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Club News

Dom Knighton's Academy Season Review

14 June 2023

Club News

Dom Knighton's Academy Season Review

14 June 2023

Academy Manager, Dom Knighton, reflects on a landmark 2022/23 season for the Cambridge United Academy.

With our Under 9s and U10s returned from Germany on Sunday after participating in the Academy’s final European tour, it signalled the final event for the Academy programme this season.

It has been a season full of opportunities and experiences, highs and lows, excitement and disappointment and certainly plenty of memories that will live with our players and staff for a long, long time.

We would like to thank our players and parents for their consistent commitment to the programme this season. We hope our players are able to enjoy some downtime away from the Academy with friends and family. After an intense and long season, we encourage our schoolboys to take full advantage of the time off to enjoy being children.

I would also like to thank our special team of staff who go above and beyond to create the environment for our players to flourish. We have a team full of specialists within their respective fields but a common thread that runs through everyone is the care they have for our players.

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Reflecting on 2022/23

Creating a challenging programme that supports each individuals holistic development is a key driver within our Academy vision. Everybody wants to win and everyone wants to perform, but the key motivation at the forefront of everyone’s mind has to be supporting each individual’s development to become a better player and person. This season has seen a lot of players challenged by playing above their own age group and taking them out of their comfort zone. This can provide many challenges for players, their families and also our staff, but we feel that learning takes place in situations of discomfort and can help to really accelerate the education of players.

We are driven by creating memories and the events of the final day of the season for the First Team most definitely achieved this, As an Academy we couldn’t have been prouder of the part that Liam Bennett had since his return from his loan spell at Walsall. A role model and someone all of our aspiring young players can learn a lot from. Although Liam joined our Academy programme later in his youth career, after being identified and recruited from AFC Sudbury during his Under 18 season, Liam has taken his opportunity with both hands at the football club. Although the season was a real positive for Liam, his journey since joining the club hasn’t come without adversity and he has consistently demonstrated an unbelievable mindset and has met every challenge head on, taking responsibility for his own career by continuing to work hard at his game.

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As you progress through the Academy programme, game-time is something that shouldn’t come in short supply to enable every individual with the opportunity to develop their technical skills and continue to improve their game. One thing that this doesn’t necessarily prepare our players for though is how hard the transition can be from youth development into the senior game. This is where we feel that our loans strategy has been fantastic and continues to be pivotal in supporting our players’ journeys. To play in our First Team, our young players have got to be able to contribute to winning.

FA Youth Cup run…

As already touched on, this Club is about creating memories and it would be hard not to reflect on last season without looking back at the historic FA Youth Cup run for our Academy. The collective achievement of these players and staff helped create memories that will last a lifetime. The momentum that was built throughout each round was truly special and to feel the fans get behind the group in victories at home to Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday was infectious. To reach the Quarter Finals of the competition for the first time in the our history was a proud moment for everyone involved, including staff both past and present who have contributed to the development of the group. Seeing the team walking out at the Emirates Stadium with nearly 3000 fans packed into the corner, and the celebrations when Kai Yearn put us 2-1 up are two moments that will live in the memory for a very long time.

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International Honors…

We are always very proud of our Academy players receiving international recognition and this season saw Glenn McConnell join up with the Republic of Ireland U18s, for when they travelled to Croatia to compete in a tournament against Croatia, Denmark and Sweden. He was also invited to attend a training camp with the ROI U19s and we are very proud of Glenn.

Loans Programme…

We are really pleased with the progress that has been made this season with our loans programme. As already mentioned, one of our biggest challenges is the transition from Academy to the First Team and our loan strategy is a key aspect in preparing our players for that progression. This season we have seen one of our young players loaned to an EFL club for the first time, we have seen Mamadou Jobe finish the season in the National League with Maidstone United and we are delighted with the game-time that both Glenn McConnell and Kai Yearn achieved at St Albans and Chelmsford City as 17-year-olds. In total, 10 of our 18 young scholars have experienced senior football through our loan programme this past season.

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European Tour Programme…

At the beginning of the season we made the collective decision to reintroduce our European tour programme following the pandemic. We have competed in 10 separate European tournaments this season and travelled to countries such as Denmark, Germany and Holland. As an Academy, we want to ensure that we consistently provide life enriching experiences for our players and the opportunities and experiences that our players are exposed to through our tour programme are invaluable. Our tours provide so much more than the football - learning about different cultures and history, experiencing different foods, making new friends and building lifelong friendships with teammates are just some of the of the benefits that are provided.

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Community…

We pride ourselves as a Community Club and the Academy feels a responsibility to give back to our local community. This is something that we have been really proud of this season as our young scholars have supported a number of events that have been ran by the Club’s Foundation, such as their fantastic Senior Lunches & Half-Term events. We are also delighted that a former Academy player has gained employment with the Foundation this year, which gives us much satisfaction knowing that we can offer alternative pathways for our young players.

Players moving on from the Academy…

At the conclusion of their respective contracts, Jaydyn Lott, Oscar Winterbone, Faruq Usman, Charlie Stallard, Myles Cowling & Joe Tarpey will be leaving the Football Club. As these players all begin the next stage of their journey, we will continue to support each individual with anything that they need both during their period of transition and beyond.

The hardest part of the role is informing players that their time at the Club is coming to an end. For a lot of these players, they have spend the majority of their lives with the Academy so it is a big period of change. I am confident though that all six players will go on to be a success moving forwards because of the people they are.

We are proud of each and everyone of them and the way in which they have carried themselves since hearing the disappointing news. They are a credit to themselves and their families.

I would also like to thank the families for their commitment and support of the Academy throughout their time with the Club. Our Academy is a family, one that you never leave regardless of where each individual journey takes them. They have been inducted into our Academy Alumni and will always be welcome at Cambridge United Football Club.

Enjoy the Summer.


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