
GKs: Ben Garratt, Paul Rachubka
DFs: Jon Guthrie, Harry Davis, George Ray, James Baillie, Perry Ng, Toby Mullarkey, Joe Kearns
MFs: Oliver Turton, Chris Atkinson, Bradden Inman, George Cooper, James Jones, Ryan Colclough, Joe Howell, Billy Bingham, Adam King
FWs: Lauri Dalla Valle, Callum Saunders, Fraser Murdoch, Marcus Haber, Andre Brown, Liam O’Neill
In: Billy Bingham (Dagenham & Redbridge), Adam King (Swansea City – Loan)
Out: Liam Nolan (Released), Vadaine Oliver (York City), Anthony Stewart (Wycombe Wanderers), Billy Waters (Cheltenham Town), Matt Tootle (Shrewsbury Town), Anthony Grant (Port Vale), Scott Shearer (Mansfield Town)
First Six: Port Vale (H), Scunthorpe United (A), Coventry City (A), Bury (H), Wigan Athletic (A), Swindon Town (H)
Likely Lineup: (4-3-3) Rachubka – Turton, Davis, Ray, Guthrie – Atkinson, Inman, Bingham – Dalla Valle, Murdoch, Haber
A word from…Dean Ashton
On growing up at Crewe When I first joined Crewe I obviously didn’t realise just what an amazing club it was in terms of youth development. Obviously having been through it and seeing the chances you get at other academies it made me realise what a special place it is and just how much emphasis they do put on youth team players. The main thing is giving young players a chance in the first team and you see that so rarely now with a lot of teams unfortunately.
On juggling the England youth sides with league football It was a totally different mindset for England. Playing for Crewe was great, especially at that young age playing in the Championship and League One, but then to go and represent your country, it was so special and a different mindset in terms of me feeling I had something to prove because obviously you had young lads from Manchester United and Chelsea and so on, so whenever I played for them I always felt like I had to prove myself.
On his departure In terms of leaving Crewe, I had such a good time and spent a good five years there but obviously it was always understandable that Crewe weren’t going to be a Premier League team, certainly not in the years that I was there, so I’d run my time at Crewe and it was time for me to move on. To be honest it was all down to Dario (Gradi) because he always told me he would only tell me if a club was genuinely interested if he and the club were happy with their interest, otherwise he wouldn’t say anything so Norwich was the first that I heard of. Dario felt it would be a great club to look at so I went to speak to them in due course and I then had the chance to also speak to Crystal Palace, but I decided on Norwich after going there and seeing the place.
On their current fortunes I always keep my eye on Crewe and my old clubs, but certainly Crewe, and I want to see them doing well and it is always interesting to see the latest young players coming through. Obviously they’ve had great players recently such as Nick Powell and Ashley Westwood. I just think that it’s always going to be like that as long as John Bowler is in charge and Dario is still a part of the club, you know, Steve Davis, Neil Baker, they’ve still got that great philosophy that it’s all about the youth team and any money they’ve had has always gone straight back into the academy, they haven’t gone and spent it on first team players. So I think they’re always going to fluctuate between leagues because they’re not going to have a consistent side, they’re always going to let the young lads come through and give them their chance.
It’s a slight worry to have that many regulars leaving the club, especially when it is your club captain Matt Tootle and arguably your best midfielder Anthony Grant, is going to be a big loss. Like I said though, that is the Crewe way and they won’t be frightened to put youth players in, they obviously know they have some players good enough in the youth set-up so you’ve got to be patient and trust what they’re doing because generally they get it right, producing good players you might never have heard of, but that is what is great about the club.
On the gaffer It was always going to be such a difficult job to take over, obviously with Dario and his legacy, but I think he’s done a fantastic job getting them promoted via the playoffs and taking them to Wembley twice as well. I think he’s done fantastically and he believes in the philosophy that is there which is what the club would want and I think he should be applauded for that. He’s still going to come under pressure because the fans still pay their money and they still want to see the team do well.
On how to succeed in the lower leagues I think you have to have a real togetherness when you’re down there, especially with a team like Crewe when you’re not going to win every game, you’ve still got to be very upbeat and I think we had that and that’s vital. We always felt like we were the underdogs going into games. People felt we played pretty football without having any bite in the team but it’s all about trying to believe in your teammates, believe in your philosophy and the rest will take care of itself so it’s all about having good character and in Crewe’s situation, having people who have grown up playing together in the youth set-up definitely helps with that.
The Offside Rule Podcast Prediction: As refreshing as it would be to see Crewe’s philosophy continue to pay off, they’ve lost some big names and so far failed to replace them. Last year they just survived, it doesn’t look like it will be any easier this time around.
Key Player: Harry Davis – At just 23, Davis has almost racked up 150 league appearances for Crewe, another academy product, it’s crucial that the club can hang on to Davis this summer amidst interest from elsewhere.
One to Watch: Lauri Dalla Valle – Former Liverpool academy player, Dalla Valle only got a handful of league goals last season, but a crucial one at Coventry helped keep Crewe up. Still young, he could really push on this season.