The exciting first step towards becoming a professional gets underway for the latest intake of 16-year-olds, who will be forming a large part of the Under-18s team in the forthcoming season.
There’s a whole team of recruits, with a player in each position signed on in one of the highest intakes of recent years.
Goalkeeper Harry Isted and defenders Josh Debayo, Kyle Clinton and Will Wood are joined by midfielders Niall Mason, Mark Irvine, George Mells, Armani Little, Chris Regis and Josh Sims. Forward, Dan Demkiv completes a potential starting line-up.
The 2013 crop hail from a variety of backgrounds with some having played for the Academy at junior level for as long as they can remember, whilst other more recent additions have been attracted to the Club due to its track record of producing first team and international footballers.
The new intake were all present at St Mary’s Stadium on Sunday – the day before the hard work began – to meet some of the key people they’ll be working closely alongside over the next 12 months.
Academy Manager Matt Crocker led the introductions to the Medical and Administrative staff, whilst coaches Jason Dodd, Paul Williams and Vince Bartram were also on hand to outline their targets for the season ahead.
All eleven youngsters have moved into their homes with their new host families and begin work this week, where they will study for academic qualifications alongside playing football.
Left to right: Chris Regis, George Mells, Harry Isted, Armani Little, Mark Irvine, Will Wood, Niall Mason, Josh Sims, Kyle Clinton, Dan Demkiv and Joshua Debayo
Crocker is happy with the number of players signing on, and admits that the bar has been raised once again following the exploits of last season’s second-year stars, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse.
“It’s a good intake,” the Academy Manager affirmed. “It’s eleven boys and the majority of those have come through the system which is always a real positive from our point of view, because it means that they’ve got an affinity with the Club. We know how they work, and they know how we work so it’s a really positive step for us.
“The boys that we’ve added are of good quality, but we’ve said to them that the bar has been raised with Luke and James as second years are playing for the First Team in the Premier League. The academic success of those boys both on and off the field as well means it’s huge task ahead of this group to raise standards that we expect.”
Although the main aim of the Academy is to produce first-team quality players, Crocker admits that landing some silverware is overdue. Having been the nearly men, particularly at 18s level in recent seasons, Matt says there’ll be a change in the classroom approach and a focus on sharpening up the boys’ mentality.
“We believe that football and education goes hand in glove and we also believe that bright boy who is also prepared to learn off the field will earn quicker on the field,” he explained.
“We’re always looking at ways to improve the programme, and this year there was a focus on where we place the education slots. We’re adding psychology as a key component to the programme and we’ll have psychology blocks during the week because we feel that mental toughness might make the difference to us kicking a few of those boys on towards the first team, so that’s what we’re looking for.
“The aim for us will always be to produce players for the first team, but if we can win a title or two along the way and develop a strong winning mentality, then great. The professional development phase that these boys are entering at this stage of their careers is about learning to win and we want to create mentally tough players, who know how to win, and are tactically aware of changes within the game too, because we’re at the Premier League level now.
“We’d love to win something. Doddsy (Jason Dodd), Willo (Paul Williams) and Vince [Bartram] are all winners. We’ve got three members of staff there who have all played in the Premier League and they want to win games. That mentality is key, but it will never be at the cost of development.
“There will be times when we’ll play younger players – and maybe play players who are not physically ready because we feel they’ll benefit in the long run – because it’s a balancing act between winning games and developing players.
“Our priority however, will always be to develop players for the First Team.”
Hear more of Matt Crocker's thoughts on the season ahead via Saints Player now