As the curtains draw on a very difficult 12 months for everyone, there have been plenty of positive signs for our academy with a national cup success and youth products stepping up to first-team football.
Academy Manager Michael Hamilton has put together a round-up of the past year and this is produced in full below.
We are proud that four academy players received international call-ups in 2020. Matthew Cox, who signed a professional contract here in the summer, featured for the Three Lions at U17s level; Aron Sasu represented Norway U16s, Morgan Williams gained youth international honours for Wales, and Leo Castledine (who was sold to Chelsea in March earlier this year) featured for England U15s.
Three ex-academy players made debuts in the Championship, highlighting the crucial development they received here in their formative years. Josef Bursik started to cement himself as Stoke City’s number one. Alongside this, he made his debut for England U21s, battling for the number one spot with former Dons loanee Aaron Ramsdale. Tyler Burey has started to feature regularly for Millwall and Osaze Urhoghide has made three appearances for Sheffield Wednesday (not including the FA Cup game versus Leeds United).
For the first time ever, all of the U18s playing squad earned professional contracts. From the 2019/20 squad, Archie Proctor, Elliott Bolton, Jack Currie, Jack Madelin, Zach Robinson and Huseyin Biler all signed professional contracts with us. KJ Osu (KSV Roeselare – Belgium) and Albert White (Ipswich Town FC) were rewarded for their talents by receiving contracts elsewhere. This possibly shows that the overall standard of the boys who progress through our development programme has risen compared to years gone by.
When we look back at the current squad of U18s and their progression throughout the years, what can be forgotten is the players we lost along the way. Ultimately, what would the U18s squad look like now if we had kept players that have departed from previous years? Our review highlighted to us that we lost three players to Premier League clubs and two of those are now youth internationals. Alongside Tristian Goodridge who we sold to Aston Villa in 2018, Joe Whitworth and Fionn Mooney, were both sold to Crystal Palace FC, both progressing to International level (Fionn with Ireland and Joe with England). We feel this review is important as it enables us to not only learn from the past, but it provides us with an indicator as to how we can improve our methods in the future, whether that be recruitment, development or another area.
An academy review for this year would not be complete without mentioning the EFL Youth Alliance Cup Final. It was a proud night for us all as we beat Rotherham United 1-0 last month. Due to the disruption Covid-19 brought us, the final was actually for the 2019/20 season. Therefore the current U18s squad are in the unique situation that we now have to defend the trophy in the same season! That was 2020, so as we say in the academy ‘what’s next? I hope in 12 months’ time our review of the year features more senior appearances, more international call ups, and more silverware. On behalf of everyone at the academy, we wish you a happy new year and thank you for your continued support.