Collins | On under-23s stepping up and preparing for season restart

There has been immense pride from the whole Academy in seeing its young players make the step up to Wolves’ Premier League squad during the festive period, says under-23s head coach James Collins.

Owen Otasowie made his Premier League debut in the win over Chelsea last month, while Andreas Sondergaard, Taylor Perry, Theo Corbeanu, Luke Cundle, Lewis Richards and Christian Marques have all been among Nuno Espirito Santo’s substitutes in the past few weeks.

With the return of under-23 football coming up later in January as Wolves travel to Burnley hoping to retain their place among the top positions in Premier League 2 Division 2, as well as players set to leave the club on loan during the month, it’s going to be a challenging couple of weeks for Collins and his young players.

On the under-23 squad splitting during the festive period

“During the Christmas and new year period, a few of our players went home to get a break because they haven’t been able to see their families since the first lockdown, but a few have also stayed and have been involved around the first-team squad which has been brilliant for them and their development.

“It’s been brilliant to see them among the squad in the Premier League due to the injuries that the first-team have had, so for them to get opportunity on the bench and to be part of the training squad has been great for them and for everybody at the Academy.

“Then we’ve had a group of local boys who we had in over a couple of days between Christmas and the new year to keep them ticking over, before starting back with everyone this week.

“It’s been a challenge to have everyone doing different things and coming in at different training levels, but over the next week or two we will be pulling it all together as we work back towards the first game of the second half of the season.”

On building back towards the PL2 restart

“As everyone has had different levels of training and competition over the last few weeks, everyone will be coming in at a different state. Those who have been training with the first-team every day will probably need more rest than those who have had time at home with their families.

“Instead of being a team programme during the next couple of weeks, it will very much be an individual plan, with just the last three or four days before the Burnley game being the time when we will all come together to build towards that fixture.

“Before then, it’s a case of seeing who’s fit, seeing who’s with us, seeing who’s with the first-team, seeing who’s going out on loan, and building the programme around their individual needs.”

On knowing his squad for the remainder of the season

“There’s always a plan and there’s always a discussion, but it can end up being quite a fluid plan because of the changes that will ultimately happen.

“There’s obviously more bodies around the group at the moment, whether they’ve come back from their loan spells, and others have been needed with the injuries to the first-team, but then some individuals will need that next challenge of the loans.

“We have a plan and I have an idea of who I’m going to end up with, but that can always change depending on whether we don’t get the right loan for somebody, or a club comes in for somebody and it’s too good of an opportunity for us all to turn down.

“You can end up with different players than you think you were going to end up with, but the key word is flexibility and making a flexible and fluid plan on a day to day and week to week basis for each possible situation.

“January is never an easy month to plan due to the uncertainty surrounding player availability, but every under-23 coach in the league is in the same situation as that’s the nature of the job.”

On seeing the Academy players in the first-team squad

“We love turning on the television and seeing our players involved in first-team squads – that’s the reason why we are in this job, and if that wasn’t happening, we would be disappointed because we wouldn’t be doing our job properly.

“Having players move between the under-23s and first-team is what we’re aiming for and that’s what we work week to week to try and do.

“We all work to the same philosophy and structure, so even if we get players back late from the first-team, the work they have been doing will be the same to what we’re doing, and vice versa. The whole idea of having a top-to-bottom structure throughout the club and the Academy is so the players know what they are doing, regardless of which level of the club they are playing for.”

On the pride in Otasowie making his Premier League debut

“For the Academy as a whole, there is a lot of people who work at this Academy and a lot of people have done their bit to make that happen.

“Every player needs something different to help them make it; some need psychological support, some need physical support, some players need off the pitch support, and we have a lot of staff in a lot of different roles who all deserve their joy when a young player gets in the first-team.

“On the night that Owen made his full debut, our Academy Whatsapp chat was going nuts because everyone was delighted for him. Whether it’s the under-9s coach, the player care staff, or the 23s coaching staff, they were overjoyed for him, because everyone has played their part in that players’ development.

“The Academy takes great delight in that and that spurs you on to keep working hard at it and improve the others to give them the same opportunity.”