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Club News

Academy Update

The Human side of the game

30 March 2022

Academy Manager Dan Harris writes:

Having the opportunity to be involved in Elite Youth Development football brings with it a huge variety of challenges for staff, players and parents alike.

As coaches and support staff we have the responsibility of supporting these young players through some of the key phases of their early life…we get to see them grow as young men, are there to help them face the highs and lows of the business of elite sport and, ultimately, try and play a small part in being there for them as they transition into life as high quality human beings both during and after their time with us here at Oxford United.

These last few weeks have encapsulated the huge range of emotions that accompany life in Elite sport and I believe it’s fitting to reflect on these in this month’s Academy Update.

On the field it has been positive to see 17-year-old Centre Back James Golding sign his first professional contract with the club. James joined us as 15-year old having been released by AFC Wimbledon and it is testament to him, his family and the staff that have worked with him that the last two years have seen him make a First Team debut, earn an International Call-up, train regularly with the First Team and, hopefully, help Banbury United secure the League Title in his first Senior Loan.

In the age group above, it has also been hugely positive to see 18-year-old forward Tyler Goodrham continue to impress on loan in National League South with Slough Town. Tyler has now made over 25 senior, competitive appearances as part of his development plan that has seen him play at both Step 3 and Step 2 this season and have his contract option triggered to ensure he can continue to develop with Oxford United next year.

It has also been positive to see First Year Centre Back Erion Zabeli receive international recognition, being called into the Under 19s Albania squad whilst still only 17 years of age, fellow First Year Gatlin O’Donkor scoring on his National League South loan debut with Oxford City, and to see our young Youth Team start the Merit League programme positively with a group that has regularly included three U15s.

Despite the positives, without doubt the hardest part of this role is working through the retain/release process with our young players and this last week has seen many of our Second Year scholars receiving their registration decisions.

There is no doubt that the Covid landscape of the last two years has impacted on many of us across society and this particular age group, perhaps more than most, have certainly had to deal with a pretty unique set of challenges as they have gone through their scholarships. I wanted to pay particular tribute to this high-quality group of young men and to mark what they have achieved in the face of these challenges:

Eddie Brearey, Clinton Nosakhare, James Golding, Ben Watt, Mac Masters, Elijah Coe, Josh Anifowose, Will Owens and Adam Smith, as a group of 2nd years have contributed hugely positively over the last two seasons despite the obvious and impactful Covid restrictions. Notable achievements as a group have included:

- Securing the EFL Youth Alliance League Title last season beating, amongst others, Portsmouth & Bournemouth en route to the title.

- Six of the group being named in First Team matchday squads over the last 18 months

- Over 50% of the group having played Step Three Football on loan this season.

- Three of the group making Oxford United senior debuts

- All nine players on track to meet or exceed their Academic predicted targets despite the disruption to learning.

- All nine players successfully completing their Level Two Coaching Award with the PFA

Perhaps more significantly in terms of the bigger picture of development is the way that the character of this group has continued to be forged despite the difficulties we have all faced.

Whether it be Mac Masters captaining his hometown Youth Team after fighting back from injury, players overcoming the loss of loved ones during the season, Josh, Clinton, Will, Adam and Eddie having to travel significant distances as they adjusted to the reality of life on loan or Ben, Elijah and others working through rehabilitation outside on the grass during the height of the Covid pandemic – to a man each of these individuals can be proud of the way they have contributed to Oxford United and of the football and academic progress they have made during this time.

Whilst, as is often the case in this industry, the majority of this group won’t be returning for the new season once their scholarship ends in June, we will certainly work with each player to ensure the progress they have made during their time with Oxford becomes the platform for further success in the next step of their academic and footballing journey.

On behalf of everyone at the club my thanks go to Clinton, Elijah, Adam, Mac and Ben who have all been told that they will not be receiving an extension; our congratulations go to James and Eddie who will be with the club next season and our best wishes go to Josh and Will who are out on loan and working back from suspension respectively ahead of their final decisions.

Finally, it is only fitting to mark the occasion of Joey Beauchamp’s funeral last week. As has been said many times over recent weeks since Joey’s passing, he was a true hometown hero to thousands of fans here at Oxford United and our young players certainly understand the impact his legacy has left at the club. Our Youth Team players quietly paid their respects to Joey and his family at the funeral in Kidlington last week and everyone associated with the Academy will work to ensure we do all we can to provide opportunities for players to follow in his footprints here at the club over the years ahead.

Thanks to all for their ongoing support of the Academy Programme here at OUFC.

Stay up to date with all the news from across the Youth Development Programme by following the Academy Twitter account on @AcademyOUFC and our official Academy sponsors @polythene_uk

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