COLUMN: A rough start to life in men's football for Rowley so the job now is to rebuild his confidence
After suffering two relegations before his 19th birthday, Joe Rowley could be forgiven for thinking professional football is a bit rubbish really.
Of course, he won’t, he’s like the vast majority of youngsters who eat, sleep and breathe the sport and just want to play.
But Rowley’s introduction to life in the men’s game has hardly been ideal.
He was thrown in at the tail end of the doomed 2016/17 campaign by Gary Caldwell, who had plucked him from the youth team having spotted real potential.
Rowley impressed in a run of seven games, earning a number of Man of the Match awards and even grabbing a winner against Port Vale.
Chesterfield’s drop into League Two was always likely to give the youngster a chance to play lots of football and a chance to shine.
Sadly, both his own fate and that of a club on an unstoppable slide conspired against him.
An awkward fall at Complexo Desportivo de Vila Real de Santo Antonio in a pre-season friendly against Middlesbrough ruled him out of the first two months of the 2017/18 campaign.
By the time Rowley was fit to return to the game, Chesterfield were in another crisis, Caldwell had gone and Jack Lester was the new Spireites boss.
If Rowley wanted football, he got it – lots of it and perhaps, looking back, too much of it.
From his first league game back against Lincoln on 7th October until the Stevenage game at the end of January, the teenager missed just 48 minutes of League Two football.
It was a relentless period, in which he mostly had to plough a furrow down the right wing – a position some don’t feel is his best.
Needs must, however. The Spireites were bereft of wingers and as the bleak mid-winter injury crisis set in, bereft of bodies in general.
Rowley’s ability on the ball and his aerial competitiveness made him a player who could largely be trusted, despite his tender years.
So much game time will have given Rowley experience upon which he can build a career.
He was put in difficult situations that forge character.
It did, quite visibly, take a toll on him though.
There were times towards the end of a run of 24 consecutive league starts, that he looked drained of his spark.
Once or twice the youngster seemed to be struggling to sprint, even early in games.
His season, like his club’s fortunes, spiralled downwards.
Lester left him out of the squad altogether for three games on the trot then left him on the bench for the next trio of fixtures.
He got nine minutes against Exeter and set up a goal, albeit in a 2-1 defeat.
Then came a moment that was difficult to watch, arguably the low point of the young man’s fledgling career.
In a must win clash with Forest Green Rovers, Rowley was still celebrating Town’s 37th minute equaliser when Lester dragged him.
You could see the player go through a range of emotions, from shock to anger to sadness – team-mates had to put an arm round him as he made his way off.
Questioning his manager en route to the bench brought Lester’s own anger to the surface, the boss pointing out Rowley’s failure to track the full-back who scored Forest Green’s first in a moment that was captured by a Derbyshire Times photographer and debated fiercely after the game – which Town went on to lose badly.
Relegation was all but confirmed, Lester left his post and Rowley played 97 of the final 270 minutes of the season under caretaker boss Ian Evatt.
Although there will be positives he can pluck from all of this, it cannot be denied that circumstances ensured Rowley’s first full season as a professional was a disaster.
Two relegations on the CV before even exiting your teens is a heavy burden to carry.
The job now, for Rowley and for his new manager is to rebuild his confidence, which must surely have taken a knock, if not a beating.
Martin Allen will be the fourth first team manager to work with the attacker, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Sunday.
He talks, a lot, about treating players well, about being fair.
He seems the kind of boss who would understand and quickly identify if a player needed to be built up, encouraged and made to feel like he can take on the world.
Allen also talks a lot about hard work, doing things his way and the consequences of failing to follow his rules.
If Rowley can demonstrate to the boss in pre-season that he’s more than willing to put the work in, listen to and carry out the instructions he’s given, it could be a marriage made in heaven.
A number of experienced professionals have said, both publicly and privately, that Rowley works hard and has the right attitude.
That bodes well, but he’s got to prove it all over again to a new boss and new peers.
The performances he gave in League One suggested there is plenty of talent there and few, if any, appear to have changed their mind on that.
And time is very much on his side.
If he can consign the 2017/18 season to the past and move on then there’s no reason why Rowley can’t realise, before the age of 20, that life in football can be pretty sweet.