Academy Manager, Bobby Hassell, gave an extended interview and reflected on our U18s and U23s campaigns, while highlighted prospects who have come through the Reds' youth system this season and over the past couple of years.
ON U18S SEASON
“It’s been a very good season. We started slowly, but then we’ve seen great improvement and the team evolved really well under the stewardship of Tom Harban and Keith Briggs.
“Obviously, it was disappointing in the last game against Charlton. To get to the play-offs, for the first time in the academy’s history since the start of the EPPP, and perform like they have for the majority of the season, it’s been a really good season – probably the best in my time as Academy Manager in terms of points, goals scored, performances.
“Credit to the management of Tom Harban and Keith Briggs, but also the players; they’ve evolved really well and taken on all of the instructions given out by the coaches, certainly in and out of possession stuff, and done really well overall.”
ON U18S DEVELOPMENT
“All coaches will tell you it’s about development and not winning at academy football, but winning is part of development and, certainly, when they come in the building full-time from under 16s upwards, they’ve got to get used to winning football matches and the pressure behind it because you can jump at any given time into the first team, where it’s all about winning.
“There has to be a balance – I understand that – I think we’ve got that quite well within the academy, but in terms of winning games and developing, points tallies and goals scored, it proves it is good players.
“Good players create good teams, and teams win football matches. So, the evolvement over the last three years with recruitment and player development – lads now breaking in and around the first team – has been a steady progression, one we’re very proud of with the financial restraints we have within our academy in terms of a lot of our competitors.
“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done as a group – sports science, medicine, analytical department – we’re all a big group who come together and have regular meetings on the way forward, so I’m really pleased with what the staff have done this year.”
ON FABIO JALO
“You’re always mindful of building up players because there’s a lot of variables that can stop a player – injuries, etcetera – but what I will say with Fabio is he’s probably one of the most exciting players to have come through our academy – certainly from an attacking perspective.
“He’s a match-winner, he scores all types of goals; I’ve never seen someone strike a ball as cleanly as him at a young age. I remember when he first came in at under 13s and you kind of knew his talent was there straight away.
“He’s unpredictable at times in what he does, he’s got an unbelievable attitude – it’s like he’s playing in a playground, which I think is a massive benefit to him. I think he’s got a lot of work to do when he comes in on his all-round general play, but he’s got something that you can never coach anyone.
“I know there’s a big debate around coaches that they improve players, but sometimes they have natural ability from a young age, and he’s got that natural ability to go past players and score goals.”
ON U23S SEASON
“The under 23s is a difficult one; you can either commit to it and have a strong team and do really well in the league, but then lads don’t get near your first team, or you can get lads out on loan and go with a small group so the under 18s upskill and play regular, which will then have a detrimental effect on performance and results.
“I think we’re probably going to go down that route, long term.
“We had a couple of years where we had really strong groups and we performed in the top half of the table, but we weren’t getting enough players in the first team environment.
“It’s been an up and down season for them; it’s the toughest position to coach in football – you never know what group you’ve got from day-to-day because the first team pull on them. There’s not a great amount of preparation going into games again because of that.
“So, it’s a difficult one. It’s obviously needed to bridge the gap between the under 18s and the first team, but additionally you want to be having lads out on loan. But you have to be careful with the balance – sending out too many, you don’t have a team in the under 23s.
“I would say to everyone, don’t pay attention to results that happen within the under 23s. It’s all about where lads have gone and how we best develop them to get into the first team.”
ON MATTY WOLFE
“I’m over the moon. I kind of championed Matt since he was 16 or 17 years old as being the best thing that’s come through since your John Stones and Mason’s era.
“Unfortunately for Matt, he had three or four years of constant plaguing injuries with his back where he’d grown that much, he kept having Pars injuries in his back, which is like a stress fracture – it causes gaps within the spine – and the specialist said he wouldn’t be fully fit until he was 21, and that’s proved to be the case.
“As I’ve said to Matt, on a personal level, to come through that three-year period will make him so resilient within his mentality, that I see a future captain there and a future leader, because he’s had to endure so much adversity at such a young age in terms of playing and being out injured.”