Cambridge United Academy Manager Tom Pell pens an update on the latest goings-on within the U’s youth system.

I would like to start this article by sending our well wishes to everyone on behalf of all the staff at CUFC Academy. The pandemic has created numerous problems for people from all walks of life and we empathise with anyone effected by the pandemic, especially those connected to the Football Club. We always try to create a positive environment for our players, parents and staff and with that at the forefront of our mind, we want to do all we can to try and take our reflections from our ‘time away’ and learn from them to make us better coaches, managers, practitioners but most importantly, better people moving forwards.


That is what we want to focus on now, the future. That is constant in Academy life as development is a long term project of ours and its five months ago today as I write this that we were told to leave the training ground and to inform all of our players and parents to ‘down tools’


We return with excitement but with caution and will ensure that what we have in place for the return of our players is constantly reviewed, assessed and evaluating to make sure across all departments, best practice is being delivered in the new normal.


I would also like to say a few thank you’s, starting with the players and parents. You have all been amazing! Your patience, your communication, your levels of engagement as well as your levels of discipline both with practice and school work has been absolutely superb and we are really proud of all of you, and we cannot wait to see you all return over the coming weeks.


Thank you to our fantastic staff. Every single one of them both full time and part time. An environment is not created by the weather or the buildings at the training ground you are in every day but by the people. Our Academy has never had so many good people involved with not only such high level of competency for their own field but for such levels of work ethic, professionalism, resilience and understanding both for the Football Club and for our players. The future hasn’t always been as clear as it is now over these last five months and the way you have conducted yourselves makes me extremely proud to be part of your team.


Lastly, I would like to thank the Football Club as a whole. Tough times call for tough people and ‘people’s dedication and fight’ to have OUR Football Club come out of this in a positive light has been remarkable.


The players, parents and staff have been engaging in endless amounts of Zoom calls, webinars, Whatsapp groups – whether it be part of our Life Skills and Social Development program such as ‘Kick it Out’ to highlight the importance of anti-discrimination and racism, be it our Technical

Home-work challenges, Player Analysis meetings or asking questions to numerous guest speakers – nothing beats that human interaction we have all been craving for such a long time and we are delighted to have the players back in under our tutelage.


Our U18’s have been back in for nearly two weeks now and although it’s not quite back to normal, after starting back with our Stage 1 through to 2 return to train protocols we are getting closer and closer to our full program and will soon see the boys take part in their first fixture since March.


Our schoolboy players will return to training in the coming days through a staggered return process and without contact to start with before returning to the next stage in September. We are grateful for the players and parent’s patience with adhering to these guidelines which were made a little more difficult with the grassroots protocol being different over the last month or so.


Although we have a brand new and improved syllabus to help aid our players development as we progress across the season, it will be a case of very much ‘let’s play’ when the players return.


Through several meetings and discussions, ensuring our players come back to an environment which is not adult led, has lots of peer to peer interaction and has lots of opportunity to practice without correction is very much our focus over the coming weeks. Social interaction and playful games is very much within our planning for when the boys return so that they have the right balance between guidance and discovery.


Speaking of guidance, since our time in ‘lockdown’ we have had two new full time Academy positions filled by some brilliant individuals. Firstly, Pete Gill joins as our new Head of Academy Coaching and Ben Small adds to the full time staff team as Academy Analyst.


Having gained a wide range of experiences through coaching and management over the last few years and having excelled through an extensive interview process, we felt that Pete was extremely well suited in helping us all take our Academy to the next level.

Pete has coached far and wide and across varying age groups, including Foundation Phase ages, YDP Lead, PDP Lead, as well as having experience of being an Academy Manager and coaching abroad in Australia. With the above on his CV, as well as having the personality, work ethic and aligned values we are delighted to have him on board and I know he is really excited to get started, working with the players and the coaches.

Ben adds so much value to our Academy analysis department and has been offered the role through his quality of work, attention to detail and knowledge of the Club’s playing and coaching philosophy having previously carried out the role in a part time capacity. Ben combines his role whilst coaching some of our youngest Academy players in the Foundation Phase.

I would also like to add our welcome out to Gary Waddock as Assistant Head Coach. Gary will add a wealth of experience to what is already a really tight knit group of staff and wish him every success at the Club, along with Mark and the team behind The Team. Our young players would struggle to find better quality people to be surrounded by every day at the training ground and what a time to be a young player!

Our young professionals and development players are in fantastic hands and have been told in no uncertain terms that they must realise the opportunity they have at present and over the coming months and must take it with both hands. With the amount of footballers out of the game now and doing all they can to regain a full time contract, there is no time like the present to show your worth to the rest of the playing squad and staff. In what is a tough industry, there is an argument to say it has just got tougher and the years of learning how to be resilient will need to come to fruition over the next 12 months. I have every faith in them! How brilliant has it been to see the amount of young players given an opportunity during ‘project restart’ in the top two divisions? Such exciting young talent and from experience when they get given it, they rarely let you down.

Whilst some of our players will be fighting for a place in the first team squad others will go out and earn match minutes on loan and others will ply their trade under the care of Barry Corr at St Neots Town FC as part of our ever strengthening collaboration. Reward for two of our second year scholars this season is they will start their competitive football on work experience with Barry at SNTFC as we feel that they don’t just deserve to step up the levels but will gain hugely from the exposure to senior football at such a young age. For Louis Chadwick, this will be a fantastic learning experience and if it can emulate that of a young Will Norris whilst on loan a few years back at Royston Town then we would of course be thrilled. And for those of you who have not seen Myles Cowling play yet, I can assure you that when you do, you will want to make it a regular occurrence.

We don’t always get it right but we are forever trying to add diversity to the players pathway as no one pathway is like any other and the exposure to different scenario’s is key in order for any player to be able to develop coping mechanisms technically, tactically, physically and psychologically.

As well as trying to support players through our internal pathway model we also from time to time will have players leave the Academy through external avenues as has been the case this summer. We have agreed compensation with Norwich City for some of our Academy schoolboy players. (player’s names not mentioned due to age). We wish all of these players well in the future, they know where we are if they need any support and thank you also to their parents for the commitment and conduct during their time whilst representing the Academy.

There is lots to be excited about in this season and we will do our upmost to keep everyone updated of ‘Academy matters’ throughout the campaign. Feel free to follow the Clubs twitter page and in addition the Academy twitter page to keep up to speed (details below):


We cannot wait to be able to have our parents watch our players and like everyone, be at the Abbey on a Saturday afternoon to watch the mighty U’s.

Stay safe and thank you for your support, we look forward to a great season ahead.

Tom Pell

Academy Manager