As Nottingham Forest’s youth sides kick off the new season, our resident Academy expert Grant Nelson profiles the current set-up and what the future might bring…
The changes of last season are behind us now and the new set-up for the youth teams and development squad are well established. In Gary Brazil and Charlie McParland we have two men with all the right credentials and the right characters to usher our youth set-up to the next level. McParland, the new addition, knows the club very well and worked his way up from Under-12s coaching to the first team on his last occasion with the club.
Not all is ideal though, Gary Brazil still carries the ‘interim head of academy’ tag and ideally it would be better if he focused on one or the other — I just get feel coaching is his greatest passion and combining the two will be extremely difficult.
After defeat to Norwich in the semi-final, Brazil told Forest Player last week: “The FA Youth Cup run was fantastic last season but I won’t be judging the players on where we are in that competition – there’s no pressure on them in that sense. Our goal is to develop the players both individually and as a collective.
“Would I like to get to the semi-final of the Youth Cup again this year? I’d love it. But we are not driven by results, we are driven by player development and seeing the boys progress and challenge themselves at the next level.”
It was recently confirmed we achieved a Category 2 Academy status and for the next three years we will be building a foundation to step up a level to Category 1. The people involved with Forest all seemed pretty satisfied with the outcome with Fawaz Al Hasawi tweeting “Great news that our Academy has been granted Category 2 status. Well done to all involved. The future of #nffc is bright.” And Brazil adding, “The audit went well, Category 2, close to Category 1, we now have an action plan to work forward with.” General manager Jim Price confirmed we were only six rating points away from Category 1 which sounds like we are within touching distance and we are acting like a Category 1 academy in many ways already.
Our pre-season plans were well thought out again. The Under-18s started off their preparations in Portugal followed by good fixtures against Category 1 academies Tottenham, Fulham and West Brom. Going to Portugal and just getting the group together for periods away from ‘home’ is hugely beneficial and, following on from post-season tournaments to Switzerland and Germany in recent years, allows a more intense focus on fitness and football without any outside distractions. It also allows for team-bonding and the new scholars to bed in better. Brazil, Steve Chettle and Steve Sutton don’t only get to know the ‘footballer’ better but the human being as well and what makes them tick or not tick.
The club welcomes 10 new scholars for the 2013/14 season: Richard Dearle (goalkeeper), Andreas Karo (centre-back), Joe Worrall (centre-back), David Arrowsmith (centre-back), Jack Kelly (left-back), Oliver Burke (right-wing), Jermaine Worthington (centre-mid), Luke Thomas (left-wing), Kasheme Walton and Tyler Walker (both forwards). Of the 10, all are British bar Cypriot Karo. And out of the 10, five have been with the club since foundation phase (Under-9s to Under-12s) in Burke, Worthington, Thomas, Walton and Walker. Through the years this age group has done pretty well and goals have not been difficult to come by through Burke, Thomas, Walton and Walker.
Last year’s new scholars were mainly brought to the club from the outside. Only really Ross Durrant (goalkeeper), Wilfried Gnahore (attacking-midfield), Derrick Otim and Danny Elliott (both forwards) had been with us before Under-16s. Then Aaron Myles (goalkeeper), Deimantas Petravicius (right-wing) and Jake Mulraney (left-wing) joined us in their Under-16 season. But in 2013 there are three new additions with Greek Ilias Polimos (right-back) joining in January from Panionios and Modibo Tounkara (forward from Valenciennes) and Edouard Schoenecker (centre-mid from FC Metz) joining recently through the former player and scout Mathieu Louis-Jean once we got international clearance for them.
That will form the basis of the Under-18 squad for the 2013-14 season. Our backline may lack experience this season with us only having one second-year scholar defender but in attack we have a number of good options. We have two right-wingers, two left-wingers and five forwards so all players will be kept on their toes with good competition around them. In the middle of the park there are three players but in the Under-16s (schoolboys) Ryan Yates and Tom Gamblen (who is near to recovering from his long-term injury) we have two very bright young talents who may get an opportunity in the youth team.
While mentioning the schoolboys we also have young talented centre-back, Alex Iacovitti, who travelled to Portugal along with Yates. In addition to the three schoolboys mentioned above there is the attacking threat of dangerous winger Liam Adams and forwards Jerry McDonagh (number 9 type) and Elvis Otim (pacey) which shows there is talent in this schoolboy squad to be in and around the Under-18 youth team this season. During pre-season Elliott or Schoenecker have had the captain’s armband.
Finally, the Under-21s have also had good preparations for the season ahead of their first game last Friday. They’ve played a mixture of local non-league teams along with Everton and Fulham Under-21s. A large percentage of these boys are the ones who have played a big part in two very successful FA Youth Cup runs in a row. Most have been with us since schoolboys or even better the foundation phase with one out of four Under-20s (Evtimov, Lascelles, Morgan, Osborn) and seven out of eight Under-19s (Smith, Hollingsworth, Gorman, Fenton, Kamaneno, Blake, Wallace and Grant) joining post-schoolboy age.
Very exciting signs are that we have Darlow (Forest’s first team), Kieron Freeman (Derby’s first team) and Patrick Bamford (sold to Chelsea and on loan to MK Dons’ first team) all getting regular first team football who have come through our Under-21 set-up in recent years. By looking at the Under-21 squad, you will notice a lack of forwards but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the likes of Tounkara, Otim and Gnahore push up and allow other younger forwards game time in the Under-18s.
The use of the loan system will hopefully also come into fruition over the coming years as playing regular first team football in front of crowds is vitally important for them. Dimitar Evtimov has already joined Nuneaton on loan and one would expect Lascelles and Morgan (trialled at Chesterfield) at the very least to join them. It all depends on whether Billy Davies wants to still work with them on the training ground before letting them go on loan or not.
This season’s Under-18 and Under-21 league only contains 10 teams (Forest, Derby, Birmingham, Coventry, Crewe, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheff Wed, Sheff Utd and Barnsley) as opposed to the 12 from last season as Leicester is now a Category 1 academy and Wigan have fallen to category 3.
Lastly, I think we should thank Nick Marshall for the 15 years of service he gave Nottingham Forest Football Club. He was such a dedicated individual and his passion was youth football. The amount of positives he brought our club will have gone unnoticed over the years by many but one thing is for sure, even though he was a Yorkshireman, he walked away from the club being a Nottingham Forest fan like all of us. All the best for him in the future.
You can follow Grant on Twitter: Follow @Grantnffc1
Image: Courtesy of nattavut/FreeDigitalPhotos.net