Academy Manager Matt Crocker says that the club is making a conscientious effort to maintain the development of young players into first team stars.
Fresh from taking on eleven new full-time scholars earlier this week, Crocker highlighted just how far down the chain the influence from the first team reaches within the Academy, and why talent alone will no longer be enough in a bid to follow in the footsteps of Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse.
“It comes from the top,” Matt explains. “The Chairman says that he wants that pathway to the first team and obviously Mauricio is aware of that too.
“We have a technical board that meets on a monthly basis to ensure that there is a pathway for the boys if they’re good enough - and they have to be good enough - as well as being mentally and physically strong, to go and play for the first team.
“The Chairman wants that and that’s a big part of our culture and philosophy at the club.
“It’s also in the way we play, which is about high tempo and what you do with and without the ball, is all high tempo.
“The pressing game that we’ve got, we want to develop right the way down through the Academy in terms of the principles of how we play. We have a high, quick passing tempo and we’re already on the road to that.
“It is important that we continue to drive not just professional players, but professional players who have the assets to develop in the style that the first team play because that’s key as well.”
The challenge that lies ahead of the new scholars is made easier by the fact they are all familiar with the club in some capacity already. Some have been around the Academy from seven or eight years of age, but even the more recent arrivals have all figured in some part within the Under-18s set-up under the tutelage of coaches Jason Dodd and Paul Williams.
“Doddsy has worked with them already to integrate the programme,” Crocker revealed.
“The release programme sees them come in from 12 years of age so now they’re 15-16 and they’ve been in and around us for three or four days a week. They’ve already worked with us, and the 16s always train with the 18s and some of those boys are already training with the Under-21s, so there’s a really well integrated technical and tactical programme which the boys have been a part of.”
Many of those who are nearing completion of their scholarships have committed their immediate futures to the club in order to compete for a place in the Under-21s squad, and Crocker believes that the season ahead will be another key year of development for one of the strongest young pool of players in the country.
“The targets will always be to produce players for the first team,” the Academy Manager stressed. “However, we have a young group of Under-18s and we want to progress those on. Some will have the opportunities to play in the Under-21s to win as many games as we can and if that enables us to win the championship, then fantastic.
“At 21 level, again it’s a very young squad, and Matt Targett this year as an example, has played in there as a 16 year-old, so will be a regular in that team as a 17 year-old if he continues to hit the high standards that he has hit.
“Overall, the 21s has a good strong squad. The ambition is there to push boys onto the first team and winning as many games as we can to hopefully secure a top spot in the league.
“We want to be ambitious, we want to set targets for the boys, but those have to be realistic ones and our aim will always be to push as many of them as possible into Mauricio’s first team plans.”