In Focus - The U's Academy

Hear from Jez George and Tom Pell

We catch up with U's Director of Football, Jez George and Academy Foundation Phase Manager, Tom Pell.

Tom Pell joined the club when the youth scheme was re-formed by Jez George in May 2006.  He had previously played in Peterborough United’s Academy and was a scholar at Cambridge City.  Having signed Tom when he was 15 years old as a player, Jez recognised Tom’s qualities and potential as a coach to secure his services immediately upon his arrival at the U’s.

Tom’s initial role was running the Development Centres and along with Steve Lilley and Jez, put the foundations in place for the youth scheme that we know today.

Director of Football Jez George explains the process “When we first arrived at the club, every single player had left and joined other professional clubs or ex-staff running their own schemes.  That meant we knew that it would take ten years to properly repair the damage from a decision to close the entire youth system.  We could never expect everyone to wait that long for us to produce a first team player but equally we knew that all the best players in the area aged 9-16 years old had been in the previous youth system and were therefore lost to the club.  We tackled the challenge knowing that we had to produce players quickly to gain the system some credibility and at the same time ensure in the long term, the system could be back to the level it was previously.”

Jez goes on to the strategy that was adopted “This has been achieved with a three prong attack.  Firstly, we recruited players released from professional clubs at sixteen to ensure a strong scholarship programme and players immediately graduating into the first team.  Secondly, we brought some players with us and added the best available players from 9-16 years old to make us competitive in fixtures so we could develop our games programme.  Thirdly, and without doubt the most important for the long term, was developing the structure to recruit the best Under 8’s each season to feed into the academy.  This is our life-blood and the way in which the academy has gradually improved the quality of players across every age group.  This process has remained Tom’s responsibility and as a result the manner in which we have developed our pre-academy age groups, shadow squads and academy is testament to his hard work, expertise and commitment.  All of the players in our academy, from U9’s to U16’s, have come through this system.  Jake Chambers-Shaw, who was in our first U9 intake is now 15 years old and has just been offered a scholarship.  He was recruited and coached by Tom when he was just 8 years old.”

Jez concludes “The success and continued development of our academy has been a team effort over the last seven and a half years but Tom has played an integral part.  We will really see this work come to fruition in the next three years when players that have spent their formative years in our academy are scholars and starting to progress into our first team.  Tom has been one of our best ever signings, he has repaid my faith in him many times over, should take great credit to what we have achieved to date and is invaluable to our youth scheme.”

VIDEO -  Tom’s thoughts on how the scheme has developed in his time with the club: