Academy Manager Dan Harris writes:
Right at the outset of this week’s Academy Update I want to extend congratulations on behalf of all the Academy staff to Karl, his staff and players on having effectively secured League One football for next season. Working so closely alongside the first team staff over the course of this season we have seen all the hard graft that has gone in behind the scenes from so many people and so it was great to see the side get over the line away at Walsall last weekend.
From an Academy perspective, the Walsall game was also significant as it saw the club break the 100 mark for Academy products being in the first team matchday squad for the season. As part of our evaluation process we use a number of measures of productivity to ensure we continue to progress and this “squad entry” figure refers to every time a current or graduate Academy player is named in the first team matchday squad. Clearly Jack Stevens, Sam Long and Shandon Baptiste have contributed the bulk of these entries but it has also been encouraging to see a number of younger players beginning to feature on this measure too – we look forward to these players hopefully building on this start point and featuring more regularly over the coming months.
For every success story there is also the disappointment that comes with having to release players as part of the natural life-cycle of a professional club. I’d like to put on record my thanks to Under 23s players Matt Taylor, Harvey Bradbury, Brandon Taverner, Dejon Noel-Williams, Matt Berry-Hargreaves, Armani Little, Albie Hopkins and Niall Clayton along with U18s Centre Back Freddie Niblett who have all been informed that they will not be getting new contracts at the end of the season. We wish every one of these lads all the very best for their next steps and, whilst some of these players clearly have the ability to play professionally in the League, we’re having to make some difficult decisions regarding how best to ensure the club can move forward into next year.
It is no secret that there have been some internal financial challenges this season across the club and every department, Academy included, is going to have to adapt to this new landscape for next season. Those fans who have followed these updates all year will know that we have a very talented young crop of under 18’s who, if we manage them carefully over the coming months, have the potential to reach a very high ceiling. In order to create space for these players to develop further, we have made the decision to run with a smaller group of u23s players for next season. By the end of this year as many as nine of our scholars will have been offered early Pro contracts which is an unprecedented number. The challenge with doing this is that we need to not only ensure that these lads have a pathway to play and train regularly with the first team group, but also to continue helping them develop as players and young men within the Academy programme.
In finishing I would like to congratulate the following players on their recent on-field successes:
- U11 Danny Markham and U13 Zaide Took-Oxley who won our most recent player of the month awards.
- U13 Goalkeeper Monty Marriott who was once again selected for the elite Welsh development squad.
- U16s Left back Sam Johnson who has been offered a scholarship for next season after a successful eight week trial having joined us from Norwich City.
- Our Under 18s who have continued their good form moving to the top of the Merit League South with just four games to play.
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.