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James Crawley


Posted Monday, April 29th 2019

Bristol City Academy: The common goal

It’s been another big year for the City youth squads.

Among the highlights were the Under-18s' strong, unbeaten home run in the first half of the 2018/19 season, before Sam Pearson went on to make the first team bench in the Emirates FA Cup against Huddersfield Town and earn his first call-up to Wales’ Under-19 group.

The Under-23s, the last age group before the first team, have also enjoyed success in the GFA Senior Challenge Cup, of which they have made the final of this year’s competition once again.

But it’s always about development over results and one of the over-riding factors to ensuring player improvement, is having faith and involvement from the top as Head of Coaching, David Horseman explains.

Lee Johnson took a training session with Academy youngsters earlier in the season

“If the manager is willing to give them a go then you will be successful and Lee Johnson is definitely willing to give youngsters a go,” said Horseman, who has worked with the club for the best part of two decades.

“About 18 months ago Lee, Dean Holden and Jamie McAllister took part in a session to explain how the first team try to press. We try to have a golden thread with philosophy, from the top to young ages but the sessions have to be tailored to each specific age of course!

“There are similar messages all the way through and they (management) are so supportive of what we do. They have taken some Under-15 and Under-16 sessions and they are a dream to work with,” he said.

Academy Manager Gary Probert, who co-ordinates various aspects of the Academy, added: “For it to work, the manager and staff at the top end have to have an understanding an empathy for what happens before and we are really fortunate that happens here. Lee and his staff are genuinely interested; they come here and will help us as staff and get to know the players. It makes a massive, massive difference.

“The older a player gets, the more involved they become around their development,” he added, using the development of Lloyd Kelly as an example. “Should we play Lloyd left or centre-back? Should he go on loan or stay? All that kind of thing is where the staff play a fundamental role. Even younger down we keep them informed on those sort of things out of courtesy and because we need their expertise,” Probert said.

Judging player potential and knowing whether or not it will always work out is far from an easy task, even for those who have been involved in the game their entire careers.

Tom Richards in action for the Under-23s

City Loans Manager Brian Tinnion previous told Well Red how important it was that players experience the difficulties of the game, and that is echoed by Horseman.

“Every single players’ path is different, every hurdle they have to overcome is different so whether that’s coming in at nine or 17, it doesn’t matter. We’re just looking for that little something that can give them a chance,” said Horseman.

“The biggest key is that every player has a bump in the road, whatever that looks like because it is different for every single player, yet they overcome it. Bobby Reid went to Cheltenham Town and played once in three months. That was his bump and he had to overcome it. Joe Bryan went to Bath City and I watched him on his debut and he couldn’t get a kick.

“The key to youth development is asking do we stick by them? When they have the bump do we stick by them? We are good at that here, but it's also whether the players know what they need to do to improve? And if we believe in that, and are joined up in their thinking, they will come through it in the end.”

Young striker Sam Pearson earned himself a place on the first-team bench this season

So what do the coaches and scouts look for when it comes to recommending a player for the Academy? It may well be easy enough to say ‘he’s good at football’ but it’s all about the different aspects and being able to self assess which can make a quality footballer.

Horseman added: “You look for the absolute quality in every player. You look at Bobby Reid’s technically ability, Joe Bryan’s balance and athleticism, Wes Burns’ speed or Lloyd Kelly’s striking of the ball. You look for something like that and then identify the areas to improve and hope wth the right programme and input from staff that the player can reach their potential though you can never tell because the bumps in the road may be too much.

“But we have loads of boys with loads of different talents and we hope more will make it.”

Regardless of whoever it will be to follow in the footsteps of Reid, Bryan, Kelly, Morrell, Semenyo and O’Leary, what is clear is that they are in safe hands…