Alex Scott: The making of Bristol City’s ‘Guernsey Grealish’ | OneFootball

Alex Scott: The making of Bristol City’s ‘Guernsey Grealish’

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Football League World

When Alex Scott was replaced by Joe Williams 77 minutes into the 2021/22 season opener against Blackpool there was a feeling around Ashton Gate that the home support might’ve just had their first taste of something special.

The fans – back in the Bs3 stadium for the first time since the pandemic – showered Scott with ongoing renditions of ‘One of our own’ as he made his way around the edge of the pitch past the far end of the Dolman, Section 82, the South Stand, and part of the Lansdown on his way to the bench.

But though he has become arguably the Robins’ brightest current prospect, there can be no doubt where City’s Guernsey Grealish learned his trade.

“Living on an island and being involved in football, you tend to know everyone, that’s the way it is,” says Guernsey FC boss Tony Vance, who spoke with me earlier in the season.

It’s been far more than a decade now since Vance, who has played a key part in Scott’s development, first crossed paths with City’s number 36.

“Alex has always shown talent,” he continues. “I remember him at five, six, seven years old. He was a tiny lad then but he looked like he had some talent. As do quite a few players on the island, it’s a bit of an untouched market.”

In the eyes of Vance, who has led Guernsey FC since their formation in 2011 and was the Guernsey FA’s representative manager before that, the island is both a blessing and a curse.

“I always talk about the water around us being like a moat almost,” he explains. “We’re stuck on our own little rock but that moat also protects us a little bit as well.

“It causes some problems in terms of exposure if you’ve got some talent because you don’t get to showcase it too much but it also protects us.

“From the point of view of Guernsey FC manager, I know that Alex Scott or any player that comes through – and we work with lots of players on the pathway that we have – is probably always going to be able to play for Guernsey FC because invariably people wouldn’t know about them.”

The Green Lions play in the Isthmian South Central Division – step four on the non-league pyramid system and the eighth tier of English football – and that allows players to put themselves in the shop window by showcasing their talents week in, week out in the UK.

But by the time Scott became the club’s youngest ever senior player at the age of 16, he’d already spent four years in the Southampton academy.

Released at the age of 12, a brief spell with AFC Bournemouth and then a break from the game followed before he returned to Guernsey FC.

“He had a little bit of exposure,” says Vance. “But the difference with him as opposed to the other kids at Southampton was that he had to do it once a week or once a month or during school holidays whereas the Southampton-based kids were doing it every day.

“His exposure and his opportunities were limited to just those sporadic occasions but he still did well. He was still getting a good level of coaching and match experience every now and then that other youngsters in Guernsey weren’t getting.”

“They didn’t take him on so he was back at Guernsey and in our system. Having that experience from Southampton certainly helped him, there is no doubt about it. It’s definitely their loss and Bristol City’s gain now.”

Back with the Green Lions, Scott would have to wait until he turned 16 before he could feature for the senior side but he was integrated with the group ahead of time because it was obvious that he was going to thrive.

“The thing with Alex is whatever situation he’s been put in, he’s stepped up,” adds Vance.

“When he joined training with the lads, it was obvious he was good, it was obvious he could compete at that level. The players, they’re not silly, they could see what a talent he was.

“The standard that you always tend to do with youngsters is to bed them in, dip their toes in the water. When he got into the squad, we were doing that with substitute appearances and every time it was obvious that he had to start because he was just better than anyone else. Even the players were saying he had to start.

“He broke through from being a substitute to a starter and then the next step was, through my contacts with Bristol City, getting him over there and them having a look at him.

“They had a look through some of our games and then they took him to training. He stepped up to that no problem, had a trial, and scored a hat-trick in the first half – left-foot, right-foot, header – stepped up to that as well.

“It continued when they signed him to the academy. He was in the U18s, then they moved him to the U23s, then they moved him to train with the first team, now he is in the first team. First team on the bench, first team starter.

“Every stage that I’ve witnessed, he’s pushed on. It is fantastic.”

That quality highlighted by Vance – stepping up to every challenge he has faced – has been evident over in his emergence at Ashton Gate and helped make 2021 a seminal year for Scott.

For most of us, turning 18 is a landmark moment but for him, it was likely just one of many remarkable milestones over the past 12 months.

Last February saw him make a senior matchday squad for the first time, while March brought a call up to the England U18s, April his first-team debut, and May his first start.

On the 8th of August, he got his first taste of a rocking Ashton Gate in the 1-1 draw against Blackpool, while on the 17th, he bagged his first assist – a delicious disguised pass to feed Andi Weimann in the 3-2 win over Reading.

Four days later, Scott turned 18 and penned a new four-year deal with the Robins on the same day; the perfect birthday present.

His first professional goal followed in October – a smart first time finish with his right foot in the 2-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest – before, in December, he netted his first matchwinner by lashing a bobbling ball past Derby County goalkeeper Ryan Allsop from the edge of the box with his left.

Saturday marked yet another landmark for the teenager as he started a Severnside derby for the first time, helping the Robins to claim a 3-2 victory over Cardiff City at Ashton Gate.

An injury to Andy King in that match saw him drop into holding midfield alongside Han-Noah Massengo and he flourished, pulling the strings in the second half as the home side’s forwards ran riot.

