With more than 400 league appearances under his belt, Elliott Bennett believes his upbringing at Wolves Academy played a vital role in his professional career.
Despite not making a senior league appearance for the club, the midfielder has fond memories of his 14 years at Wolves, where he came up through the ranks to sign a professional contract when he was 19-years-old.
Firstly Elliott, how did you get your scholarship into Wolves Academy?
When I first joined the Academy, I started to train with the under-7s and under-8s and then got offered a contract when I was nine. From then I just worked my way up through the age groups. Before that I was just playing with my mates and for a local team in Telford – Hadley Juniors – and Les Green and Tony Lacey spotted me and approached my parents to ask if I would like to go along to a trial at Wolves and I jumped at the chance. I was fortunate enough to be offered a contract and stated to play games with Wolves at a young age.
But you weren’t the only member of the Bennett family to sign for the Academy, your brother Kyle was also picked up.
It was fantastic for both myself and Kyle to have got in to the Wolves Academy – probably not so fantastic for my mum and dad who had to bring us three or four times-a-week up to Wolverhampton for night time training at Aldersley Stadium – but thankfully all their hard work and commitment has paid off. I just wanted to see my brother do well. He was a bit younger than me, but it was great to see him get his opportunity at the Academy. I’ve been down a few times in the last couple of years too because my nephew was also part of the Academy for a short while and it’s changed completely from the days Kyle and I were there.
You spent 12 years at the Academy before signing your professional contact, what were your favourite memories from that time in your life?
I learnt so much from everyone there. The coaching was fantastic, the level of care we got was outstanding and we had the chance to travel the world. We got to go to Holland, we went to Japan, and it was a fantastic experience for me. Going to Japan and winning the under-12 World Cup was probably one of my favourite memories I have from the playing side of the Academy, but after seeing so many of my mates progress through the Academy, be released, and new players joining, I think the biggest moment for me was being given my professional contract.
How did you feel when you signed your first professional contract?
I was delighted. It’s kind of a pinch yourself moment really and it’s something you dream of when you’re coming up through the Academy, but I still had a lot to prove. Singing the contact is the starting point in professional football. Once you get that contract, you haven’t by any means made it at that point but getting that opportunity to sign a professional contract at such a fantastic football club is huge. I used to go along and sit in what is now the Steve Bull Stand, but was the John Ireland Upper then, and I would watch as many games as I could. When you’re doing that at eight-years-old and see people like Robbie Keane at the club, I always dreamt of one day being able to pull on that gold and black shirt and play at Molineux, and thankfully I did.
Your only senior appearances for Wolves came in the League Cup. Were you disappointed not to have been given more of a chance to play for the first team?
I’ve got nothing but fantastic memories of my time at Wolves. I got to go to the play-off final at Cardiff, which was an amazing day, but if I’m being completely honest, I have no disappointment in not playing more for the senior team. When you get older and have chance to reflect on your time, I think that everything happens for a reason. I wasn’t ready to play in the first team when I first signed my professional contract, and when the club got promoted to the Premier League, I wasn’t ready for that level at the age I was. Looking back on it I understand the reasons why I didn’t get more of an opportunity because when the club got promoted their ambitions change and we as players must adapt with that. I got my chance to go and start my career at Brighton as Elliott Bennett, professional footballer, and not Elliott Bennett, academy player coming through at Wolves, and fortunately things went well from there.
How do you think being part of Wolves Academy has helped your career?
Any young footballer who manages to forge a career in the league is a massive achievement. If I think back to the amount of players I played with through the Academy who didn’t get the opportunity to play professional football, I count myself as one of the very fortunate and lucky ones who get to do something I always dreamt of doing. I’ve had some really great highs. I played quite a few games for Norwich in the Premier League and had a brilliant time there, and then you get the lows, which you have in any profession, not just football. But I’m immensely proud that I’ve been able to play more than 400 league games, but a lot of that is down to the fantastic start with my education through the Wolves Academy.
You said the Academy has changed a lot since you and your brother were there, so what are your thoughts on the current set-up?
There’s a lot of talk recently about young English players and young players coming through Academies and if they get enough chances, but if you look at Wolves’ current situation, they’ve spent money on world class players in the likes of Neves and Joao Moutinho, who has played a lot of games at the highest level, but then you’ve got a lot of good young talent coming through the Academy. Someone like Morgan Gibbs-White has come through the system and he’s getting his opportunity to show how good he is. I don’t know Morgan personally, but I’ve seen his interviews and he seems very level headed, he doesn’t get above himself, and that is something that is built in all of us who come through the Academy at Wolves.
Thank you for your time Elliott, but finally, what would be your advice to the current Wolves Academy players?
Just work hard every day and always strive to be the best you can be. That’s one thing that was always drilled into us at the Academy, just work hard every day, never be happy with what you’ve achieved, always strive to achieve more and be better every single day. I don’t know if they still do it now, but I did jobs around the club. I used to have to come to Tuesday night games and stay over until 11pm cleaning the dressing room and it gave me a good grounding. But it also gave me a chance to be around the first team. I learnt a lot from just being around some really good professionals, the likes of Matt Murray and Carl Ikeme were great with us, as they had been through the system and knew what it took to make it at this club. You could see that if you work hard enough you would get an opportunity. I’m just thankful for the support I was given right the way through the Academy, from when I was picked up as a boy to all the great coaches I had throughout my time there. John Perkins sadly passed away and I was devastated to hear that news because he played such a big part in my development. A lot of people work so hard behind the scenes at the Academy that keep the place running and give a player like myself an opportunity to realise my dream.
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus Chelsea matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured content with Ruben Neves, Adama Traore and Rui Patricio. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.