Our youngsters have faced a series of challenges at home and abroad over the last few months, with regular league games supplemented by various overseas tests – notably the IMG Cup in Florida last month, where we got all the way to the final before losing out on penalties to Maccabi Haifa.
For John, our Head of Player Development, it’s important that the boys learn lessons from the first part of the campaign and remain focused as they strive to hone their craft and improve every day in training.
“For us in the Academy it’s always a case of ‘must do better’ and what we’ve got to do as staff and as players is to make sure that the progress we’re seeing at first team level is replicated throughout the club,” he said.
“We’ve got an Under-9s to Under-16s programme that provides some rich talent for the Under-18s side and, after a promising start, it’s important that the boys this year continue to adapt to the professional standards that we’ve got here.
“There were real signs of the boys taking everything on board at our recent tournament campaign in Florida so that was very pleasing and the challenge is to continue the hard work now.
“What the Academy graduates currently in the first team have done between the ages of 16 and 21 is work so hard to try to constantly improve themselves as footballers and gain the mental strength of character that’s required. It’s important that the young boys we’ve got here now show a similar capacity to constantly want to improve.”
There has been fierce competition for places among our Under-18s players ahead of each game so far this season – and that’s now set to increase with the signing of 17-year-old attacking midfielder Shilow Tracey from Ebbsfleet United.
“We’re always on the lookout for talent and it’s healthy that we bring in new players to keep the pot boiling,” explained John.
“Shilow has signed through a connection with Ebbsfleet’s manager Daryl McMahon, who has previously worked for us as a youth coach and we thank him and Ebbsfleet for their endeavours. He’ll now come in and become one of 25 Under-18 players – and one of 40 players in the whole 17 to 21 age group – who has got to fight every day to try to improve.
“He joins a talented pool of players who have all got to earn their place in the side whenever we have an Academy game. There are no rites of passage here so it’s up to every boy to strive to be the best he can be every single day.”