STARTING off by looking at our Under-21s’ game against Everton last Monday, we all felt it was a disappointing performance.
Everton played well in the first half, but conceding just before half-time made it very difficult for us. It means we’ve now got to win all of our remaining three games to stay in the division, beginning with Leicester on Monday.
When you look at the team they’ve put out over the past few games, it’s been very strong and a mixture of players who are 21 and 22, as well as a selection of first team players. Our strategy is for young players play up and let our senior Under-21 players go out on loan, but what that means is every single game is a challenge.
It’s no different in our next game and we’ll go there having belief in the group and having belief that we can get something from it. We will reflect on our performance against Tottenham a few weeks ago, which was probably our best of the season, and try to recreate that.
We’ve now offered six professional contracts, which is the most since 2013 when we won the FA Youth Cup.
When you look at the six, there’s a really good mix of backgrounds and stories of how they came into the Club. Two of the boys have been here since Under-9, while another has come in internationally at the age of 16.
Two players came from Category One and Category Three clubs respectively, while the final one to be offered a contract came from non-league football.
That’s a really interesting mix of players, and I think the only thing missing is a player who was recruited between the age of 11 and 14. The reason that’s the case is because when the current group was at that age the EPPP hadn’t been introduced and therefore we weren’t in a position to recruit nationally.
We’ve also handed out nine scholarships this year, with those Under-16s joining us full-time from next season. Again, with those players we have a real mix, and you can see a direct benefit from having a Category One Academy.
It’s absolutely vital we maintain Category One status as it means we can continue to bring in players from East Anglian and London at Under 12 to support those recruited from Norfolk at Under-9.
If you look at the make-up of Chelsea’s team in the FA Youth Cup semi-final on Friday night, nine of the starting XI had been at the Academy since Under-9. We don’t have the same catchment area at the youngest age-groups which is why we then have to work really hard in the Youth Development Phase to recruit from further afield.
On Wednesday I went to Lilleshall in Shropshire to watch us compete in a Premier League competition which bases selection on physical maturation, as opposed to age.
There were two tournaments; one for boys between 85% and 90% maturation and the other for boys between 90% and 95% maturation.
Both Norwich sides were unbeaten and won the tournament, which shows that they are as good as the other competing Premier League teams when they compete on a level playing field.
It was a real testament to the staff and all those who work behind the scenes in helping get everyone ready for the tournament.
Among those is Darren Huckerby, who does a fantastic job at Under-16 level. We have three or four players in that group who when asked about what drives them most they said working with Darren is the key factor.
He gets that mix perfectly right between putting an arm around a player and telling them when they haven’t been good enough. Darren pulls no punches, which the players really respect.
Having a legendary player at the Club helping the development of the next generation is a real asset to us, and that is showing.