Barnsley Football Club Academy Manager Bobby Hassell is delighted with the progress that our youth teams have made in their respective Professional Development League campaigns.
The U23s are currently on an 11-game unbeaten run heading into their final game of the season, while the U18s can potentially secure a fifth-place finish having also hit a fine run of form since December.
Integral to this transformation is the new style of play that has been implemented at all levels since the arrival of Daniel Stendel at Oakwell in the summer. His football philosophy and ideology is being executed, and this holistic approach is now reaping the rewards with positive results and performances at all age groups.
“We’ve beat the points tally for the under 23s and I think we’ve near enough beat the under 18s points tally for the last six years,” said Hassell. “The teams have got stronger; the coaches have improved and the coaching methods have improved.
“We’ve got a new coaching style this year, at the whole club, which was rolled out in pre-season – it took three or four months to adapt, but you can see that it’s taken effect in the last five months, which has coincided with an unbeaten run.
“The teams have improved a hell of a lot in the past few years – recruitment has improved and so have the coaching standards. We’ve got a lot of ex-players on the coaching staff as well; we’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to get some very experienced coaches here, and it’s had a positive effect.
“Daniel has brought his methods in and we’ve adapted and mirrored all the way down, so there’s a synergy right down from the first team to under 16s. We adapt it from under 16s down, but the message is still the same.
“Each team is individual – we’re just a really high pressing team now, so, off the ball, we’re really aggressive about how we win the ball back, which helps keep clean sheets. The under 23s and under 18s have kept more clean sheets this year – certainly since Christmas, when the messages have kicked in.”
While positive results are good for morale, ultimately, the main aim of any academy is to provide a pool of talent capable of challenging for roles within the first team.
This has been a breakthrough season for a number of graduates with Victor Adeboyejo, Ben Williams, Will Smith and Jordan Helliwell all making their Barnsley debuts, while Jack Walton and Jacob Brown, in particular, have continued their development.
Hassell is able to draw on his own experiences as a young player, as he made his debut at the age of 16 after a number of injuries to members of the Mansfield Town first team squad. The fledgling defender never looked back and went onto make over 400 appearances in English football.
There has also been involvement in the senior squad for Kieran Feeney, Sam Fielding, Jake Greatorex, Henry Kendrick, Jasper Moon and Elvis Otim – all of whom have been amongst the substitutes for Stendel this term, emphasising the resources available within the academy.
“I think against Oldham Athletic in the Checkatrade Trophy there were nine academy players in the 18-man squad and there were five against Walsall – the Club has always promoted from within, so it’s our job as academy coaches to produce players at the standard to be able to play League One level by the age of 18 or 19,” continued Hassell.
“We’ve got a crop of lads coming through now from 14 to 17-year-olds, probably 10 that we’ve got high hopes for of being Championship players. But a lot of it is down to luck, good planning and, ultimately, any academy is only as good as the first team manager – you can do all you want, plan all you want and put any development path where you want, but if the manager doesn’t want to play kids then you’ve got no chance.
“Jacob had been training with the first team and sporadically coming on as a substitute, but then the opportunity arose. It’s good for Jacob – Daniel came in and really liked him, stuck with him and he’s gone and kicked on, got a new contract, he’s a regular in the team now and it’s brilliant for him.
“Ben Williams has come in and been consistent with his performances – he’s had 10 or 15 games, so that’s good for him. Victor Adeboyejo was brought in late, but he’s through the academy with the under 23s. He started well at the beginning of the season and has been called on in the last five games because of injuries.
“And then there’s Jack Walton, as well, so I think we’re looking at, in two to three years, to have a production line of five or six coming through. Realistically, if you look at it every three or four years – not every season, there isn’t a club in the world that does it – there’s a cycle and that’s what we look for.”
Hassell also eulogised the academy coaches for the marked improvements made this campaign, insisting that, despite their vast experience within the game already, they are also willing to learn and develop, too.
There is an open-mindedness to experiment with new formations and a boldness to make tactical tweaks within games – reinforced by the decision for our U18s to switch to a 3-5-2 formation midway through the season. It’s has proved to be a masterstroke, and the players, individually, are adapting to their new positions and roles seamlessly.
“I’m really happy with the staff that have come in – they’re great guys and great characters,” asserted the Academy Manager. “I recruit, not skills set because you can always build that, but our recruitment policy is to get the right person in with the right character and you can build the rest.
“I’ve been fortunate that the guys that have come in have got a lot of good football experience. Adam Murray has come in at under 18s – he’s been a first team manager at League Two, and to come into an academy is unheard of.
“Sam Collins has come in of late and done well with the under 16s – he’s been a first team manager and an experienced academy coach. Then you’ve obviously got Martin Devaney, who has had four years now coaching in the academy and is progressing really well himself. Tom Harban was a scholar here but has been in the academy for a number of years coaching and is gaining a lot of good experience.
“We’re still learning all the time and we’re still young – I think everyone in the academy is under 40, in terms of coaches, so I’m really happy with that. I’m happy with the players coming in in terms of recruitment. The under 23s have been really young this year and the under 18s have been extremely young – a lot of the under 16s have played; 15-year-olds – yet they’ve been able to churn out results.”