Easter is always a critical time of the season for all clubs with them usually dealing with relegation or promotion which is just around the corner.
For once that doesn’t seem to be the case for us, but it is still a massive time for the new first team manager John Still as he continues to plan for next season.
We, as a youth department, are no different, except we are planning more for each individual rather than as a team in as much in who stays and who goes.
This is always the worst part of my job regarding young players’ futures. I will continue to discuss all the players’ situations with my staff and will have final meetings in the next couple of weeks.
Sadly, but critically, we will only be looking to keep the better players now who have the potential to excel so we can continue to secure the club’s future.
For me the most crucial time is between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. That is where the changes happen. The boys’ physical and mental state continues to develop and that is where they make their decisions from on and off the field. We have some excellent 14-18-year-olds which are the envy of other clubs, but we continue as a group to hold onto them as best we can, hoping to deliver them to the first team.
Two such players, Brett Longden and Jerome Jibodu, have just been offered professional contracts. Both are full-backs, left and right respectively, who love to join in and by the way, relish tackle. Which I believe at Conference level and inf act all levels, I believe if they keep focused they can both really be an asset to the football club. They are both local lads, and if there’s one thing I know which get you fans going it’s a home-grown boy; here we have two.
On the downside of that, we have let five young men go this week in Jordan Davis, Jerry Nash, Nick Burtenshaw, Alasan Ann and Josh Carpenter. I’m not just saying this but all five lads have been a credit to their families. They have worked really hard but just haven’t played consistently well enough at the level that’s been required. However, I do believe they have a future in football if they stay strong mentally to cope with the next couple of difficult years.
Also it is a massive time for our under-16s, of which there will be 10 new intakes this summer. This will take our youth team up to a maximum of 18 players for next season. That squad, we believe, is the best we’ve had at the club for many a year. The under-18s at present are lying second in their league with four games to go and are certainly capable of winning it. Only Brett and Jerome have been regular second years that have played in the team, which still means nine boys, along with the new intakes, can play next year.
Hypothetically we could sign all of those 18 lads as professionals. Statistically we would sign four or five. How many of this new, talented group will we sign? It’s up to them. If their attitude and application is right they have a great chance. Only time will tell.