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Michael’s plan B had the bonus of game-time for Nik

Academy Manager works hard to keep the games coming for rising Dons talents

24 March 2021

With Mark Robinson’s elevation to the role of first-team Head Coach, our Academy Manager Michael Hamilton has been guiding the Under-23 development squad recently.

Due to the unique set of circumstances presented by this season, including the majority of the non league programme being cancelled and therefore no loan spells for our rising talents, Michael has organised development matches in recent weeks. As well as offering match experience for the likes of Archie Procter, Jack Currie and Zach Robinson, first-teamers including Nik Tzanev (pictured), Ollie Palmer, Ethan Chislett, and Dan Csoka have benefited.

In an interview at the training ground, Michael spoke about the importance of arranging these matches at an important stage for the first-team and for the development of our young players.

“The purpose of the Under-23s is to make sure the first-year professionals have got a games programme and a focus, but it is also useful to make sure that first-team players who haven’t had minutes are getting game-time,” said Michael. “In Nik’s case, he had two full 90 minute games before being called upon for the first-team, and that’s what it’s about. Without those games you would be going back a few months for the last time that he played football.

“When it looked like the non league programme was going to resume we were very active in trying to get the boys loans and we set-up a couple, but then within a few days they stopped the non league. As soon as we knew the boys were not going to have a games programme we set up our own programme with development matches. Our first game was Eastbourne, which we drew 2-2, the second one was against Cambridge – a 5-1 win – and last week we played Stevenage, which unfortunately we lost 4-1.

“When we set-up the loans last time we knew the non league season might get cancelled, so as a plan B we started actively creating a games programme for these boys. We want to make sure that the end to their season is as productive as everyone else’s. We are trying to set-up a game a week and we’ve had three in the last three weeks. We haven’t had a game this week because Robbo wanted to get some 11 versus 11 games in during training and it’s powerful for all the boys to be together. As soon as possible, we are aiming to resume the games programme and have a match every week.

“This season the players who have suffered the most have probably been the young boys – Under-16s and below – because their programmes have been stop-start – and the first year pros. Those boys not in the first-team and too old for the Under-18s have had their games programme massively hit. It is great that they are training with the first-team and getting position specific sessions, but it needs to lead to something with a game. The majority of non league being cancelled massively affected our plans, but we kind of prepared for that.”

Michael and our coaching staff believe that patience is essential with our rising young talents as some of them will not start showing they are capable of playing first-team football until a later stage. Ayoub Assal recently made his league debut at the age of 19 and others may not be ready to take their chance as soon as they sign their first pro contracts at 17.

“Everyone’s pathway is different, as you hear Robbo and Rob (Tuvey) speak about. Some boys are ready at 17 or 18, but the majority don’t come through until 19 or 20, maybe even 21. It doesn’t mean to say they are not good enough, it just means that the route of individual players is different. Whether it’s loans, games, or straight into the first-team, everyone’s pathway is different. That’s why we do a massive job of working with the younger boys and saying, ‘your end goal is to become a professional footballer and to drive this club through the leagues’. However, for some it may be six months, for others it may be 12 months, until they get a pro contract, but it’s just about being patient and appreciating your own journey.”

In his interview, Michael also revealed details of the inaugural Nigel Higgs Development Award, named after the founding member of AFC Wimbledon’s Academy, and set-up to recognise young players for their efforts off the pitch as well as on it. Click on the link below to watch Michael’s full interview.

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