City’s Academy director Mark Allen says that players coming through the ranks at Platt Lane will be given the chance to impress regardless of their age.
Progress into the Under 18 squad remains the goal, but a feature of this season has been a willingness to give younger players a go above their own age group. George Evans and Courtney Meppen-Walter, both 16 in the latter part of 2010, are two examples of an ethos that has also seen striker prolific Harry Bunn and playmaker Joan Roman Angel sampling life in the Elite Development Squad at Carrington.
Dedryck Boyata and Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely are among the younger players to benefit from a similar attitude around the first team, but speaking from the Academy perspective Mark explains about how it’s all about not allowing talent to stagnate.
“The Academy is all about development, learning and growing,” he declares. “We all like to win, however the most important thing here is that we are growing and giving the kids the chance to develop.
Our attitude is, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ so in every age group we are looking out for those who are playing above themselves and need a new challenge.
...Academy Director Mark Allen
“That comes from playing at the next age group, which can be a 12-year-old in the 13s, a 14 in the 15s and so on. The younger age group playing up is very much part of our programme now, so that then allows us to let players like Harry Bunn, Joan Angel Roman and maybe Courtney Meppen-Walter to step up into the elite squad.
“We explain to the parents not to worry if their son is not playing one week; we might have our eye on him to play another game in midweek instead at the next age group. We are here to develop elite talent and the best way to do that is to challenge them as many times as we can.
“Boys can become lazy, if it’s too comfortable at a level they are not learning and it’s not good for the future. They can step up on the same page as everyone else, and we don’t want to stifle that.”
This season’s Under 18 side is regularly much younger than their opponents, with the recent cup tie against Nottingham Forest a good example, but the results sought are not just what the team’s score is at full time. Mark reckons he and the staff at Platt Lane are already seeing the benefits, and he adds:
“Ultimately they grow up a lot quicker, become accustomed to good habits, can see likeminded individuals focussed on their football and as they get closer to the top end here they can really see where it’s making a difference.
“But we’re very careful. We’ll only push the boys up a level when they are physically, mentally and emotionally ready for it. The last thing we want to do is destroy a boy’s confidence, so we won’t push them up if we don’t feel they are ready.”