Yesterday we caught up with Karl Robinson for a long chat in iFollow about the season just gone and his summer plans. Today it’s the turn of our Academy Manager Dan Harris.
Dan heads up a fantastic team at the Academy, based within the same building as the first team, and his thoughts on the season and hopes for the future echo what Karl told us 24 hours earlier:
“Last season was challenging at times, as I think the fans are aware” he told us “but that was underpinned by fantastic optimism from everyone who has been in the building. Despite the ups and downs and the frustrating days there has been a real sense of positivity and of working at a club that has huge potential.
“I’ve been in football for 21 years now and you get a flavour of the atmosphere around clubs and at this stage of the summer sometimes the training ground is like a ghost town; that’s not necessarily a bad thing because people do need to shut down and have a break, absolutely, it’s been a long season and we are all running on fumes now! But there’s a lot of work still going on here and a real sense of what’s in the rear view mirror stays there and the road ahead is far more exciting. We will get a little break but it’s a 12 month game nowadays.”
The under 18s caught the headlines last season while the introduction of an under 23 side was another huge positive as the club continues to build for the future.
“The Under 23s was a big bold step from Tiger to invest in an under 23 squad at this level” Dan said. “We built that last summer and to go and be competitive in the Premier League Cup this season and go up against some big Cat 1 clubs was a great learning curve for our boys. It helped stretch some of our under 18s to go that next step as well. Some of the boys didn’t achieve what they wanted and will reflect on that, as will we.
“In a club of our size everyone in the building has to have a sense of being close to the first team so this year there will be lower numbers: eight lads in the group who are pretty close to stepping into the first team. Some will be lads stepping up from the Academy like Aaron McCreadie and Ryan Crooks who need time to see where they get to. We will bring two or three lads in from elsewhere, but no more than that because we don’t want to clog the pathway for some of the under 18s who have really kicked on this year. They will step up to the Under 23s and no doubt one or two of the first team lads will play in the games as well.
“Chris Allen will work with them and it will sit within the Academy programme. Leon Blackmore-Such and Chris Hackett will work with the group as well, all with the aim of more of that group making their debuts for the first team next season. It’s also great to work with Karl who factors in the development of young players and they have a clear route through now.”
It’s not just the older age groups who are getting stronger all the time: United’s younger age groups are also moving forward:
“Gareth Hamer has come in and made a huge impact on our Academy recruitment team” Dan said. “We have widened the net a little; next year’s under 9s are Oxford boys, mostly from within the ring road for example but when they get to under 16 and 18 level where they come from is perhaps less important than where they are going to go to.
“We offered four local lads a scholarship this year and four from elsewhere. Nico Jones is a great example; if it doesn’t work for you at a Cat 1 club, Fulham in his case, then come here and we will put all levels of support and help there to help you develop; a mechanism that assists you develop as a young man not just as a footballer. Let’s see if we can get you flying again.”
The full interview is a fascinating insight into the work the Academy is doing: log in to iFollow to find out more.