We spoke with Academy Manager Bobby Hassell for an update following the release of our retained list.
U18s trio Brad Binns, Will Lancaster and Charlie Winfield have all agreed terms on their first professional contracts at Oakwell and will continue their development with Martin Devaney in the U23s next term.
Hassell praised the players and coaching staff for their incredible and dedicated approach, insisting that more youngsters will follow suit over the next few years.
“When I first came in four years ago, one of the things we highlighted straight away was that the groups were quite weak – not by any fault of previous management; there was just no Head of Recruitment in place,” began the Academy Manager.
“If you don’t have people recruiting into academies and into teams, you’re going to be weak and you have to run with players that perhaps shouldn’t be in the academy system. We had a big recruitment drive with myself, Brian Young and the scouts – they did a fantastic job and we were able, over a two-year period, to strengthen all the groups and you’re now seeing the fruit of that coming through the age groups.
“This year will be the first time we’ve signed so many second-year scholars to go into the under 23s and I think for the next two, three or four seasons we’ll have a lot of players coming through our system.”
Our current crop of U18s have proved to be a gifted bunch and, prior to the Professional Development League’s premature end, were on course to break their record points tally and potentially earn a play-off place.
Many of Tom Harban’s squad have featured for Devaney and some have been invited to train with the senior set-up by Gerhard Struber, with the Reds’ Head Coach eager to cast his eye over the talent within our academy.
“They’ve had a really good stint,” asserted Hassell. “It’s probably the best we’ve had in terms of under 18s playing up, and that has always been the philosophy of the club and the model that we try and use; to try and promote and upskill the lads as soon as we can, so it’ll be a big advantage for them.
“It’s totally different from a physical aspect to go from under 18s to under 23s – you generally play against 20, 21 or 22-year-olds; we’re generally quite young and still maturing because we’re late developers, physically. But it should stand them in good stead for next year.
“Martin will have a young team, again, so it will be difficult with performances in terms of wins, but he’ll enjoy that, he’ll thrive off that and the lads are going to develop a lot quicker playing against players two or three years ahead of them in physical stature.”
The future is bright not just for the youngsters who have agreed new terms, but for the club as a whole, who are developing players capable of challenging for roles within the first team.
There are exciting times ahead, particularly given that some of our academy players have received international call-ups in the past year.
“There’s one or two that standout but would probably go unnoticed to the eye because they’re consistent week in week out; you can always rely on them to perform,” continued Hassell. “They’re the players in general that go on and have careers.
“I don’t like to name names because it puts pressure on them and the coaches, but I think people have seen who have been in and around the first team from the academy, so we’ve got high hopes for a few of them.
“Last season, particularly, was successful; we had three England call-ups – I think that’s the first time in the club’s history in one season that three from our academy have had those call-ups, so things are looking healthy.”