Young wing-back Dexter Lembikisa has been praised by under-23 head coach James Collins after finding himself on the bench for Wolves’ FA Cup third round victory over Sheffield United last weekend.
The 18-year-old, who signed a professional contract with the club in November after five years in gold and black, was the latest Academy star to impress Bruno Lage and earn a place in his first senior squad. Ahead of the under-23s returning to action for the first time in more than a month on Monday evening at home to Burnley, Collins believes the sudden progression of Lembikisa is a lesson for everyone involved in Academy football.
On Lembikisa making the first-team bench
“Dexter’s a player who has been here at Wolves a while now and has progressed at maybe a different rate to some of the other players he’s been here with.
“It’s been brilliant for him and a nice reward for all his hard work over the last few years. It’s also a nice reward for all the Academy coaches to see that a young player has displayed enough to get a place on the bench for the first-team.
“He’s progressed really well and shows the other boys in the Academy that you don’t always have to be at the top of the group at 13, 14 or 15-years-old to be at the top of the group at the very end of youth football.
“People progress at different speeds and at different times for their development, and Dexter’s had a really rapid progression over the last 12 months and has shown rapid improvement in his development. He’s got a good character and that always helps you to progress well.
“Being on the bench last weekend is good for the younger players in the Academy to see and it’s good for the coaches to see that you don’t give up on certain boys because they’re not flying as high at certain times in their journeys. That’s a really good lesson for us all.”
Great to see Dexter Lembikisa making the matchday squad for the first time.— Wolves Academy (@WolvesAcademy) January 11, 2022
On not playing for over a month
“The Covid situation has been at its peak again over the new year, so we’ve seen our last game before Christmas against Norwich and our first game after Christmas against Southampton called off.
“It means we’ve had a little break between games, so we’ve had to use that time to get our work in and get our preparation for the matches as good as we can. We’ve joined together with the under-18s and did a few 11v11 practice matches with them so both teams can get their match fitness and tactical preparations done that way.
“Now, we’re just looking forward to actually getting back on the pitch and playing a few games, because when they do come, they’re going to come thick and fast with both Premier League 2 and Premier League Cup matches still to play.
“From next week onwards, assuming the worst of the Covid hit within in football is starting to die down, I think the games will start up again quicker and there will be plenty of games.”
On the frustration of games being postponed
“It’s frustrating for everybody, but that’s part of the current climate that we all live in – not just football – where we’ve got to all become adaptable to it.
“But as a professional footballer, you’ve got to be adaptable to anything because these sorts of postponements can happen, even at first-team level. You can be at a ground and the game ends up being called off five minutes before the start of kick-off.
“It’s something they have to get used to, and with the last two years everybody has had, we’ve all got used to being adaptable. Obviously, it’s frustrating not to play because they all want to play and are dying to get back on the pitch, but they all understand the situation.”
Enjoying being involved with first-team training.— Wolves Academy (@WolvesAcademy) January 7, 2022
On preparing for the second half of the season
“January is always a fluid month in under-23 football and like every club does after Christmas, we’ll still see some of our players go out on loan, which means we will end up with a slightly younger group.
“We’ve been quite young anyway and during this week, many of them will spend their time with Steve [Davis, under-18 head coach] because he’ll be preparing them for the FA Youth Cup on Saturday against Crystal Palace.
“We’ll have a smaller group that will work either individually or when the first-team group needs us. But once the Youth Cup game is out the way, and if any of the older players go out on loan, we’ll get a good idea of what we’ve got and who we’ve got to work with for Monday.
“We’ve got one or two who might leave us at any point between now and the end of the month, but up until that point where they’re at another club, we’ll use them, to help them and to help us.”
On facing the Clarets
“Burnley are always a tough team to play against. It doesn’t matter what team they put out, they have certain values and certain principles which mean they are always tough to beat and hard to play against, and that will be no different on Monday.
“We’ll know a bit more once the game at the weekend has been played as to what our team will look like and it will probably be a late decision to what our team will be, depending on who comes out of the FA Youth Cup game.
“We’ll try and prepare the best that we can for the game on Monday in the short time we have available, but we know it’s going to be a tough one.”