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Club News

Academy Update

Academy Manager Dan Harris brings us news from the youth set up

12 October 2021

Academy Manager Dan Harris writes:

October has seen plenty of progress across the Academy programme as we continue to work on developing and supporting the next generation of young players here at the club.

At the top end of the “Professional Development” or PDP Phase, we currently have six teenagers out on loan at either step two or step three of the Non-League pyramid.
There has been a lot of discussion across the footballing landscape in recent weeks regards “B Teams”, U23s Football and the challenges of bridging the gap from U18s into First Team Football. As a club we continue to believe that giving our young players the opportunity to play Men’s football on loan whilst still teenagers is a crucial piece in the Youth Development jigsaw.

Matching loans carefully to the needs of the player underpins the success or otherwise of each placement – if a player needs to come out of themselves socially and show they are mature enough for Men’s football we might choose to send them further away so they have to be proactive in planning their journeys, meals etc; if a player has a question mark over whether they can execute technically against grown men we might put them in a side that plays football at the top of the league so they have to deliver under pressure; if a player needs to be challenged physically we may place him in a League that is known for being more “robust!”

Whilst each player is out on loan, the coaching, recruitment and analysis staff all work to ensure players are watched regularly and reported on. Our Medical and Sports Science team work with the host clubs to ensure that we are still getting the physical and performance data we need and players will still come into the training ground here at Oxford once a week so we can check-in with them from a mental wellbeing point of view. If we rewind a few years to my first season here I remember travelling down with then U18s coach Leon Blackmore-Such to watch Shandon Baptiste play on loan as a Right Back for Hampton & Richmond in National League South - with Leon now part of the First Team coaching staff here at the club and Shandon having made his Premier League debut it’s testament to both men of the merits of grafting hard around the loan experience.

From a staffing point of view we’re delighted to have launched our “Academy Coach Development Programme” as a pilot scheme this year. Former Youth Team Captain Jack Gardner, RTC Coach Andreas Skarlatos and current pro Niall Keown are the initial pilot group for this programme as we look to invest in and develop the next generation of Elite Level Academy coaches here at the club – great to have all three involved as they work through a programme of career planning tools, qualifications and personal development alongside supporting our schoolboy age groups.

On the subject of staffing it’s been great to see FDP lead Coach Alexandros Evangelakakis away as part of the backroom staff with the Iceland U21s this week as they take on Portugal in their Euro Qualifying fixture. Performance Analysis team member Christian Fortuna is also about to travel as part of the Gibraltar National Team staff group for their upcoming series of internationals and we wish both well as they support their national teams. As a club we take pride in constantly working to improve what we do in every department and so staff going away to be part of other programmes means they often then return with ideas that can help us be better here at Oxford United.

On the grass, our schoolboy age groups have had fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolves and QPR in recent weeks as we continue to stretch and challenge our younger players against sides that may currently be ahead of us in the footballing pyramid.
Our Youth Team, under the tutelage of Darren Purse and Chris Hackett, are currently two points off the top of the League in second place with a game in hand and, whilst we are fully aware that winning leagues at Under 18s level is not the ultimate aim, it is still positive to see our young players battling hard at the top of the table.

Finally, it was poignant to be in the stands alongside so many others to pay tribute to Oxfordshire Footballing Legend Mickey Lewis this week. Mickey was an outstanding example of what it means to dedicate yourself to the development of others and has left an indelible mark on Youth Football across the region – he will be sadly missed but warmly remembered.

Thanks to all for their ongoing support of the Youth Development programme here at the club.

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