Gareth Prosser on debuts and development
Gareth Prosser has hailed the all-round team effort underpinning Wolves Academy as he reflected on another impressive season for the club’s young talents.
Twelve months on from renewing Category One status for the longest possible length of time, the Academy has seen the main priority – producing players to grace the first team – once again deliver with no fewer than four senior debuts during the 2016/17 campaign.
On top of those bows for Harry Burgoyne, Connor Ronan, Morgan Gibbs-White and Donovan Wilson, forward Bright Enobakhare also enjoyed a sustained run in the team with the club’s young talent offered plenty of opportunities.
Below that the Under-23s enjoyed a hugely impressive campaign, finishing second in the league and reaching the Birmingham Senior Cup final, and the Under-18s rallied to win their Merit Group in the closing third of the season.
So it not surprising that Prosser is pleased with the last year’s work from everyone involved, albeit targeting continued improvement heading into next season and beyond.
“We’ve been delighted with the last 12 months,” says the Academy Manager.
“It was roughly 12 months ago we found out we’d retained our Category 1 status - we’re one of only six clubs to get unconditional status for a further three years and the only Championship club.
“It’s like an Ofsted inspection – two independent auditors come in and spend five days with us, observing practice, interviewing staff and parents and players, board members, the whole lot.
“They look at the club philosophy the player philosophy, the vision, recruitment, training, feedback...everything.
“Following that inspection you’re given a rating and only six clubs got a three-year licence and we were one of them.
“That’s a reflection of us as a whole and we’re perceived to be the third best in the country behind Chelsea and Manchester City - we’re very proud of that.
“We’re also judged on player productivity – so to have four debuts was fantastic, including one of the youngest players in the club’s history in Morgan Gibbs-White.
“Morgan has been with us since eight years of age and the way he’s applied himself is great - that’s why we all work so hard.
“I was at Stoke that day (Gibbs-White debut). It was a terrific day for the first team and terrific faith by Paul (Lambert) to put him on with 30 minutes to go at 1-0 up.
“Morgan’s earned it through his hard work. He’s got a terrific temperament so he can handle the big occasion, which is important.
“It also takes a lot of people, from when he joined at the age of eight, the likes of Bob Bennett and Mark Campbell, to all the staff who’ve supported him, and then Scott (Sellars), Sean (Parrish), Pat (Mountain), Aled (Williams) and Darren (Ryan) and then Paul (Lambert), Stuart (Taylor) and Rob (Edwards) to have the faith in him and put him in during an important game.
“It’s been a club effort with Morgan from everyone involved and also with Harry, who’s been with us since aged 10.
“It’s slightly different with Connor (Ronan) and Donovan (Wilson) who joined us later in the system but again credit goes to them for their attitude and application each and every day and the staff who have worked with them.
“The point about the pathway here and the potential for development is one we made to our under-18s before they left at the end of the season and also our under-16s.
“This time last year Morgan played in the end of season event for the academy at Molineux...12 months on he’s made eight appearances for the first team.
“The youngsters were told if you come back for pre-season and hit the ground running, then brilliant, and you’ll have a chance.”
The pathway has worked so well at Wolves in recent years because of the opportunities afforded to Academy players if they prove that they can go in and make an impact at senior level.
Paul Lambert had no hesitation in blooding the young players last season, and Prosser says Walter Zenga had also been close to doing so before he left the club back in October.
“With Walter, it was difficult for him to some extent,” says Prosser.
“My opinion was he came into the club very late, just before the start of the season with a number of new signings and a lot of expectation, so he mainly had to focus on that first team squad.
“As it turned out, just before he left ht was starting to realise some of the quality within the groups and one or two boys were starting to get the integration.
“Paul's just taken that on, really.
“He came in and saw the quality of the lads we've got with Connor, Morgan, Bright, Harry and hasn't been afraid to give them the chance.
“It's a shame with Connor and also Morgan that without injuries they may have played a handful more appearances to set them up for next season.
“But now we have to look for more.
“I feel there are three or four who could make the step-up.
“And there'll always be one or two who come back into pre-season and have grown and surprise us.
“The staff are confident there are players within the system that will make the grade.”
The flourishing of the Academy has also been much to the delight of the owners Fosun, who are continuing to keep a keen eye on the development of Wolves’ young talent.
“Going back to last summer, the takeover was announced on the Thursday and on the Friday I was sat in front of Jeff (Shi) who wanted to know all about the academy and the players,” Prosser explains.
“That’s continued all throughout the season.
“They’ve shown a real interest, Jeff and Sky (Sun) predominantly - I think they’ve seen every academy group from under-9s to under-23s.
“They’re just really supportive and want to know how can we be better and how can we improve.
“This season has been about getting to know us and the system and the rules and regs.
“And now we’re starting to have discussions about how we can grow and improve.
“Because we can always improve. We’re still not up there with some of the big clubs with regards to staff numbers.
“And you’re always looking from a recruitment point of view – for even more depth.
“Maybe improve the psychology side of it, or nutrition, we just want to make sure we look at every detail we can to make sure the boy and the footballer is developed. We’ve got that responsibility.
“And maybe we could look at more friendlies against European teams, to supplement the games programme in the Premier League.
“That could provide the boys with a different experience and a bit more pressure.
“Potentially also recruitment could be widened out.
“Our focus will never change – first and foremost it’s local and homegrown players.
“But if we need to we will go further afield to supplement the quality we have.
“One of the things we’ll be looking to push next season is a bigger infrastructure for our recruitment team to allow us to compete even more with the bigger boys.
“It’s a challenge, and Fosun have set us some very clear targets -we’ve had four debuts this year so already they’re asking who’s next.
“We have to make sure we continually have an answer for them, and the signs are good.”
At Academy level, Wolves are currently recruiting a full time Under-18s coach who should be in place for the start of pre-season.
With the Under-23s, it will be a tough act to follow for Scott Sellars and his squad after a superb season in which they missed out on promotion in controversial fashion in the play-offs.
“I was delighted for all the staff and the players at how well the Under-23s did,” says Prosser.
“The addition of the Checkatrade Trophy was a real plus for us, and the changed format of the Premier League Cup provided more games as well.
“It all provides the players with that spike, with more pressure situations.
“Scott, Seyi (Olofinjana), Darren and the support staff have done terrific, and to finish second over the course of the season was great.
“The most important thing is players have gone from the under-23s to the first team.
“That's ultimately what we'll be judged on. I'd love to win games and trophies, but ultimately we want players progressing through to the first team.”