Academy Manager Dan Harris writes
Shortly after I started working here at the club, I was approached by a U’s fan who, with a wry smile on his face, said to me, “You know it’s never boring at Oxford United right...!”
These last couple of weeks within the youth development programme have, once again, demonstrated the truth of this statement, as we negotiate the ups and downs that go with supporting young players as they try and build a career in professional football. Seeing local lad Kyran Lofthouse make his senior debut against Norwich last week was a positive step forward for the programme and is a small reward for the hours of work put in by staff and Kyran alike over the last four years.
Although he played in an unfamiliar number nine role, it was clear to see what it meant to Kyran to be representing his hometown club, and we look forward to seeing the pacey wide player continue to improve over the months ahead.
In a similar vein, there was a quiet sense of pride across the staff seeing Nico Jones receive his first-ever international call up for the Republic of Ireland U18s squad. Nico is a young man who has made great progress since joining us from Fulham as a 16 year old and, while we know he is far from the finished article, his composure and willingness to develop mean he has a great chance of building a career here at Oxford United if he continues to make good choices…
I’d also like to formally welcome Fabio Sole and Gatlin O’Donkor to the club. Fabio is a 17-year-old central midfield player who joins us from Reading. Fabio has been known as “Trialist C” for much of pre-season and after a number of strong performances over the last couple of months it’s great to be able to now publicly call him by his real name!
Gatlin is a powerful Under-15 centre forward who has been a prolific goal scorer for his hometown club and who was being pursued by a number of professional sides. It is credit to the work that Gareth Hamer and his recruitment team are doing that we were able to secure Gatlin’s registration with the U’s, and we look forward to seeing him develop over the years ahead.
With our younger players now returning to school, this week saw the club’s first-ever day-release programme kick in that sees our Under-16s players training alongside our full-time programme one day a week. Our new Head of Education, Welfare and Player Care, Matt Jarvis, has worked tirelessly over the last few months to bring this to fruition and I have no doubt it will help us as we try to ensure our local young players are given every opportunity to earn scholarships here at the club.
Away from the positives, there have also been some low moments over the last few weeks and Monday night’s disappointing loss against Huddersfield sees our U23s eliminated from the Premier League Cup for this season. While we were up against a much more experienced side that included players that had played in the Premier League last season, our young squad (with an average age of just 18) didn’t perform to the level that we know they can. Although the result was a poor one, there are still a number of players in this group that, if they take the learning from this experience, have the potential to go on and contribute to our first team over the months and years ahead.
Ultimately, my role requires me to ensure that, through all the ups and downs, the best young players in our region have the opportunity to develop and play in our first team – my staff and I are fiercely committed to this and setbacks like Monday act as further fuel to the fire as we continue to “invest in the lives of young footballers.”