Academy Manager Dan Harris writes:
As we enter 2020, and with it being almost two years since I joined the club as Academy Manager, it is helpful to reflect on where we are at as a club to enable us to plan strategically for the next few years ahead.
When I was approached by previous owner Darryl Eales about taking on this role, it was fair to say that the club looked quite different from where we are at today – Pep Clotet was the incumbent First Team Manager, the club didn’t have a permanent training ground and was based out of portacabins at BMW; our Academy was training on a sand-based AstroTurf at a local school; and the club was going through arbitration with Mr Kassam.
Despite the challenges being faced at that point, there were a number of really high-quality people working across all areas of the club who had helped to ensure that the proud history and traditions of Oxford United were being upheld.
As we reflect on the last two years from an Academy point of view, it is clear that we still have an amazing amount of work ahead of us to get anywhere near where we could be as a development club for young players.
That being said, it is still encouraging to see the progress that has been made through the hard work and dedication of all the staff at the club from Tiger and Karl right through to the volunteers that support our Academy programme in so many ways.
Some of the highlights of the last two years are laid out below and I do this as way of saying thank you to everyone who has played their part in helping to take the good work that was already in place and move it further forward over the last two years:
- The club has given first team debuts to 12 young players from the U18s and U23s programme.
- Nico Jones has become the club’s youngest ever captain aged just 17.
- Tyler Goodrham has become the club’s youngest ever player aged just 16 years and 98 days.
- Slavi Spasov has become the club’s youngest ever goal scorer scoring against Fulham aged just 16.
- Academy graduate Shandon Baptiste led out the first team as captain against Manchester City in last season’s League Cup tie at a sold out Kassam Stadium.
- The first team matchday squads consistently see 25% of the squad made up of Academy graduates.
- Tiger has enabled us to set up an innovative U23s programme to aid the development of our youngsters.
- Our U18s have become League champions and qualified for the last 32 of the FA Youth Cup for the first time ever as an Academy.
- Our Academy programme now trains 5 days a week on the FIFA-graded 4G surface at Oxford City FC.
- We now have two successful feeder Regional Training Centres that see over 80 players each week training with Academy coaches both in Bicester and at the new Training Ground here in Oxford.
- Amongst others, we have appointed to the staff team Darren Purse, Andrew Caton, Gavin Boorman, Jack McGowan, Gareth Hamer and Matt Jarvis who have all had experience working at Premier League Clubs.
- Tiger has given the green light to the process of beginning to move the club towards Category Two Academy status that will put us in competition with the likes of Birmingham City, Leeds United, QPR and Crystal Palace.
As a club we are fiercely committed to “investing in the lives of young footballers” and Tiger, Karl, the board and all the staff are, I know, focused on ensuring that we continue to play our part in helping to build a bright future for this fantastic football club. We’ve made some progress but know that we still have loads more we can do – what a fantastic time to be associated with Oxford United!
Stay up to date with all things Academy by following the club’s official youth development twitter feed - @AcademyOUFC.