Academy Manager Dan Harris writes:
Easter is always a busy time in football and this year has been no different across our Academy programme.
This week has seen our Under-9s take on Birmingham City at our new training ground in what is now becoming an annual Easter fixture. Our Midlands neighbours are a good benchmark of where we are trying to get to as a youth programme over the next few years with their well-established Category Two Academy setup and so these games are a useful milestone for us to assess our progress against.
Last Saturday’s first Team game against Wimbledon saw Under-14s midfielder Faris Mohammad awarded the “Randall Bates Memorial Trophy” for his performance and progress over the course of the year. Randall, the father-in-law of our first Team kitman Jonny Edmunds, was a long time Oxford United fan and also coached the clubs under 14s for over five years. It was fitting to see his two daughters present the award to Faris who has been a credit to the club with his performances and drive over the course of this season.
One of the hallmarks of top players is often the ability to be creative and solve multiple technical and tactical problems over the course of a game. These last few weeks have seen our Under 15s join up with Oxford City Lions Futsal squad to make use of the amazing new facility down at Oxford University’s Iffley Road complex. Our young Academy squad trained alongside the coaches and players from the Lions Futsal side for three weeks culminating in a hard-fought game on Monday night – it was fantastic to see our young players being exposed to the different challenges associated with smaller sided games…well done to all involved and particular thanks to Oxford University and Lions Futsal for making us feel so welcome.
Behind the scenes we are continuing to make changes to our structures and staffing to ensure we are able to move our youth development programme forward over the coming years. Next season will see our Under-23s programme operating a “hybrid” model with lower numbers and younger players in this group. As many fans will be aware, we have some young under-18s at the club who have a potentially high ceiling, as long as we are sensible with the way we support them over the next twelve months…
By operating a smaller Under-23s programme we are able to focus more development time on each individual to hopefully maximise the chances of them making a career. Leon Blackmore-Such, Chris Hackett and myself will be working with Chris Allen to enable us to provide a programme that challenges each individual in the most appropriate way as we look to further develop how we handle this important transitional age-group.
Staffing-wise there are a number of full and part-time roles that we are looking to add to the programme next year across the coaching, welfare, education and administration elements of the Academy. As people may know, all professional club Academies are assessed each season by the Premier League across a series of standards and criteria in order to maintain our licence to operate. With a number of changes coming to this process next season, it is important we as an Academy are agile enough to adapt to these new requirements. Jobs will be listed on the club and EFL website so keep an eye out if you’re interested in getting involved!
Finally I would like to highlight how positive it was to see Academy graduate Malachi Napa back in the first team squad last week after working back from a difficult few months illness-wise. Malachi is a talented and well-liked young man and so it was great to see him return to the first team fold after his lay-off. With fellow Academy graduate Shandon Baptiste also working hard on his rehab and a number of young players having the chance to train with the first team over the last couple of weeks it is exciting to see what the future could hold.
Make sure you follow the Official Academy Twitter feed @AcademyOUFC to stay up to date with all the Youth Development news here at Oxford United.