More on Academy / EFL Trophy from Kevin Thelwell
Kevin Thelwell believes Wolves’ retaining their Category One status at Academy level – and continuing evidence of opportunities for young players to break through at Molineux – will again help the club battle for some of the country’s top talent.
It was announced last week that Wolves Academy has retained the highest Category One status, also guaranteed for the longest timespan possible – three years – ensuring they are able to maintain a games programme against the best other Academies in the league.
Thelwell is delighted with the news, and says Wolves would also welcome the opportunity to enter an Under-21 team in the EFL Trophy next season if the chance arises.
“The amount of work that has gone onto making sure we remain as a Category One Academy is huge,” says Wolves Head of Football Development and Recruitment.
“For us to get ratified for another three years is outstanding news for everyone concerned, not least the players.
“It proves that we are offering a fantastic opportunity and pathway that will provide them with the best education to give them the very best chance and opportunity to become a first team player at Wolves.
“Gareth (Prosser) and his staff have done an outstanding job and it is a huge achievement for them and for us as a football club.
“Everyone can see the impressive new facilities we have for the Academy at Compton Park and that is also only the tip of the iceberg.
“It is the improved facilities but also increased staffing levels, increased levels of expertise, a more specialised programme and individual support for the players.
“We are seeing the benefits of that with all the young players who are getting in and around the first team picture.
“And also notably, the increased number of our younger players who are getting recognised by their countries and playing international football.
“It all bodes well for the future.”
Thelwell says he recognises the desire of supporters to see a balance between enjoying the development of homegrown talent which progresses from Academy first team with the need for tried and trusted experience of the Sky Bet Championship.
But he feels the success stories from the Academy in recent years deserve plenty of celebration, with the anticipation that a continuing commitment to high standards will lead to many more players making the step-up in the future.
He added: “I think the news about the opportunities that are here at Wolves is out there.
“There are a lot of clubs in the country who will have Category One status which means there will be a high level of coaching contact with the players and of feedback and support to the players.
“But what we are doing better than a lot of other clubs is that we are providing the most important bit – the opportunity – to progress through to the first team.
“I think that is what the Premier League and Football League will be saying about what makes the difference at a club like Wolves – and what players and parents will see – is that we have got a lot of homegrown players who have gone through to the first team.
“I appreciate that fans sometimes see that as a negative because they want more spend.
“But I don’t think there is much better than seeing a player come through who you have developed at your club go on and play in the first team.
“Dominic Iorfa is a prime example of that, Carl Ikeme, Danny Batth, Jack Price, Ethan Ebanks-Landell – I don’t think there is anything better than having players who really understand the fabric of the football club playing for the first team.
“You want a conveyor belt of players coming through and I understand supporters want that balanced off with experience and people who have knowledge of the division.
“But that shouldn’t downplay the achievements of the players who have come through and shown they can play at this level – that is something we as a football club should be proud of.
“The conversations I am having with players, parents and other agencies inside of football is showing that the message is getting out there.
“People know that if you are good enough at Wolves you are old enough and will get your opportunity.
“And we have to remember that these players are always becoming more and more experienced and are getting better.”
The amount of work that has gone onto making sure we remain as a Category One Academy is huge.
At the EFL’s Annual Meeting earlier this month, it was agreed that 16 Category One Academies would be offered the chance to enter the EFL Trophy and go up against the 48 teams from Sky Bet Leagues One and Two.
It appears that Premier League clubs with Category One status will be the first offered the opportunity to enter a team.
But Thelwell says Wolves would be delighted to take up that invitation if it is forthcoming.
“What the league are now doing with the Under-21s programme, and quite rightly too, is to provide more spikes in the programme and give young players the experience of playing in front of crowds in stadiums and with more emphasis on having to win or lose,” he explained.
“It is all about having the additional pressure and stresses involved in that to give them that experience.
“Being involved in the EFL Trophy would be ideal in that respect in providing the players with a really good experience which would bode well for when they move on to our first team and have got to play at Molineux with the same expectations and pressures of needing to win the game.
“I can only see a positive in it and would be absolutely delighted if we were, but at present we are just awaiting clarification as to which teams will be involved.”