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Wilcox: My job is to get players to the first team

Like that difficult second album, the season following a fantastic first campaign can be a tricky beast.

After leading his young charges to the North Division title in his first term at the helm, u18 Head Coach Jason Wilcox had a lot to live up to.

The former England international more than rose to the challenge, leading a very young side shorn of the majority of last year’s starting line-up to the top tier of the league’s second stage, while guiding the more experienced members of the u18s squad to a first FA Youth Cup final since 2008.

However, Wilcox is keen not to lose sight of the main aim – progressing players to the point that they can make an impact on Manuel Pellegrini’s first team.  In this first year at the City Football Academy, the club has poured significant investment into creating the stars of the future in Manchester, and Wilcox is keen to repay that faith.

He told mcfc.co.uk: “It is about progression and we need to keep building. It isn’t about getting to one Youth Cup final and not doing it again. Likewise, there is no point getting to ten Youth Cup finals and not developing a player within that.

“It was a fantastic occasion but it was only part of the players’ development. What I would say if over a ten year period we have the best players and we are developing them in the right way, then we should be challenging for Youth Cup finals.

“But the job is to develop individuals not teams. How many players have we progressed to the 21s, how many players are we looking at and thinking they have a real chance, that they have the right mentality, temperament and work ethic.”

He added:  “Yes we like winning, but sometimes winning is watching players develop and I would rather get a player through to the first team than win an FA Youth Cup.

“I am as passionate as anyone about winning the Youth Cup, but actually my main focus is making sure we get players through to the first team." 

...Jason Wilcox...

 

"That’s the job and let’s not lose sight of that.”

The paradox of being an u18s coach is that success on the pitch often leads to the departure of the best players to the EDS, which makes sustaining on pitch success more difficult.

For Wilcox however, it’s a key stage of development and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I get a lot of pleasure in the early part of the season in seeing my team develop, and then comes the second part where I get a lot of pleasure through pushing players up to Patrick,” he explained.

“I don’t want to hold anyone back, when they are ready they go. If there are u18s coaches who hold onto their best players for results, they are in the wrong job.”

The idea that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough runs through the beating heart of the Academy’s philosophy and Jason has been keen to offer chances to those on the lower rungs of the production line throughout the campaign.

A clutch of Gareth Taylor’s u16 side have already made their debuts in the Academy League, while a few still eligible for the u15s have also seized their opportunities to impress.

Said the boss: “I have used the second part of the programme to look at the younger players and I’ve been really impressed with the way they have approached things.

“Of course we would have liked to won the league but ultimately the most important thing is we progress individuals and move them on to the next level.”

While the coach is often seen as the face of the side, on and off the pitch football remains a team game.

Some of his charges have been with the club since the tender age of eight, and hours upon hours have been invested in their development by staff across the Academy.

“There are a lot of people who have put a lot of time and input into these players,” argued Wilcox. “Welfare, education, transport spend a lot of time with these boys so they also have a big role – it’s not just on the grass.

“So I would like to say a big thank you to the entire Academy for making sure the lads’ lives are as comfortable as they can be so I get the best out of them on the pitch. It is a team effort and it’s a big job.”

Looking ahead, the boss is convinced City supporters have a lot to look forward to in terms of youth development, with the future looking a distinct shade of bright blue.

He said: “I am excited about the future, I think we have some really good players coming through and hopefully I can keep moving them in the right direction.”

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