On Tuesday night, that duo started in central midfield once again and though his side fell to an undeserved 2-1 defeat, Scott was the best player on the pitch.

The faith put in him by Pearson at Kenilworth Road was the latest in a string of decisions that illustrate what a trusted player he has become already.

In the City manager’s own words, Scott is “a very intelligent footballer” and one with “a good game understanding”.

Those traits inform his style of play – the comfort on the ball, vision, range of passing, smart movement, and winning of fouls in useful areas (only 11 players have been fouled more often in the Championship this term) – and are part of the reason he’s drawn comparisons to England’s Jack Grealish.

Scott’s floppy hair, low socks, and small shinpads have contributed, as well, of course, while the two share a burning confidence in their own ability.

“He’s quiet,” says Vance when asked what sort of character the 18-year-old is. “He gets on with everyone, he’s a really good lad.

“The one thing with Alex is that he’s very determined and very driven but nothing phases him. I wouldn’t say at all he’s arrogant in any way whatsoever but he’s very confident, which is good. But he doesn’t portray that in any other way than with his feet.

“A really nice lad, who wants to learn and isn’t phased. I chat to Brian Tinnion (City’s Academy Director) quite regularly about him and he says the same thing, which he finds really impressive.

“They chucked him in for England and that didn’t phase him. In fact, he came on against Wales and was the best player on the pitch. Everyone wants to be like that and talks a good game but he just does it with his feet.”

But did Vance expect to see Scott thrive so quickly? Yes and no.

“I’m not surprised that he’s managed to step up because as I’ve said I’ve seen it at every stage of his career but in terms of how quickly he seems to be warranting a starting place in the City side, it’s impressive to be fair.

“So I’m pleasantly surprised but in a funny kind of way not, if that makes sense.”

In the eyes of the Guernsey boss, Scott’s exposure to senior football from the age of 16 has been a key factor in his rise through the ranks in Bs3.

He explains: “I’ve watched U18s and U23s football and it is just all very safe, isn’t it. It’s all very easy. You make a mistake and while it might cost a goal, it doesn’t actually mean that much.

“Now, with us in non-league football, straight away he knew that if he lost the ball it was going to hurt us – particularly us as we’re always trying to get a result rather than being guaranteed one.

“When you’ve got on a plane at six o’clock in the morning and travelled all day and you’ve lost the ball and you’ve come away with nothing, it’s frustrating.

“By being exposed to that at 16 rather than safe, comfortable academy football, it really develops you fast. Alex talks about it and how much it helped him.

“You add in the off-the-field stuff, like the fact you’ve got to get on a plane to travel for every game, which not many teams do. You learn how to look after yourself and travel. You’re stuck on a coach until you get to play a game.

“He had that in abundance from 16 at a ruthless level and that absolutely helped his development to then go into the Championship with the hustle and bustle.

“Nothing fazes him either. When I last saw him he’d boosted, he’s a lot bigger now. He rides a tackle well and gets fouls very well.

“We had the same with Cam Pring, who came to us. I remember him turning up and after the game, he was absolutely shattered and battered. He just sort of said ‘wow, this is unbelievably different’. You’re not talking about the level of football, it isn’t about that, it’s the sheer fact of what is required in comparison to his academy football.

“It made a big difference to Cam and Alex has been lucky to have that first hand.”

A phenomenal 12 months could be capped in style tonight with a win in the 2021 Betway Channel Islands Sports Personality of The Year awards, where Scott is on the four-strong shortlist for the main award.

The 18-year-old acknowledges that he and the other nominees are role models to the younger kids in Guernsey, telling BBC Radio Bristol on Monday that “it’s important we set a good example for them so they can be what we are now.”

We shouldn’t underestimate what Scott has achieved already but this is, of course, just the start of the journey but it’s a journey that could lead him right at the top of English football and it is understood that scouts from the Premier League have been watching.

“He’s certainly the right type of player (to go far),” says Vance. “He’s the modern type of player with the characteristics that he possesses.

“He’s absolutely got every chance and clearly Bristol City see that in the same manner.

“When you’ve got England U18, England U19 on your CV, it can only help you but again Guernsey people are very different in some ways. He just takes it in his stride. Matt Le Tissier was the same – I’m not making any comparisons there by the way – but it is just the mentality.

“He’s got a real chance and I think Bristol City have got an absolute gem on their hands.”

That fact is not lost on his current coaches. Assistant boss Curtis Fleming hailed his “quality” in a post-match press conference earlier this season, adding: “He’s going to be a huge part of the future at Bristol City.”

Pearson has predicted big things for the teenager as well, including playing for England one day, but was pragmatic when asked whether he will be a key part of the current project being built at Ashton Gate.

“I hope so,” the City boss replied. “Over a sustained period.

“Of course, we are also aware of our financial situation so I would imagine that the more accomplished he becomes, possibly the more difficult it is to hold onto a talent like that.”

To the Ashton Gate support, it will seem far too early to be talking about a potential departure. Indeed, they’ll be hoping that their first glimpse of him in the flesh – those 77 minutes against Blackpool in the 2021/22 Championship opener – can be the start of a long and fruitful love affair between Scott and the Robins faithful.

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