The Walsall manager has seen his mentors build good teams. Now, he tells Ian Clarkson he wants to do it himself...
Paul Merson has always admired George Graham's managerial skills, but he doesn't want to follow-in his Elland Road footsteps.
According to Walsall's affable manager, Graham built the foundations for the Leeds United team that reached the semi-finals of the Champions' League in 2001, but wasn't there to bask in the glory.
David O'Leary was firmly ensconced in the hot-seat by that time and while he did an excellent job, the building blocks were laid by Graham.
Merson is endeavouring to build a Walsall dynasty of his own and fielded five teenagers in last week's 3-2 defeat at Port Vale.
Anthony Gerrard, Simon Gillett, John Ruddy, Daniel Fox and, most impressively of all, Ishmel Demontagnac all started at Vale Park and look set to form the bedrock of Walsall's promotion bid this term.
If you also throw England Under-19 international Matty Fryatt into the melting pot, then it is clear Merson is fast becoming the Nick Knight of the footballing world with his ability to nurture young talent.
But that comes at a price; parity in the wins, draws and losses columns after a dozen games proves there is a lot of inconsistency with his squad.
Merson is philosophical enough to admit that this admirable policy could prove to be his downfall despite benefiting Walsall on a longterm basis.
"There have been a lot of kids break through since I have been in charge, so in three years' time, when someone else is probably sitting in the manager's chair, they will be happy," he said.
"It is like the George Graham scenario at Leeds with David O'Leary. George built the team and brought the kids through and then David took over and got the best out of them.
"However, I have got no problem with that, as I knew the score with the budget when I took over. I don't sit there moaning, as I quite enjoy bringing young players through."
However, Merson has voiced concern about the expectation levels being loaded on the young shoulders of Demontagnac.
The 17-year-old Londoner was arguably the best player on view during his debut last week and was the one p o s i --tive on a disapp o i n t i n g day for Walsall.
Merson will keep faith with the mercurial youngster and hand him his home debut against MK Dons tomorrow, but says it could all turn pear-shaped.
"Ishmel did very well last week, but he is a 17-year-old kid from the youth team and I am concerned for him on Saturday," a worried Merson said. "It is difficult because there is so much expectation on Ishmel's shoulders. He could be brilliant and fans will have high expectations but, if he starts making mistakes at home and supporters become frustrated, then confidence will soon drain out of him.
"He was the best player on the pitch last Saturday and he deserves his chance. However, he undertook an endurance test with the rest of the young lads and his levels are as bad as anyone's, so the best we can hope for at present is an hour."
Merson spared Demontagnac the video nasty of Walsall's defensive horror show at Vale Park but the rest of the first-team squad winced through the 90-minute film on Monday morning.
The disparity between the defensive performance against Brentford four days previously and the abject offering at Port Vale was frightening.
The Saddlers will need to be on top form to rein in Izale McLeod and ex-Saddlers youngster Clive Platt, who represent a stern test at this level. Nevertheless, whatever Walsall back-line turns up tomorrow, Merson is adamant he won't be castigating them in his post-match briefing.
He said: "The goals we conceded at Port Vale were frustrating, but they aren't doing it on purpose.
"Players aren't on £30,000 a week, so you can't have a go at them in that way. If players give their all and it isn't good enough, then what can you do? They are not Dennis Begkamp.
"We had a big meeting on Monday, though and during 11 out of the 12 games we have played this season, we have been either winning or drawing at half-time.
"The way we play football means we should go on and win games because when the match opens up, we should come into our own."