Wolves Academy are going international once again this summer, developing the club’s younger talents with life experiences, as well as different challenges on the football pitch.
International travel for tours and tournaments has always provided a crucial stage in a player’s development, and since restrictions were lifted following the pandemic, Wolves have taken the opportunity to lift the youth programmes to the next level.
Since restrictions were eased in April, the Wolves Academy have already taken four separate groups abroad, as well as numerous trips in the United Kingdom, aiding the holistic development of age groups from under-9s, up to James Collins’ under-23s group.
Across the campaign, the under-19s visited Switzerland, the under-11s and under-12s headed to Lyon in France to face Bayern Munich and Villarreal and under-13s and under-14s were involved in a tournament out in Dubai, providing a wide range of experiences and cultures to sample.
Darren Ryan, head of player development, leads on this front, and believes visiting other countries, both for fresh challenges on the pitch, and to visit famous landmarks and experience different cultures, is crucial for each player’s holistic development.
Ryan said: “It’s massive to have international travel back. It was a big part of our programme before Covid, giving the players experience of facing teams from different countries, experiencing different cultures and putting them in more pressurised situations.
“Education is a massive part of the academy and, yes it’s football, but also there’s the life experiences they gain. When we go away, we speak to the organisers and when we’ve got free time, we look at what experiences the boys can have in different countries, not just on a football pitch over there. We have the Premier League tournaments, and our own, but the experiences of going to foreign countries are massive.”
Ryan has been at Wolves for more than ten years, initially stepping into the role of lead youth development phase coach, before taking the reins as under-23s assistant, under-18s head coach and, in February 2021, elite player development manager.
During his time at the club, he’s seen Wolves compete in the Championship and League One, so has enjoyed the journey to where the club is now, in a strong position to attract invitations to international tournaments.
He said: “It comes from the success of the football club that we’re getting invited. We’re inundated with invitations to tournaments and that’s credit to where the football club has gone, and the academy. This academy has developed so much over the last two to three years. We’re producing top players, playing football with an identity in and out of possession, and that feedback is coming from notable academies around the country.
“When we’re at these tournaments, coaches will set them challenges – we were out in Switzerland for example with the pressure of expecting to win it. I’ve been here ten years and we always used to go abroad to these tournaments for the experience, but now we’re also going to compete and go as far as we can in these tournaments. It shows how far the academy and club has come.
“The reputation we’ve got as an academy now is growing. After our most successful season as an academy, we can’t stand still, we’ve got to evolve and move on. We’ve got to keep pushing and take this academy further. As the football club progresses, the academy has to progress, and the stuff we did during Covid was fantastic, but these tournaments are massive for the development going forward.”
Wolves Academy enjoys the full backing from the club, and the recent restructure which saw Jon Hunter-Barrett and Laura Nicholls take on head of academy responsibilities will provide further support and backing for future international trips.
With pre-season plans now well underway ahead of the 2022/23 season, Ryan is currently arranging both domestic and international trips for the club’s youth players as part of a wider group which is improving each year, with Wolves a more attractive option than ever before.
He said: “The backing we have from the club and the board is massive. The level of player we’re attracting and developing now is at another level than where we were five years ago. We’ve got to produce Premier League players, and the more experience we can give them of playing against foreign opposition abroad, the better. It is only going to improve our programme and the individuals, playing against different teams, different coaches and different systems. Like I keep reverting back to, we have to produce individuals who can play in the Premier League.
“The under-18s are going over to Switzerland this summer and spending a week at the Grasshoppers training complex which has fantastic facilities, and they’ll play two games against Grasshoppers and Winterthur. We are in talks on where the under-23s are going for their pre-season and the under-16s have a major tournament in Germany. Some of the under-16s will go on the under-18s pre-season tour as a lot of them played for the under-18s last season
“If younger players are performing, they get challenged with the older age groups and that’s right through the academy – we are here to produce and challenge the individual. We’ve got a busy pre-season coming up and it’s a hugely exciting period for Wolves Academy.”