Alex Scott’s remarkable strengths analysed with ‘big boys watching’ Bristol City teenager
In a season of just three home wins in 12 Championship games at Ashton Gate so far, and Bristol City flirting with the bottom six of the league, there are not a huge deal of bright points for Robins supporters this campaign.
But through the dark transitional times often rays of light appear at football clubs. For City, there are several as their youth players gain important playing time in the Championship this year.
Forced to play out of necessity at the end of the last season, as injuries decimated the senior first team, many were handed starts in the league when not ready but this year their talents are irrepressible.
"It’s difficult, I hope our younger players aren’t damaged by playing in a situation where they are exposed to these types of experiences. We are relying too heavily on young players, but we have to," explained manager Nigel Pearson after a home loss to Luton last April.
Now it is by choice that Pearson fields young prospects, with the injuries clearing up and for the most part City able to steer clear of being sucked into a relegation battle.
Although the West Country side are toiling on the grass at times this campaign, their squad does feature plenty of young players with Antoine Semenyo (21), Tommy Conway (19), Sam Bell (19), George Tanner (22), Ayman Benarous (18), Cam Pring (23), Ryley Towler (19) and Rob Atkinson (23) all impressing at times this season or last.
But the pick of the bunch is 18-year-old attacking midfielder Alex Scott, who has shone many times this season to date.
The England youth international is making good strides forward at club level and at the same time progressed from the U18s Three Lions set-up to U19s.
Regular first-team football has arrived with 13 starts in the Robins' 23 league games so far in 2021/22, coming off the bench in three others, and only eight other City players have appeared in the league more often. Pearson clearly trusts Scott, who is the youngest player to have ever played for former side Guernsey FC.
As if to highlight his abilities, a rare Jon Lansdown quote appeared when Bristol City announced the midfielder had inked a new four-year deal back in August, as the playmaker turned 18.
“Alex is a real talent and we’ve seen continued progress in his development since his arrival, so for him to commit his long-term future with us is fantastic for everyone," said the City chairman, who rarely comments on other players.
Indeed, he has developed.
From scoring a 30-minute perfect hat-trick on trial with City in 2019, after 23 games for Guernsey FC at 16 years old after being released by Southampton at the age of 12, it's been a continued upward trajectory since.
First via the Bristol City U18s very briefly, before then standing out for the U23s and then moving on to first team involvement, to scoring twice this season so far: against Nottingham Forest and netting the winner against Derby County.
An assist came against Reading, and, according to the Opta-stats-powered WhoScored.com website, only six players have played better than Scott for Bristol City this campaign at the halfway mark.
Scott has been promoted onto set-pieces now too and despite his tender years the youngster regularly takes corners as well as free-kicks from wide.
Squad ranking so far for Scott this season (per Opta stats):
• Most fouled per 90 minutes: 1st
• Shot-creating passes: 6th
Successful dribbles: 6th- Tackles per 90: 11th- Shots per 90: 9th- Interceptions per 90: 6th
"I should be surprised by his progress but I'm not", Guernsey FC boss Tony Vance told this writer earlier this year. Vance coached Scott many times with the Green Lions, who play at Step Four of the Non-League ladder.
"He's got all the right attributes in terms of nothing fazes him. He delivers at whatever level you play him at. We put him in as a very young 16-year-old at our level of football and then we couldn't leave him out of the team to be honest.
"The players were saying to us, 'you've got to pick him'."
Learning the game
Progression this season has continued via 968 minutes of Championship football, even playing in an unfamiliar role with a stint at right-wing-back of late.
The more natural attacking midfielder was one of few to draw praise from his manager following the loss to the Terriers at the weekend, despite playing wide right, although a central position - as he plays for the England youth sides - is sure to be nailed down in the future.
Scott glides across the pitch with the ball and the comparison has been made with Jack Grealish due to dribbling style, both being fouled often, and simply the way that both wear their socks. Hence the 'Guernsey Grealish' label.
"He's got tremendous balance when he moves," explains Vance. "He can float around the football pitch. He's looking like a no.10-type player but things can change.
"Certainly with his attributes that's where I'd suggest he's looking to play," his former manager explained.
A deeper midfield role came when England U18s faced Wales U18s last March and Scott caught the eye with his second-half performance, with Manchester City's Liam Delap also standing out in that game.
Scott, who also could have played for the Ireland youth teams, has moved on to Ian Foster's England U19s side, with seven caps at that level.
A 0-2 win in Sweden last month included Scott winning a penalty - converted by Spurs' Dane Scarlett - and setting up the second goal too as Chelsea's Levi Colwill netted from the Bristol City man's corner, marked a standout display.
Competing for a national place against the likes of Aston Villa's highly regarded young attacker Carney Chukwuemeka, Scott draws very favourable comparison.
Sources within City say that Scott is regarded as an "elite" talent who is not out of his depth at any level and who looks well suited to the Championship currently, with the talent to grow beyond that in the years ahead.
Hopefully the Robins can match the player's ambitions, with Premier League clubs scouting the player frequently and well aware that the Robins will likely sell if the right offer comes along, given their past summers and recent financial accounts.
"All the big boys are watching him," explained one senior person at City this week, with Scott expected to be one of the next exciting young players in a long line of Robins to go on and play in the English top tier.
Development and independence
But if Bristol City can get their act together and improve year on year, perhaps club and player can grow together. First-team football is proving the best way to learn the game for the former Isthmian League midfielder.
Scott himself explained earlier this season that he sees England captain Harry Kane as a role model (and that he grew up a Spurs fan as his dad is, though his brother supports Manchester United, leading to some banter).
The world class Kane learnt his trade via a long line of EFL club loans before breaking through at White Hart Lane, now the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
But Scott has not needed the loans of Academy Director Brian Tinnion whose contacts helped bring this gem of a young player to BS3. And such is his talent that it has been straight into the first-team set-up, playing ahead of senior options such as Kasey Palmer and Nahki Wells.
An adaptability to any situation is aided by what some coaches perceive as simply fantastic 'game intelligence'. Scott reads the play so well and knows just what is needed. A willingness to learn and improve every day is a fundamental too.
An inner confidence, allied to that, has perhaps helped deal with living away from his native Guernsey at a young age - not all young players thrive away from the island according to Guernsey boss Vance - especially given the effects of the pandemic over the last 18 months, and with travel to and from the Bailiwick restricted. (Something Steve Lansdown knows all too well.)
Father Noel has been over to watch Scott play, traveling from Guernsey this campaign but had to wait some 20 months, unfortunate to come over when Scott failed to make the side against Preston back in September, returning to Ashton Gate more successfully for the Blackburn draw and Stoke win recently.
A footballer's journey in the game can take many twists and turns but Scott is slowly heading for the summit.