Football Post, 24Jun2006
Transcribed from the Football Post by carole:
“Time to shine” clarion call to the Stags:
Alex John–Baptiste tells MATT HALFPENNY that now is the time for Mansfield's crop of talented youngsters to deliver the goods at Field Mill……
ALEX John-Baptiste knows from personal experience that it is not easy for raw teenagers to be thrust into League Two football and perform straight away.
He may still be only 20, but the central defender knows that carving a career as a professional footballer is a big challenge for any youngster, however promising.
For while many other players of his age are only just breaking into a Football League side, John-Baptiste starts his fifth season at Mansfield in 2006-2007.
He made his senior debut while still a trainee in the 2002-2003 season and went on to make three other appearances before the end of that campaign.
During that time, he has come to appreciate that there is nowhere to hide out on the field – and that you have to learn quickly if you are going to survive. But he knows that becoming “street wise” does not happen overnight. Even though players have to conquer a steep learning curve just to cut it, they do have to be given some leeway.
Young players are going to make mistakes and only from erring are they going to learn. Last season Mansfield were a very young side and at times they had very little in the way of experienced heads to give them guidance.
At Bury in the penultimate game for instance, no other player aside from skipper Richie Barker was over 23. For the likes of Stephen Dawson, Jonathan D'Laryea, Giles Coke and others, last season was their first taste of regular action in the Football League. It was their chance to establish themselves at senior level and realise just what is required to make a success of it.
The Stags' form was sporadic, with periods of promise sandwiched in between difficult times where the team found it hard to register points.
But John-Baptiste believes that his team-mates cannot hide behind the excuse of being ones for the future forever. He insists the honeymoon period should now be over and that the time to deliver is now.
Next season, according to the former All Saints School, Mansfield pupil, must see the young players start to make their mark in League Two.
“Sometimes on the coach to matches we have taken the mickey out of Richie (Barker) for being an old man because of how young the squad is,” he said. “But now the lads have had a year at this level, it's important that people start stepping up. You can only carry the “promising youngsters” tag for so long and then you have to stand up and be counted. I want to see that from us next season.
Although the future of Mansfield's out-of-contract players have still to be confirmed, boss Peter Shirtliff has said that he is hopeful that all of those offered a deal – Simon Brown, Giles Coke, Gareth Jelleyman, Jason White, Chris Beardsley, Callum Lloyd, Jon–Olav Hjelde – will sign again.
John-Baptiste said: “It has been hard for some to adapt, but they have managed to do it and have picked up some good experience. I'm hoping that we can really perform next season and be up there challenging for promotion. The players we have at the club are good ones and hopeful they'll be some more additions to the squad. Now they have to prove to the boss that they are up to the task week in and week out because if the current players aren't up to the job then he will change it.”
As most Stags fans will know, John-Baptiste is entering the final 12 months of what could well be his last contract for the Stags. With a string of impressive performances under his belt, he is almost certain to feel that it is time to fly the nest and test himself at a higher level.
Like Liam Lawrence before him, John-Baptiste has stayed loyal to the club that has brought him through from a young age but is likely now to be champing at the bit to follow in his former team-mate's footsteps.
Until then, though, Mansfield's prized asset will want to help Shirtliff create a Mansfield team that can be a force to be reckoned with. To that, he knows he is going to have to rely on those youngsters around him to make it happen.
A happy swansong, if he is to leave, would be a fitting conclusion to John-Baptiste's spell at Field Mill.
But every story does not have a fairytale ending and there is a lot of hard work to be put in by everyone at the club for such a dream to become reality.
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