The 2015/16 season was a very successful year for the Academy. We have seen First Team league and cup debuts for Academy graduates Justin Nwogu, Fumnaya Shomotun, Wesley Fonguck, Harry Taylor and Ryan Gondoh, who all graduated from Football Youth Alliance League winning side of 2014/15. All of these boys, with the exception of Ryan, have been retained for a second year as professionals and will be fighting for more regular First Team appearances. In addition, U18s Nana Kyei and Tom Day made successful First Team debuts. Nana has been with the Academy for six years and we are delighted to see him make his first steps on the road to becoming a fully-fledged professional at Barnet. As well as Tom and Nana, we also have Kai McKenzie-Lyle and Jack Taylor (Harry’s younger brother) joining Rossi Eames’ side for this coming season as first year professionals.
However sometimes it isn’t possible to hold on to all of your upcoming talent when the big clubs come calling. This has been a regular theme at the Academy; we have a large number of scouts from Premier League and Championship clubs watching our players on a week to week basis, which unfortunately is unavoidable. This was certainly reflected in the season just finished, when Hakeem Odoffin made his debut for the First Team and went on to secure a move to Championship side Wolves soon after. Earlier in the campaign we also saw the sale of one of our younger upcoming stars, Anton Hooper, who moved to Aston Villa. While it is always disappointing to lose these talents that you have invested so much time and energy into, we recognise the opportunities that have come their way and wish both of them the best of luck for the future.
It is important to also recognise the role that both the Chairman and the Manager have played in the success of the Academy. The Chairman showed great faith in the Academy for the two years that the club was in the Conference, when we received significantly reduced funding. This shortfall was met by the Chairman and we are delighted to be repaying his faith, by seeing these players begin to make inroads into the First Team. This is coupled with the Manager, who returned the club to the Football League and has given these young players their debuts and their opportunity in the First Team. Without this support and this pathway, none of the above would be possible.
Our younger age groups have also prospered throughout the last year by regularly competing with (and outperforming many of) the so called ‘bigger clubs’ in the surrounding areas. Underpinning all of this, we have pioneered a new grouping system for all players in the Academy. It does away with the usual arbitrary age groupings by school year and instead groups players based on their technical, tactical, social, psychological and physical needs. This has seen 11 year olds play with 14 year olds in some instances, all with the sole aim of maximising individual player development and providing the best environment possible to create professional footballers for the Barnet First Team. We strongly believe that there is a bright future for a large number of these younger players at the Football Club.
Finally, it is worth noting the work of all the staff at the Academy that work tirelessly to make this all possible. Returning to the Football League led to the appointment of a number of new staff members, who have all settled in and added to the programme that we offer to our players. For the 2016/17 season we have further added to our existing staff. We welcome back Matt Doyle as our Lead Academy Goalkeeping Coach, who is returning to the Club after a period of time working for Stoke City. In addition to this, there will be a new senior member of the coaching staff, which we are currently in the process of recruiting for. Dean Selvey will be continuing his role as our Youth Team coach, while Jake Littlejohn (Lead Youth Development Phase Coach) and George Kendall (Lead Foundation Phase Coach) will continue to oversee the development of the younger players within the club.
The Academy is back in full swing now and we will be working to ensure that the success of the past two seasons continues into the coming campaign and beyond. As ever, you are all welcome down to any of our games at the Hive on Saturday and Sunday mornings. All fixtures will be made available upon their release in the coming weeks and I look forward to welcoming you down to watch the up and coming Barnet FC stars of the future.