Entering its second year, Warren Joyce’s Development Squad is hoping to improve on the successes of the inaugural year.
With a first EFL appearance for Academy graduate Alex Doyle and the breakthrough to the first team of Brandon Thomas-Asante, as well as exposure to a first team match day for Luke Burgess in the EFL Trophy, it was a good start for the squad which was implemented in the summer of 2019.
Forward Thomas-Asante in particular made a significant contribution to the first team, making his debut as a substitute against Aston Villa’s Under-23s in September before beginning to establish himself after a string of impressive performances from November onwards. In total he scored six and assisted four goals in 26 appearances which made him the second top scorer behind Adam Rooney (9).
While the 21-year-old had previous Football League experience with MK Dons, his example is one that Sporting Director Chris Casper hopes can be replicated with the club’s recruitment of similar players who have joined from established academies.
“We’re looking to replicate things like we’ve done with Brandon, give young players an opportunity that have dropped out, I wouldn’t say lost their way, but they need that second opportunity really and that’s what we’re looking to do with that Development Squad.
“[We have recruited] lads that have got that little bit of experience in and around the first team, and are ready to challenge our first team players as well.
“We’ve kept the Academy as well, we’ve re-structured that, we’ve got an idea of what we want to achieve with the Development Squad as well and like I say that’s to continue to feed the first team in the way that Brandon’s done, and hopefully one or two others now with signings like Alex Denny from Everton, Liam Loughlan from Leicester, Nick Hayes from Norwich, all good clubs and hopefully they’ll all be challenging for first team spots in the near future.
“The word ‘development’ is in there for a reason, these lads have still got a lot of developing and a lot of learning to do and achieve, we’ve attracted the best part of 40-odd trialists in the last couple of weeks, there’s lads that actually want to come and join us, and like I say from real good clubs as well.
“I think it’s testament to the scouts that we’ve got at the club and also Warren; his experience speaks for itself, his record at Manchester United and the players that he’s developed there, he’s attracting players.
“It’s us going out and scouting players as well but he’s attracting real good quality players and the work that he does with them is fantastic, he works them really hard, the programme that he puts them through is really, really in depth and detailed, physically it’s tough as well and it’s what these lads need to get up to the first team standard.”
Assessment and Aims
Warren arrived at the club in the summer of 2019 as Development Squad Coach and oversaw the first year, spurring on the likes of Thomas-Asante. The forward is a good example of what the squad can achieve, but the 55-year-old believes that players need to have their own drive too in order to be successful, and says that there is still more for Thomas-Asante to do in the coming season.
“There was some really good performances as a group and a team last season, and even though a lot of the lads have left the club and gone on to other things I had a really good bunch of guys, a hard working group, ones who wanted to be the best they could be every day and I’m sure that will help them in the rest of their career to where they end up and what they want to do.
“He [Brandon] had a little bit of experience in league football then he missed his way a little bit. He came in, got a lot fitter, a lot stronger, a lot sharper and broke on the scene and did quite well in the first team but he’s got to progress from that this season and go on and really make a mark and score plenty of goals and hopefully get the first team promoted.
“I think all young players they’ve got to be hungry and desperate to take places of players above them, it’s never easy at football clubs but that’s got to be the aim and to do that they’ve got to be the best they can be, and they’ve got to be hungrier, sharper and fitter than the people in front.
“It’s a dog eat dog world out there, that’s the way football is, they’ve got to compete and be better than other people, and if they get a chance through injury or somebody losing form they’ve got to be ready to take that chance and make the most of it, then stay in the side.”
So far the Development Squad has signed seven players, including Academy graduates Harry Ditchfield and Will Shepherd who signed their first professional contracts with the club. The other new names, some of who have been involved in the first team’s pre-season games, are Nick Hayes (Norwich City), Tylor Golden (Wigan Athletic), Alex Denny (Everton), Liam Loughlan (Leicester City) and Mo Touray (Newport County).
Dan Hawkins and Luke Burgess have been kept on from last season too. Hawkins had loan spells at Marine and Stafford Rangers in 2019-20, while former Wigan youngster Burgess has joined AFC Fylde on loan until January 2021 to gain more first team minutes.
Speaking about this season’s squad, Warren added:
“The recruitment team’s done well, we’ve had a lot of players in and we had a group of trialists do well at Manchester United and beat Manchester United, and we didn’t take many out of them so that’s the level and the standard of players that have come into it.
“We’re looking for players that we think have got a chance in the first team and progressing through the leagues with the first team so the standard that we’re setting is high level.”
We will be publishing weekly updates about the squad throughout the season and providing more information about players arriving and heading out on loan.