Onside: Middlesbrough graduates grasping loan opportunities – including Burgess at Hartlepool United


IT’S an academy famed and - as a fan - an academy that’s spoilt us rotten.

The Dave Parnaby talent nurturing machine, it appears, never halts.

PLAYING WELL: Christian Burgess in action against Northampton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

PLAYING WELL: Christian Burgess in action against Northampton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

And Boro have no doubt reaped the rewards on an unprecedented level over the years - both on the pitch and in the coffers when the time came to reluctantly cash in.

Downing, Johnson, Cattermole, Wheater, Bennett, Morrison. While their mates were still deliberating over university choices and cramming work in for A-levels, that lot were forcing their way into the first team reckoning of a Premier League club - all as teenagers.

The next generation have been knocking on the door; it’s slightly ajar but they can’t quite manage to force it open.

And this year, more than any other, those young, hungry players have got the action and game-time they are so desperately seeking - but they’ve done it elsewhere.

Luke Williams in action against Northampton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

Luke Williams in action against Northampton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

The loan market is one in which Boro have embraced this season - for outgoings more so than welcoming new faces.

For a young player making his way in the game, that temporary move, often down a level or two is a necessity - it’s a must. A toughening up period where the silky smooth promising teens find themselves on a collision course with the not so forgiving rough and tumble ball playing is not a priority-style stoppers.

Curtis Main buttered his bread in the lower-league world.

Luke Williams, Adam Reach, Cameron Park and Matty Dolan have this season had to do the same. Players who three years ago were on the brink of breaking through, established in the first team squad at least, with the exception of Dolan.

Despite the fall in grace, Boro are a club still brimming with young talent - yet Karanka has made it clear he won’t play the young’uns for the sake of it.

But being farmed out to the lower leagues doesn’t mean they won’t feature in his first-team thinking at some point. Those part-time moves elsewhere can in fact act as a springboard, catapulting players back into the reckoning of their parent club. Proof: Luke Williams.

And while goal-shy Boro didn’t hit the ever-starved of attention net yet again at Hillsborough last week - officially - I had the pleasure of watching Pools, where Williams was the star in his cameo for a month, shoot themselves back into play-off contention by battering those with the misfortune of propping up the football league, Torquay United.

Williams stole the show during his month at Pools, Matty Dolan was an ever-present in the engine room during his spell in League 2 earlier in the season.

But continuing to go about his business with class and solidity at the back is Christian Burgess.

The stylist centre half doesn’t come with the ‘typical’ past of an academy-product.

Brought through the ranks at Arsenal, he has been bred to play the game the right way, that’s clear.

But rather than immediately dropping down a level or two upon his release from the Gunners, he instead opted for academia - studying history at Birmingham University.

Boro gave Burgess a second chance and although he hasn’t had too many opportunities to show what he is capable of at the Riverside he has grasped the opportunity of the year-long loan deal at the Vic with both hands.

It’s what a loan deal should be all about.

On the half-dozen occasions I have watched Pools this season, Burgess has strutted through and looked a cut-above at that level.

I’m not the only one who’s been impressed.

“Christian Burgess has been a revelation since joining Pools on loan last summer,” enthused Richard Mennear, who covers Pools for the Mail.

“When he first arrived at the club it was clear he had a lot of natural ability but he has come on leaps and bounds and is now a commanding centre-half - strong in the tackle, powerful in the air and capable of scoring the odd goal.

“At the age of 22 now is the time for him to become a regular first-team footballer in order to progress his career.

“Hopefully that will be at The Vic but the likelihood is that Burgess will be back at the Boro come pre-season competing for a place in the starting XI at the Riverside.”

With the battle-bruised Boro defenders cueing up for a place in the physio’s room over the last few months, it’s slightly surprising Karanka hasn’t brought Burgess back down the A19. Not that the young man or Pools will be complaining. Game time week in, week out is much more beneficial than warming the bench as cover.

But the defender will have undoubtedly caught the eye of coaches at the Boro this season while he’s been away.

His contract is up on the summer and Burgess has got some good defenders to upheave at Boro.

But whether he forces his way up the pecking order at the Riverside with a contact extension or moves on, his year-long stint at Pools will have done him no harm whatsoever.

It’s brought him on as a footballer and given him the vital taste of life as a crucial first team member.

He’s got his head down, got on with the football and impressed - as has Richie Smallwood during his short stint over at high-flying Rotherham.

That’s what loan moves are all about.