Jez George shared his thoughts with us ahead of the under 18’s opening fixture of the season against Doncaster on Saturday…
The Academy has continued to progress over the past two years, with five scholar graduates earning professional contracts and two impressive FA Youth Cup runs, both ended by Premier League opposition. It is now time to look forward to the season ahead and explain the Academy’s focus for the next 12 months.
Freddie Draper, Hayden Cann and Jovon Makama are our group of “first year pros” but all are still Under 18’s and therefore eligible to play in our Youth Team. Sean Roughan and Sam Long are a year older, having signed professional contracts last season, and are now Under 19’s. Following rule changes in the EFL Youth Alliance League, all of our young pros could actually still play in this competition, which now permits five Under 19’s in any matchday squad. This is not our plan for these five young players, who have reached a level that playing in the Youth Team will not be as beneficial for their development in senior football.
This group has all experienced minutes with the First Team this pre-season, they all train every day with the First Team and the Club will now devise individual pathways for each of them, in Lincoln City “B” Team fixtures, on youth loans at Gainsborough Trinity, loans higher in the football pyramid or a mixture of them all. Our aim is to help them bridge the gap between our Youth Team and First Team, an ever-increasing challenge with the Club’s continued progress and the quality of players within the First Team squad.
The only time the Club will field its strongest available Youth Team will be in the FA Youth Cup, a prestigious competition for the Club and the young players. Lincoln City Academy’s primary focus is to provide appropriate challenges for every player to accelerate their development, as we strive to produce players for the First Team. This approach has already been evident in pre-season with 13-year-old Charlie Carlisle and 14-year-old Denny Oliver getting minutes alongside our new intake of scholars. With this development policy and as a consequence of the new EFL rule changes as highlighted above, this season will often see us taking on much older opponents in the North East Youth Alliance.
This pattern of fielding a young team will be replicated most weeks, with an opportunity for those scholars performing at a high level, who would benefit from the next step in their development, to potentially join the likes of Hayden, Jovon & Freddie in tasting the challenges of men’s football with Gainsborough Trinity. These players will be identified by Gainsborough Trinity Manager & Lincoln City Senior Lead Professional Development Phase Coach, Tom Shaw, in conjunction with other senior Academy staff. Those scholars ready for this next step, will be able to experience the demands and physical challenge of competing in the Northern Premier League (step 3). Just as importantly from Gainsborough’s perspective, our players must be good enough to help them win. That is the reality of first team football at any level. This arrangement will be a crucial step, that in our opinion is not always bridged by Under 23’s, between the Youth Team and First Team for our best youngsters.
These loans still allow the players to be eligible to play in FA Youth Cup fixtures for the Imps whilst challenging the boys to the maximum in their games programme each week. That may also include fixtures in Lincoln City’s “B” Team, a fluid team comprising of those senior pros not in the starting XI of our First Team each Saturday when we do not have a midweek game. This is another huge part of their development, with the games taken by First Team coaching staff and the opportunity to play alongside senior professionals being invaluable for their learning. It is also crucial for players within our First Team squad to maintain match fitness when not selected at the weekend and as a vehicle for players returning from injury.
As well as focusing on our Under 18/19’s, we aim to progress the best local players from our schoolboy programme (Under 16’s and younger) through to a scholarship, with the likes of Charlie Carlisle, Denny Oliver and Louis Nesbitt aiming to emulate Hayden Cann, Billy Brooks, Josh Simpson & Theo Mussell, all current scholars from within the county.
As a result of this focus, our week-to-week results in the Youth Alliance are secondary to individual progression and performance, which the media team will aim to put a spotlight throughout the season to highlight our players’ performances, development and progression.