EFL youth development week: Competition giving young players 'huge platform'

By Ian WoodcockBBC Sport
Harry Maguire and Dele Alli
England internationals Harry Maguire (left) and Dele Alli came through the academies of Sheffield United and MK Dons respectively

England's success in recent senior and age-group tournaments has given all clubs in the English Football League a boost, according to Coventry City's academy manager Richard Stevens.

Twenty of the 23 players in England's 2018 World Cup squad had either come through EFL academies, made their debuts in the EFL or played on loan in the competition.

"It's given everyone a lift," Stevens told BBC Sport.

"There's been nothing better than seeing the regeneration of the England teams through the age groups and winning World Cups and European Championships.

"The EFL and its clubs have provided a huge platform and I think clubs and managers are getting braver with young players. If you trust them then you sometimes get more than you bargained for."

As the EFL marks its youth development week, BBC Sport catches up with a player, a coach and a director to take a closer look at the academies helping to produce some of England's top talent.

'The gaffer has put his trust in me'

The player: Jayden Bogle (Derby County full-back)

Jayden Bogle
Jayden Bogle has made 29 appearances for Derby this season

Jayden Bogle has had a breakthrough season at Derby after making his debut in the Carabao Cup first round against Oldham in August.

The teenager has gone on to start 23 of the Rams' subsequent 27 Championship games, making the right-back spot his own.

"I didn't actually find out I was playing until the meeting before the game and when I saw my name on the teamsheet I just wanted to celebrate - but I had to focus on the game and reflect on it afterwards," he told BBC Sport.

"I loved every bit of it. It was something I'd dreamed of since I was a kid and the gaffer has put his trust in me ever since."

Still aged just 18, the full-back has recovered well from a major setback early in his career that he says could have seen him turn his back on the game altogether.

"I was released at Reading when I was 14 and I was ready to quit football, but I got it into my mind that if I gave up then I would never be a professional footballer. You've got to keep the right mindset," he said.

After the disappointment of being let go by the Royals, Bogle joined Swindon before leaving home to move to the East Midlands at 16.

The defender credits his time in the club's "Premier League quality" academy with helping him to mature both as a player and a person.

"Living away from home forced me to be much more independent because I haven't had family around all the time. It was hard to start off with but you get used to it and it's helped me to develop as a person," he said.

"Everyone from the coaching staff to the physios and safeguarding officer have always been there for me if I have needed anything."

In Frank Lampard, Bogle, who signed a new four-year deal in September, has found a manager willing to give young players a chance.

Midfielders Harry Wilson and Mason Mount are both enjoying fine seasons on loan at the club from Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, while academy striker Mason Bennett has worked his way back into the first team.

As well as the coaches, Bogle says that one of his defensive team-mates has played a key role in his development.

"When I was in the academy Richard Keogh did some analysis with me, just helping me go over some defensive bits and now it's even better because I'm playing alongside him and he's always talking," he said.

"The manager and his assistant [Jody Morris] both had great careers and they're passing on their experience to the younger players and the older ones too. I couldn't be more grateful for everything they've done for me so far."

'If you're good enough, you will get a chance'

The coach: Richard Stevens (Coventry City academy manager)

Cyrus Christie, Callum Wilson and James Maddison
Cyrus Christie, Callum Wilson and James Maddison all came through Coventry City's academy

It is fair to say that the past few years have been pretty tumultuous for Coventry City.

The Sky Blues spent a season playing home games 50 miles away in Northampton, and were relegated to League Two before gaining their first promotion since 1967.

One constant through the downs and ups has been the club's commitment to bringing players through their academy.

"The one thing you get here is that if you're good enough then you will get a chance," Stevens told BBC Sport.

"If your talent is greater than our level, like [Fulham's] Cyrus Christie, [Leicester's] James Maddison and [Bournemouth's] Callum Wilson, then you will be sold but the nucleus of it is starting at this football club.

