14 bright talents and their families welcomed at Madejski StadiumOur Academy staff welcomed our brand new batch of Under-18 scholars – and their families – to an induction day at Madejski Stadium on Friday, as the talented young footballers make their next step along their journey.
14 fledgling footballers will be stepping up from schoolboy level this summer, and their two-year scholarship with David Dodds’ Under-18 squad has now begun in earnest. Jamal Balogun, Kosta Sparta, Ethan Coleman, Andre Burley, Akinwale Odimayo, Gabriel Rosario, Leon Okuboyejo, Joe Wilson, Jordan Holsgrove, Danny Loader, Jack Buchanan, Harry Philby, Tom Holmes and Jazz Wallace will now form part of the U18 setup, along with those who were in their shoes 12 months ago who now become second-year scholars.
And it is a path well-trodden. Since our Academy was opened in the summer of 1999, no less than 39 players who came through the same system have gone on to represent the Royals in competitive senior action… and at least two of those will be involved in the Euro 2016 semi-finals! As Acting Academy Manager Lee Herron put it, ‘the door has been knocked down’ - that remains the target for each of these players.
Naturally enough, the names of several ex-Academy players were mentioned throughout the day, such as Hal Robson-Kanu, Simon Church and Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose nations are still involved at the Euros, through to the likes of Josh Barrett, who debuted for the senior Royals squad last year whilst still a scholar. Every example had certain common themes – dedication, sacrifice, commitment.
While every year spent at the Academy is transitional, this is arguably one of the biggest steps. They will be taking on a full-time training programme and playing competitive games against their Category 1 counterparts at other pro clubs, as well as combining their football education with their academic studies.
Throughout the course of the day on Friday, the players and their families heard from a number of Academy staff. U18 manager Dodds began with an overview, before they heard about topics including welfare, analysis, psychology, sports science and education.
“We invite the players and their families in so that we can give them a real overview of what is ahead of them for the next couple of years. We’re able to answer some of their questions and give insight into the training week and everything that goes along with being a scholar at our football club.
“This is probably one of the biggest jumps, where they go from Under-16 football into a full-time scholarship. They will be with us day-in, day-out – it becomes the first job in their careers. We’ve got boys here today that have been with us since the age of 9, and some of them have come in later – it’s great to see them all here.”