Under-18s manager on his 10 years at the club
Under-18s manager Mark Robinson believes he has a crop of young players capable of following in the footsteps of home-grown talents who have progressed into the first-team this season.
Mark, who recently passed his UEFA A licence and will have been at the club 10 years come this summer, says the emergence of Ben Harrison, Will Nightingale, George Oakley and Tom Beere into the first-team picture is offering a great incentive for current U-18s and younger age groups.
The picture above shows Mark Robinson (centre) with Academy Sports Science and Medicine Manager Jenna Richards (left) and Senior Professional Development Phase Coach James Oliver-Pearce (right).
Academy Manager Jeremy Sauer and Mark have also been working hard on bringing in talent from outside and they were delighted recently to sign promising defender Paul Kalambayi, who had attracted interest from Cambridge United, Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic.
Speaking during an interview for Dons Player, Mark Robinson said: “They are a great group of boys that we have in the Under-18s and they are unbeaten in 11 games. With several Under-18s doing well for Alan Reeves U-21s, my team has been full of first-year scholars and Under-16s. It shows the strength in depth that we have now, something we would not have had years ago.
“The current first year scholars are really good learners, they are enthusiastic and talented. They have seen what has been happening to the boys in front of them, who have been moving up to the Under-21s and the first-team to play for Neal Ardley. They have a chance of producing a similar story if they keep working hard and stay focused. There is definitely talent coming through below them as well.
“Out of my current first year scholars, Alfie Egan, has been doing really well lately and I have set him a target of becoming a goal-scoring, box to box midfielder. He has a lot of energy and he has scored three goals in five games now so he is adding that to his game. All of the first year boys are doing well, but coming through we also have Jayden Antwi, who is an Under-16 centre forward. He has coped fine at this level. Reece Williams-Bowers is another Under-16 who is playing regularly at Under-18 level and on Saturday we brought on Under-15 Tino Carpone.
“Paul Kalambayi is an Under-16 centre-back who has looked so comfortable on the ball it is ridiculous. He is almost young enough to be an Under-15 so we are very excited with him. Cambridge United had offered him a contract and Palace and Charlton were also interested, but we got him down for a week to train with the Under-18s. We are pleased to say that he was happy to sign for us. We have good home-grown talents, but we are also recognising talent from outside and players are choosing us over other clubs, which is great.”
Though Mark is approaching 10 years as a coach at AFC Wimbledon, his passion to help the academy move forward burns brightly and his UEFA A licence has helped his own development as a coach.
“Ten years is coming up for me this summer and it has been an amazing journey,” added Mark. “I started here with the Under-9s voluntarily and have worked with a group coming through now, including Dan Gallagher, Callum Wilson, Ryan Sweeney, Egli Kaja, Billy Frost and the other boys. At the time when we came in we mainly had parents managing teams in the Sunday League. Nigel Higgs gave me higher positions at the academy and I have seen the transformation at the academy. We had to become a Centre of Excellence and then gain academy three status under the EPPP. It has been a long process to catch-up with the first-team, but we are getting there now.
“Due to me having a break from football, I had to start again and do my level one and two coaching qualifications, before studying for my UEFA B licence. The actual course for the A licence is meant to take between three and five years, but I have managed to get it done in two-and-a-half years. It is a different kind of coaching as it focuses on 11 v 11 situations. It focuses more on the tactical side of the game. It was great from a personal point of view and the coaching is also what my lads are going to need if they step-up to the Under-18s.”
The full eight-minute interview with Mark Robinson is available for Dons Player subscribers.