"Parents who come here want to talk about pathways and I don't need to tell them stories, I can just show them real life. They can go to our first-team game every Saturday and see four or five of our academy graduates on the pitch and then they can put Match of the Day on and see three of them in the Premier League."

Although 45% of EFL scholars do go on to gain a professional contract, Stevens - who has been at the Sky Blues' academy for 12 years - does not see his role as just creating footballers for the club's first team.

"Our job is to help these young people make sense of the world. The world for a young person now is so much more complicated than it would have been 20 years ago with social media and 24-hour TV," he said.

"We need to start with the humility and behavioural side. The adage that a good person makes a good footballer gets thrown around but I have seen that with my own eyes.

"Yes, you are here to practise football and try to develop a career in football but when you leave the academy, whether that is after a six-week trial or a two-year registration, you've got to come out of here saying they have good values there.

"Things like respect, honesty and sportsmanship are overlooked sometimes but we have around 1,000 boys in our academy at the moment and they are not all going to play for our first team, the numbers don't stack up, but they've all got to take a piece of the academy with them."

Stevens calls City's triumph in the Checkatrade Trophy in 2017, when eight of the players who played in the final win over Oxford had come through the club's academy, the "pinnacle" of his time with the club.

He believes that in Mark Robins the club have the right manager to nurture their young talent.

"I think the gaffer now has always been really supportive of the academy and has always shown he's willing to put a young player in," said Stevens. "He empowers young players.

"The majority of managers I have worked with here have recognised that we have good young footballers here and there is nothing better for the fans than seeing a home-grown player in your team."

Brentford B put five past Bayern Under-19s

'The days of looking externally for players are gone'

The view from the boardroom: Lee Dykes (Bury sporting director)

George Miller with his EFL trophy
December's EFL Young Player of the Month George Miller came through Bury's academy

Lee Dykes broke new ground when he was appointed Bury's first-ever sporting director in June 2018.

In an area of the country packed with huge football clubs all competing for the same young talent, he says the Shakers need to offer something different.

"We can't compete financially at the top end of the academy structure, but where we lack there we make up for with the pathway to the first team and that is what we focus on," he told BBC Sport.

"We can say to a 14- or 15-year-old who has maybe been dropped from a big club's academy that in two or three years they could be in our first team.

"We will give youth a chance. We try to leave three or four places there for academy graduates and we're on course to achieve that."

Like Coventry, Bury have had some difficult seasons on and off the pitch, culminating in relegation to League Two last season.

This campaign has been a far more positive one, with the Gigg Lane side third in the table, and Dykes says lessons have been learned from previous regimes' failures.

"Potentially our young players are assets to the football club," he explained. "We have had success stories in recent years where players have come through here and kicked on at a higher level and we have been compensated.

"But we are now of a mindset where unless the evaluation exceeds ours then we are not in a rush to get rid.

"We are constantly trying to improve our fanbase and a massive unique selling point will be local youth players playing in our first team. If we can increase that in years to come that will be beneficial for everyone around the club.

"Gone are the days where we will just look externally for a player. If we have a position that needs filling then we will consider if we have this player already in the building. We don't want to hamper the progress of our youth players."

He added: "We want to become a self-sustaining club on a football basis. We want to get to League One, bring young players through and become a club that people look at and say 'that is the right way to do things'."

As well as their improved league showing the Shakers are in the semi-finals of the Checkatrade Trophy.

The competition has come in for criticism after Premier League and Championship clubs with category one academies were allowed to enter an under-21 side from 2017-18.

Stats provided by the EFL show that debuts given to players aged between 15 and 21 in the trophy rose by over 225% from 2015-16 to 2017-18 - and Dykes believes Bury have benefitted from their experiences.

"In our game against Leicester City Under-21s we went down to 10 men early on and we had five or six academy graduates on the pitch at the time and we managed to beat them," he said. "That proves the calibre and the mentality that the young players are coming through with.

"We take it very competitively, have profited from giving key minutes to young players and the fans are excited because we're now 90 minutes from Wembley."


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