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A pathway to success – and with the figures to prove it!

Academy round-up from Michael Hamilton

6 January 2022

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With 2022 having just got underway, our Academy Manager Michael Hamilton has targeted another year of progress after a hugely successful 2021.

Our academy was recently ranked number one out of all the category three clubs in the country and a quick glance at our first-team matchday squad provides further evidence of the positive strides made by our youth system.

Michael said: “Looking back over the past 12 months we feel we have made a lot of progress, not just in terms of achievements, but also in preparing and setting things up for the future.”

For more on the past year at academy level, take a look at Michael’s notes below:

Leading the way!

The 2020/21 annual academy productivity measure – compiled by the Training Ground Guru – has seen us ranked as the 33rd most productive academy, out of all 84 academies, in the country - with us securing number one spot in the whole country for our own category.

The productivity rankings measure individual clubs' productivity (regardless of category) by scoring each club for a player that is developed in its youth development programme and that features in any of the five professional football leagues in the country.

There are four categories in the academy programme with a category not determined by league status, but by financial contribution from the club.

Our current score sees us rank:

  • 33rd out of 84 football league / premier league academies
  • First out of 33 category three academies
  • Eighth out of all 14 London clubs (across all categories)

This ‘measure’ is an accumulative effect of all the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes over the years - developing the culture, the environment, the players and the people.

It’s important to highlight that the measure doesn’t capture everything. It doesn’t measure the learning environment that happens, similar to how a gold medal does not capture the day to day processes that takes place, it’s just an indicator of where we are.

Take a look at the full list of scores in the academy productivity table .

The Dons Cup

One of the biggest highlights for us is operating a full schoolboy programme (age groups U9 – U16s) which, in comparison to last season, is so pleasing. We have added to our programme with the most notable additions including the integration of Futsal into our development programme and the introduction of the Dons Cup at the Foundation Phase (thanks to Nicholas Wright).

The Dons Cup has been a hugely popular development method. Boys from the U9s to U12s age groups are teamed up and all represent a team named after an academy player who currently plays in the first team. Teams are pitted against each other with results all combined together and at the end of the season there will be a league winner.

Top of the table

Our Under-18s currently sit top of the EFL Youth Alliance South East table after just two defeats all season. Though clubs are permitted to play up to three Under-19s per game, on average we’ve had six Under-17s and two Under-16s in every game.

In November we matched the academy's highest ever win in the FA Youth Cup – a 7-0 victory in the first round. For the second time in three seasons we’ve reached the EFL Youth Alliance Cup semi-final (Area Final) with a chance to reach the national final if we can defeat Luton.

Our Under 16s also ended the year top of their league, the stand-out performance being a dominant win against Norwich City a couple of weeks ago.

A quick glance at team sheets for Mark Robinson’s squad this season reveals a number of players who have graduated from the academy with us averaging at least four starts per game and five in match day squads.

The Papa John’s Trophy has given the club an opportunity to give a number of senior debuts to academy players with Luke Jenkins, Ethan Sutcliffe, Josh Hallard, Isaac Olaniyan, Quaine Bartley, Aron Sasu, and Marcel Campbell all getting a taste of playing first-team football.

We ended the year with a development workshop just after Christmas which was attended by all players, parents and staff, where we not only reviewed the season so far but also looked at how we are going to take things to the next level.

We feel that we are improving all the time as an Academy but we are humble enough to know we have a long way to go to get to the level we want to.

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