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Neal: the future is bright

29 January 2017

Our manager on the season so far and planning long-term

Neal Ardley believes AFC Wimbledon will derive great benefit from the youth development structure put in place during the past few years.

Alfie Egan was handed his full league debut at Chesterfield after coming through the academy and gaining experience in a competitive development league this season.

Though delighted with Alfie’s progress, Neal stressed that the management team must be trusted to make the right decisions about when the time is right for young players to break through.

  , Neal said: “Alfie was brought into the team and he did brilliantly, but we have a plan for him: to build him up athletically, physically, and tactically, whether it’s in a two-man or three-man midfield. We want to build him to a level eventually when he is ready to have that run of games. We don’t just pluck them out of thin air and decide when they are going in and out of the team.Dons PlayerSpeaking during an extensive two-part interview for 

“With George Oakley, he is at that age when he should be a first-team player, but he has also missed the best part of two years’ worth of coaching and training to get him to the level we want. Of course, we’ve also gone up from League 2 to League 1. We were delighted to get him back on the pitch (against Chesterfield) and we would like to keep him in and around us at the moment. We need to see and we need him to push on and be a first-team player in the future.

“George has had a bad run of injuries, but we do have long-term plans in place for our younger lads. As with Will Nightingale and Tom Beere at times, when players get injured they miss coaching development time, physical development time, and tactical time too. It puts your long-term plan back a little bit.

Will Nightingale has had his injuries. The players who have been good enough to really kick-on and come into the team, we’ve had different things that have stopped them. “Ryan Sweeney was fast-tracked and we sold him. People like Will Mannion and Dan Agyei would probably have been starting to break into the first-team, but we lost them.

“We do plan well. Alan Reeves works really hard with the Under-21s and the academy work incredibly hard to bring them through. The future is bright. A lot of the time players between the age of 18 and 21 are not quite ready to go into regular first-team football, but we need to give them the time to do that.”

Neal prides himself on improving the players brought to the club in recent years with key additions having helped AFC Wimbledon to a “progressive” season in League One.

“We have ‘Bass’ working a lot with the forward players and ‘Coxy’ works with the defenders a lot. I sort of do a bit of everything with all of them. We have a decent record of improving players who have come into the club; Lyle has gone on and done what he has, we built Tom Elliott up, and the same with Dominic Poleon. We do work hard on trying to take players to levels above what they were when they arrived with us. We will continue to keep doing that.

“If someone had told us that in January we would be in and around the top half of the table, we would have been delighted with that. Obviously, when you get to the heady heights of fifth or sixth, you do get ahead of yourself a little bit and get a little bit excited. I always remain the same; staying in the league is first and foremost. That should not be taken for granted. We need to get to 52 or 53 points to make sure that’s guaranteed.

“If we can get there sooner, rather than later, then we can progress and maybe even have a crack at the play-offs, but that will be a tough ask given the points you need to accumulate. I think you need to get 74 or 75 points to get sixth place in this league. At the same time, we have to look at what is below in the Under-21s set-up, and assess where we stand in terms of bringing those guys through.

“I think it’s been a really progressive season. Obviously, we were very disappointed with the Sutton game. We would have loved that bonus of an exciting cup tie to come, but so many things seemed to go against us on the night, that it probably wasn’t meant to be.”

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