With the calendar year of 2021 coming to a close and the U18s FA Youth Cup Fourth Round tie with Leeds United on the horizon, we take a look back at the Academy’s year…
From First Team debuts and England call-ups to educational milestones being reached from the Club’s scholars, the Academy has made the most of a year that was full of challenges to overcome.
Academy Manager Tom Pell said, “We feel we have made a lot of progress this year across the board, which is really pleasing after an extremely difficult 2020.
“One of the highlights has to be the outstanding performances of our U18s, who have had an average age of only 16 year and 11 months. Given that clubs are eligible to play three U19s, we see the fact that we have only lost once in the league and made it to the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup as a really positive achievement.
“We have had a full schoolboy programme up and running this year which in comparison to last season is so pleasing. There have been so many activities for the players to participate in, such as training sessions, games, festivals, physical testing, tournaments and being able to watch the First Team at the Abbey.
“The Academic progress of our scholars has also been superb. We have never had so many players undertaking A Levels, in addition to their BTEC and SEP. The hard work, dedication and quality of work from the boys has been exceptional and we have very grateful to our Education Staff at the Club, as well as our partners at Cambridge Regional College.”
A quick glance at many team sheets for Mark Bonner’s team this season will reveal a number of Academy names as the Club’s production line continues to contribute towards the First Team squad.
The Club’s youngsters have made a particularly impressive impact in the Papa John’s Trophy, where the team have made it to the last 16 of the competition thanks to a heavily influenced Academy team. The likes of Liam Bennett, Lewis Simper, Ben Worman and Kai Yearn have all played a major part in the team’s run so far.
Ben Worman has enjoyed a breakthrough season across all competitions, making 12 in total and scoring his first senior goal for the club, an outstanding effort to help secure a league win at Morecambe.
16-year-old Kai Yearn has also been the subject of many headlines as he has made his first team debut, become the club’s youngest ever goalscorer and received an England U17s call-up.
“The opportunities for our players in the Academy and who have recently graduated has been brilliant. You only have to look at our bench against Rotherham on Saturday to see five Academy products on it,” Pell said.
“Not having to cement ourselves in group bubbles has meant that there have been many more First Team training opportunities for our younger players than ever before, which is a great experience for them and can only help in their future development.”
“Ben and Kai have had superb seasons so far with Ben cementing his place as a regular part of the First Team squad and Kai’s excellent form for the U18s being recognised by an England call-up.
“It goes to show that you don’t have to be part of a Category 1 Academy to get International recognition and we hope that Kai’s achievement can offer inspiration to our younger Academy players in that you can achieve anything, should you put the work in.
“We feel that we are improving all the time as an Academy but we are humble enough to know we have a long way to go to get to the level we want to.”
With the January date now set for the FA Youth Cup match against Leeds United, the match provides the perfect opportunity for the Academy to get 2022 off to the best start possible.
The U18s have reached the Fourth Round for the first time 2016/17 following wins against Southend United, Corinthian Casuals and Oxford United.
Pell said, “It will be a fantastic occasion and a test for our boys. We would love to see as many U’s supporters as possible support the team to create a really special atmosphere and experience that will stay with the players for a very long time.
“I remember the last time Leeds United visited the Abbey Stadium in the FA Youth Cup - our very own Barry Corr scored for the Premier League side in front of over 2,000 fans. If we could get anything near that kind of support, that would be brilliant.”
“In the meantime, on behalf of all Academy staff, I would like to wish all of our players, parents and supporters a very happy festive period and would like to thank them for helping create such a great environment at our Club.”
The FA Youth Cup Fourth Round match against Leeds United U18s takes place at 7pm on Wednesday 19th January at the Abbey Stadium. Tickets are available for £3 Adults and £1 U18s from www.cufctickets.com.