AFC Wimbledon’s young talents will be aiming to upset the odds in the FA Youth Cup on Thursday night and manager James Oliver-Pearce has called on them to embrace the pressure.
The Under-18s take on Category One Academy side Burnley tomorrow (6.00 pm kick-off) with the squad getting a chance to play at Plough Lane for the first time and our supporters will be able to watch the game by accessing a live stream on our You Tube channel.
It will also be a first FA Youth Cup tie in charge of the team for James Oliver-Pearce, who is now guiding the Under-18s after several years as the Lead Youth Phase Coach (U12s-U16s). Though James has been involved as a coach in past FA Youth Cup runs to the last-16, this will be his first match as manager of the Under-18s.
In the build-up to this match, he talked passionately about helping our young prospects to develop as players, irrespective of the result on Thursday night.
“We want to perform and we want to win, there’s no doubt about that, but the most important part is that these players get better for the experience,” said James. “We want to win, but we also expect the boys to perform and deal with the different pressures that the FA Youth Cup brings.
“At the start of this season Rob (Tuvey) was Under-18s manager and I was leading the Under-16s, but when it has come to cup competitions we have always worked together. That was the case last season, throughout the FA Youth Cup run, and in the build-up to Sheffield United. This season has been no different and due to Covid-19 and the limitations for younger players I have probably supported more than I had previously. The transition has been easy, I’ve known the boys for a long time. That helps to engage with them and to buy into what we are aiming to achieve. Not much has changed though because we have a way of developing players.
“We played Burnley around five or six years ago in the FA Youth Cup with players who went onto play first-team football, including Ryan Sweeney, Dan Agyei, Dan Gallagher, and Ben Harrison. I am looking forward to this experience, but it is another game and another opportunity for the players to develop and experience something new. None of them have played at Plough Lane. Some of them have been there and experienced it, but they have not played there yet. Ultimately, it’s about them going out there and enjoying the moment, enjoying the experience, and putting in a performance that Wimbledon fans and staff all expect.
“Naturally, there will be anxiety and a bit of nerves creeping in, but that’s good. We are trying to make them aware that to feel pressure is a positive. You are fortunate to have something in your life that gives you a bit of pressure because it means you have a purpose. In the last few weeks they have been absolutely brilliant. They are adapting well to the slight difference in methods that I use.”
Managing the Under-18s has come about due to Rob Tuvey moving up to work with the first-team squad and James believes he is well equipped for the challenge after nurturing our younger talents for many years.
“For the last few years I’ve been working with two really good coaches in Robbo and Rob Tuvey," added James. "To see them working with the first-team now is great for the academy, but also from the club perspective as there is going to be a lot of continuity in the messages and the methods that are being delivered. I am really excited to get to work with the lads as part of a full-time role, but my job is to make sure they are developing and getting closer to supporting the first-team’s progression. I am really excited.
“I was really fortunate in my previous role of working with the Youth Development Phase as it involved looking after around 50 players, which involved dealing with 100 parents, and then you get agents start to come in. Plus, you have to factor in the schools and their education, so there was a lot to manage and oversee. That was good for my own personal development, but this is what I’m used to and what I’m looking forward to doing. Fortunately, half of this group played for me last season and the current Under-16s have played under myself and some of the other coaches for the last 18 months. Fortunately, I know the players and the department really well. Most importantly, I have been here for a long time so I know the academy and the club to a good level.”
James, who is a UEFA A licence coach, joined us back in 2012 and he knows our striker Ollie Palmer from the days when they both played for Woking’s Academy! Click on the link below to watch Rob Cornell’s full interview with James.