Acting Academy Manager on youngsters’ progression to the first teamNo less than 15 young Royals put pen to paper on new professional contracts this week, ensuring that our core of homegrown talent will continue to have opportunities here at Reading.
On the final day of last season, Rob Dickie became the 39th Academy graduate to feature in first-team action for our club since it was established in the summer of 1999 – a remarkable record at any level.
“The pathway has been established here – the door has been knocked down,” said Acting Academy Manager Lee Herron. “Players get a chance at Reading if they are good enough and the manager requires them. Our job is to continue that trend.
“I can only speak for Reading, but that pathway is evident here. It’s only evident because of the work that is put in and because of the philosophy that is in place for these young players to grow and develop. The players have to be good enough – you can’t just give young players a chance if they’re not ready.
“So for us, that has always been in our DNA as a club. I watch games all the time and there is no doubt that in every football club in the country, there is talent and good young players. They just need that chance at times.
“The standard of football is developing in this country, and the EPPP has helped that and got our house in order to make sure that we’ve got a real vision and understanding of what we’re doing, and not just a lucky guess.”
For Lee and the rest of the Academy coaches – who were delighted to find out that our youth system had retained Category 1 status last week – the job ahead is to continue producing players capable for our new manager Jaap Stam.
“The most important thing is players available that are good enough for the manager when he wants them – and different types too,” continued Lee.
“We continue to work hard to do that. We hope that we have got players available for the manager to select for the manager going forward, and we have to keep working behind the scenes with the younger players – because before you know it, they become available for the manager.
“It is important that we keep those foundations ticking over and when those players become ready, they’re ready. We don’t put too much pressure on them – we try to get the balance right.
“The staff are incredible at this club. The work that they put in to bring players through is a credit to them and the town. The Academy is at our heart and the club’s support to the Academy is second to none. We love working for this club.”
Under the guidance of Academy Manager Eamonn Dolan for over a decade, the youth setup at Hogwood has improved year on year and become one of the most respected hubs in the country for young players to develop.
While there is a lot of silverware on show for their attainments at youth level, Herron admits that the biggest prize that they can attain is when a young player crosses the white line for the first time to debut as a pro.
Herron continued: “When EPPP was introduced five years ago, what we needed to achieve Cat 1 status was quite a big ask for us. But under the guidance and leadership of Eamonn, we really took it by the scruff of the neck. We’ve got there again – the organisation is run better, we understand it more, and the staff and players have improved.
“Over this recent period of time, we’ve had success with players making our first team and moving on from there. We’ve got a number of players that have come through our Academy that have played in the European Championships this year.
“We’ve won tournaments too – our Under-21s won the Premier League Cup against Man City; our Under-14s won the Nike Cup against Chelsea at Wembley; just a couple of weeks ago our Under-10s won the National Premier League tournament. We hadn’t really achieved those kinds of things before.
“We continue to produce players for the manager to select, and long may that continue. We want to be winning trophies as much as we can, but the be-all and end-all is players in the first team.
“The Academy here is a baby really, in relation to a lot of the clubs in this country. We’ve had a lot of success and we have to work very hard to maintain that.”