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Special Feature: Next Generation

PUBLISHED

09:30 20th December 2013

Under-21s profile ahead of Toffees tie

For Wolves’ Development squad, still operating in the Barclays Premier Under-21 League alongside the best young players in the country, this was always going to be a challenging season.

Not least because the success of the team in recent years has seen many among their number now heavily involved in the first team picture under Head Coach Kenny Jackett.

But amid these challenges Steve Weaver’s team have so far more than held their own in a hugely competitive top division for the best young players from at home and abroad.

Monday’s 2-0 defeat against Aston Villa, the result of squandering a host of good chances,  left Wolves in 10th position in the 22-strong league.

And that has included some excellent wins, and indeed comebacks, not to mention despatching last year’s runners-up Tottenham 3-1 at Compton earlier this month.

Another tough test lies in store tonight with the second round of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League Cup against Everton at Southport, but Weaver can see plenty of positives in the campaign thus far.

That is for a large part also because he has seen some of those who have learned their game, and indeed improved their mentality, at Under-21 level in recent years now doing the same at first team level.

“The season has gone pretty much as we expected,” says the Development Coach.

“When we came into the season we saw the progression of the lads pushing into the first team squad and may have become part of that squad.

“The likes of Sam Ricketts, Carl Ikeme, Stears, Doyler and the more senior players within the group have embraced these young lads coming through in the wake of an awful lot of other players leaving the building.

“All of a sudden now there are a lot more younger players in the ranks and 50 to 60 per cent of the squad is under 22 or 21.

“It is a young squad and those lads have had to step up and become senior players.

“To be where we are in the league with that many lads finding their way in it this season is a testament to how well they have done.

“The lads have always done well at digging out results against some top clubs at Under-21 level and I think that stands them in good stead.

“You always feel that this Wolves side never know when they are beaten and will always feel they can get back into games and tough it out.”

Weaver continues:  “When you are at a club like ours, you know that in our league you are going to come up against the top teams like your Manchester Uniteds and your Arsenals but then underneath that other teams with really good youth policies such as Aston Villa and Fulham.

“It is a real tough section for us and the Under-21s are up against it most weeks.

“But I think it helps the lads to give them that level of challenge in terms of learning and then preparing for what happens when they get through to the senior ranks.

“The lads are learning their trade in an environment where it’s not easy and the expectation on the first team this season is huge.

“To be sat here towards Christmas in the top two of the league and with them all having played a contribution is very pleasing.

“To be fair their performances have been mixed but that is what happens when you get young players.

“It’s a bit like any walk of life – when you do something for the first time you can be a little bit shaky and then you do it again you get a little bit better and then again and again you get better.

“You can do all the preparation and training but you only really know fully if they are going to be players when they get their chance.

“Nothing gets you ready for that situation where you’ve maybe not been great in the first half and there are a few boos at half time and that’s completely new to what you’ve been used to.

“I’m not too sure you can replicate that until it absolutely happens so you never really know whether you’ve got a player until they thrive on it.”

In terms of the Under-21 League Weaver was anticipating something of a mixed bag of results given the transitional nature of his squad.

So he has been generally pleased with the level of the performances and, as in recent seasons, the character shown.

“We have got a younger group in the 21s now,” he explains.

“It is a bit of a transitional year for us because a lot of the lads involved will still be with us next year as well.

“It is certainly a very different team to this time last year when we had the likes of McCarey, Doherty, Ebanks-Landell, Reckord, Zeli, Fordey, Pricey, Liam McAlinden and others.

“I think maybe Sam Whittall is the only one still in the team from those days and the other ten have all moved on.
“So there is a lot among the group now that will need a bit of time and in football in general now there are not that many 19 or 20 year-olds who are ripping it up.

“There was a lot written about Andros Townsend when he made his England breakthrough but he is now 23 having gone out and had a lot of loan spells.

“Daniel Sturridge is now 24 and he has only really come to the fore over the last year or two.

“In our case you look at Doc and Danny Batth and how well they have done in our first team this season  and I think that is helped by how they have come through the ranks and also had some football on loan.

“I think we at Wolves have taken a long hard look not just at ourselves but also other clubs in how they do things and manage to get players to a certain level – and there is a lot of work going on here behind the scenes.

“It’s about that progression, spending time with the Under-18s, then the Under-21s, and then getting through to the senior ranks whether that is with Wolves or initially elsewhere on loan before coming back.

“Throughout that time they are getting a feel for Wolves, and hopefully all the work pays off so we don’t necessarily judge and maybe discard a player anymore at 20 –and we give them that extra couple of years.

“Eusebio has come in and done well for us this season but he is still only 18 with more improvement to come.

“And the likes of Tanky (Jamie Tank) and Whitts (Sam Whittall) who have been with us a couple of years also still have some physical development to go.

“On the pitch I can honestly say that we have come off in all the games we have lost and thinking we were right in the games and could have got something.

“We have had some tough games, but the experience helps, and in 12 months’ time when these lads have that bit more experience then maybe they do on and get something out of these tight games.”

Whilst that need to learn to win games and to pick up positive results is clearly important, there is also that underlying theme of preparing players for their senior opportunities, and continuing the supply lines which has served Wolves well so far this season.

With a Head Coach in Jackett who has shown he is open to handing young players their chance, Weaver also believes the freshness and enthusiasm coming into the squad has also been a positive.

“There have been wholesale changes here at senior level and it is pretty much a completely different first team,” he says.

“A lot of the lads have been at the club but haven’t played, but all credit to Kenny and Joe (Gallen) who have found a good balance in giving young players opportunities and also getting results.

“There is a spirit and resilience, and that can then lead to free-flowing football.

“It wasn’t a great 18 months for us at first team level but I think we’ve got rid of that stigma and the one thing the kids have always had here is a really good team spirit.

“There were times in our league last season when we were maybe one or even two goals down and they came back to pick up results or also did so in games we really needed to win.

“And those results came against some of the top teams – Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham.

“I think they have brought that attitude to the first team environment and kept it and the senior pros have taken that on.
“There’s that feeling that whatever happens they can get something out of a game and with that sort of foundation you can usually go a long way.”

*Tonight’s game against Everton takes place at Southport’s Merseyrail Community Stadium with a 7pm kick off. Admission is £5 for adults and £3 concessions. 

SQUAD: Flatt, Iorfa, Ihiekwe, Tank, Cranston, Bancessi, Kostrna, Jakobsson, Parry, Ismail, Keita. SUBS: Dutton, Kellerman, Carter, Erdei, Reid. 

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