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Lads flourish on world stage

Academy Manager John McDermott has underlined the importance of our young players competing in tournaments all over the world.

Academy Manager John McDermott has underlined the importance of our young players competing in tournaments all over the world.

A comparatively young squad including including eight First Year trainees and two Under-16 players in Jack Bartram and Jack Munns has performed superbly to reach the semi-finals of the prestigious Dallas Cup.

Competing in the Under-20 ‘Super Group', the lads won their group with an unbeaten record against Dallas Texans, the Japanese national team and Mexican side Tigres to reach the last four where they face Brazilian team Cruzeiro in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The likes of our young professionals Andros Townsend, Jon Obika, Ryan Mason and Steven Caulker have all reaped the benefits from playing against the cream of the crop at their age group in tournaments worldwide in recent years and taken that experience into successful loan spells in the Football League this season.

John believes this lastest tournament can only help the current trainees' development as they aim for careers at the highest level.

"If you look at players like Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone, they've travelled all over the world with England and it's served them so well," he said.

"The lads play against mainly English lads week in, week out in the Premier Academy League and that perhaps isn't a true reflection of what they would face in the Premier League.

"When you look at the Premier League now - and hopefully some of our boys will play in the Premier League - they will be up against South Americans, Eastern Europeans, Latins and Africans.

"In this tournament alone we've played against North Americans, the Japanese national team, a Mexican side and now we face a Brazilian side in the semi-final. They all play differently. Our lads will have to cope with English football, particularly if they are out on loan, but if they play in the Premier League, it's obvious they will come up against all nationalities, all styles and playing these teams can only help their development.

"The Japanese side will be in the Under-20 World Cup next year, so we're up against top, top players. The Mexican players have that gamesmanship and will do anything to win. So we've come up against that plus the fact that these teams are a year to 18 months older than us. It's been a real test."


As well as the different styles and nationalities they face, John was also quick to point out that as the pressure increases throughout a tournament, the better the test for the players.

He added: "The final group game is usually a big game, there is a lot on it because you have to qualify and then you go into semi-finals where you often play in front of a decent crowd and then hopefully the final.

"It helps prepare the lads for the big moments they are going to get in their careers when they step up and go out on loan or, hopefully, with the first team.

"It's similar to the FA Youth Cup, a big event, a big occasion and this gives them more of that kind of experience and the more they are in that arena, the better they are to deal with pressure and the likes of Townsend, Obika, Mason and Caulker, lads who have gone out on loan, have all showed that.

"This is right up there with the Copa Chivas tournament (the lads were third in that tournament in Mexico last year) and similar to a big FA Youth Cup night, they feel the pressure and the beauty of that is you see the players who are able to rise to the challenge.

"You want to put players under pressure in terms of big games. We've played four games in a week, so the players are tired and you see who can play under that pressure. You want to see who comes out of that, who wilts and who stands up. That's what it's all about."

With thanks to MATTHEW VISINSKY for the photographs from Dallas...