Ahead of the 2022/23 campaign, a restructure within the Wolves Academy will see Jon Hunter-Barrett and Laura Nicholls take up head of academy roles at Compton Park, rewarding two loyal members of staff and developing the infrastructure at the club.
During what is a hugely successful period for Wolves Academy, Hunter-Barrett will now handle all football responsibilities within the department, while Nicholls will oversee the administration roles.
The changes mean two long-serving members of staff, who have risen through the club in various roles, will officially fulfil all academy requirements previously tasked to now technical director Scott Sellars.
Following two first-team Premier League debuts from the academy, PL2 promotion for the under-23s, an FA Youth Cup semi-final appearance for the under-18s and cup success for the under-15s and under-16s, these are unprecedented times for Wolves Academy.
The integration of Wolves Women into the academy last summer has also proved hugely successful. The pair will now oversee the women’s academy, with Nicholls managing the infrastructure behind the scenes and Hunter-Barrett providing technical support through his coaching expertise.
Hunter-Barrett joined Wolves in 2011 as a development centre and pre-academy coach – one of eight roles he’s held at the club, which include head of coaching and head of coaching and football operations – a title he earned in the summer of 2020.
Now academy manager for football, he will be responsible for the football and performance aspect of the Academy, ensuring players and coaches are developing under the Wolves philosophy and identity, through both their behaviours and performances.
Hunter-Barrett said: “Ever since I came into the programme, this has been something I’ve wanted to do and I have had passion for, and I had to have a bit of a plan of how I was going to get there, doing things the right way with my own education, football and academic work.
“We’ve effectively been in the roles for the last 12 months and now it’s official, internally and externally. Scott’s passion for youth development will always be there, and his expertise will always be used – I don’t want people thinking he’s only concerned about Raul Jimenez, because he also cares about the under-12's striker.
“But essentially, I’ll be responsible for the football, on and off the pitch. We’re working with other departments to aid holistic development for the players. I’m talking around his physical performance and development, his psychological growth, the challenge, and keeping fit and healthy.
“As an academy, we’ve had two Premier League debuts in one season, and we had successes for the under-23s and under-18s, as well as our under-15 and under-16 sides, getting to the latter stages of national competitions, which is an improvement and testament to the hard work of the staff. People are doing their jobs, which is why we’re a much more attractive outfit, and people want to sign for us.”
For Nicholls, her journey with Wolves began in 2003, when she become a coach within the women’s academy after graduating. A full-time position followed eight years later in 2011, as she became a sports manager at Wolves Foundation, which led to more senior roles of sports education manager and senior manager, before she moved across to the academy in 2020.
Much focus of her new role will be on ensure top level operations which support the on-field activity, as well as making sure the players develop off the pitch by implementing the right level of academic support and challenges. Player care and development will be equally as important, ensuring players feel challenged and have opportunities to learn and develop off the football pitch – develop the person, as well as the footballer.
Nicholls said: “This is an acknowledgement of the work which has gone on, with Jon and I, and the wider teams, and shows our structure more publicly. We’re doing things slightly differently, there aren’t many clubs with this structure. The club has a USP and we’re going to do things differently, and other clubs in turn will look at what we’re doing and be intrigued by it.
“It means we’ll have a clear structure to the management team, having expertise in both areas. The way academies have grown, it’s effectively a small business, so we need expertise in different areas, and we’ve got the opportunity to grow. Jon can focus on football, and I can focus on operations. Hopefully we’ll have a streamlined but structured department, putting experts in the right places.
“Scott and Matt Wild will give me support, and it’s about working with all the general managers, making sure the academy is operating in the way the club wants it to, driving things forward, working with Russell Jones and Vinny Clark on partnerships and linking tours around the world with the media team to get best value.
“Last season was a brilliant season for the academy. When you sit back and reflect, it was a phenomenal year and challenging in Covid times. The whole department should be proud of everything we achieved and I’m excited for the new season, to make some more changes and develop us further forward.”