From the dressing room: Carl Baker

The Checkatrade Trophy has been portrayed by as a chance to provide youngsters with crucial experience.

Monday, 14th November 2016, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 5:14 pm
Carl Baker in action for Coventry two years ago against future MK Dons team-mate Dele Alli, right  now a Spurs midfielder and England international

However, the step from Academies to the first-team is actually a huge, huge leap.

So many kids possess rich potential and have been highly regarded through Academy ranks, yet then struggle in senior football.

I was on Liverpool’s books until the age of 16 and before me there were Jamie Cassidy and Ian Armstrong.

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Throughout their time in the youth set-up they were more highly regarded than Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen – everyone raved about them.

Yet when they joined the first-team environment they struggled, looking like little boys. They ended up filtering down the leagues.

First-team football is a lot more physical and a lot more real, the banter can be rough and mentally it is different.

A football club’s Academy is like being in school, you are involved in education with rules. Whereas the first-team is ruthless, similar to going out into the real world and getting a job.

A lot of youngsters don’t cope with it very well and fall away.

Mind you, kids often have to make a first-team impact straight away and hit the ground running, otherwise they are pushed out.

It’s a results business, managers do not have the time to give youngsters a chance and soon turn to established first-team players they can rely on.

If you were guaranteed your job for five seasons I am sure you would see a lot more kids coming through and given more time. Unfortunately you do well to be given five months in a job these days.

Still, during my Coventry City days I saw Callum Wilson, inset left, come through the ranks before joining Bournemouth for £3m.

While at MK Dons there was Dele Alli, now an England international with Spurs.

Dele is probably one of the best footballers I have ever played with. You would always get the odd fit lad 10-20 yards ahead of everyone else in running – but he would be 200-300 yards ahead.

Fitness-wise you knew he was a level above, he could run all day. Normally you get a player like that who isn’t the best on the ball – not Dele.

He is so skilful, tricky and calm on the ball and you could see he had everything, the all-round package.

I knew as soon as he got into the building at Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino saw the lad train he would be in Spurs’ team.

In contrast, Callum started really slow. You could see he was a good striker with pace and power but was a little raw and not the best in front of goal.

He couldn’t strike a ball with his left foot, he would be running round to get it onto his right.

Then he returned to training one summer and came back a totally different player, God knows what he had done.

He’s the most improved player over such a short space of time that I’ve seen in my life.

Technically he wasn’t the best player at the club by a long way, yet went from being one of the worst technically to the best.

I know it’s cheesy and an old cliché, but hard work pays off – and Callum has proven that more than anyone.