Academy News

Walker | On U17 PL Cup progression, taking opportunities and facing Man Utd

5 min read

Under-18s head coach Richard Walker has given an insight into opportunities provided at professional development phase level, while reflecting on progression into the under-17 Premier League Cup quarter-final.

The games programme for the under-18s has offered a variety of opportunities for players to shine both as an individual and as a group and the team have enjoyed some success in recent weeks. Advancement into the third round of the Birmingham Senior Cup was followed by Tuesday’s confirmation of a place in the last eight of the U17 PL Cup, where midfielder Luke Rawlings scored for the third game running in the competition.

Walker has used the England under-16 international as a prime example of someone who has stepped up and taken his chance. And opportunity is something that the players throughout the academy can regularly look to take advantage of when presented with it. The under-18s return to league action on Saturday and travel to league leaders Manchester United who have won all eight games so far this season but after defeating the Red Devils twice in cup competitions so far, Walker believes the group can go to Carrington with confidence.

On reaching the quarter-final of the U17 Premier League Cup

“We played the game at Everton on Tuesday evening and drew the game 1-1. We knew a draw would be enough, although we went there to win the game as we always would, but came out with a draw.

“The performance on the evening wasn’t to the standards of which the lads have usually set, however the good work they’d done in clocking up the six points in the group in the previous games against Manchester United and Blackburn respectively meant that a point was good enough and got them through to the quarter-finals.

“It presents a knockout game and it puts us two games away from a final and three games away from a potential trophy.

“I’m pleased for the lads in terms of how they’ve played in that competition this season.

“It’s also a good competition to integrate even further some of the under-16s that maybe haven’t quite featured as much in the 18s, getting them around the group and some of the scholars.”

On individuals taking their opportunity

“Ultimately, we’re here to develop individuals for our first-team and if they don’t make it in the first-team then for the industry and that’s part of the business model, as well as developing well-rounded young men. All these experiences of which the players can encounter, the better.

“If you take Luke Rawlings for example, he encounters a pre-season trip to Bratislava where he trained with the 18s in addition to some training time with the 16s.

“In the early parts of the season he then went to South Korea in a competition with an under-18s group. He has international recognition and goes away to represent his country and again, he then plays in under-18s football, under-17s football – he’s had a real mixed diet of opportunities in which he can flourish this season and be challenged.

“We’re delighted that he’s been recognised by England for his abilities and his potential, and we’re delighted for him and his family with his call-up and then earning his first cap for England. That, I’m sure, was a massive moment of pride for everyone involved.

“In terms of the under-17 Premier League Cup, he’s kind of made it his own tournament. He’s scored in every game and all three goals have been outstanding goals, real high-level individual ability that he’s displayed. He’s someone who can be really pleased with his contributions for sure.”

On under-21 opportunities for under-18s

“As a staff, we have daily and weekly interactions. The connection in terms of the professional development phase is myself, James (Collins), Ian Sharps, James McPike and conversations are going on all the time.

“After games, we’ll feedback in terms of who have been the standout performers in the 18s and who are the standout performers in training.

“There’s regular opportunities for under-18s players to train around the under-21s, showcase how they can cope in terms of the intensity and the physical side of what under-21s offers, because it is a step up from under-18s, but also it gives them chance to showcase their ability in front of the staff.

“The mentality towards development that James and Ian show, it means that they will give people opportunity. The lads have sampled that in recent weeks in terms of Caden (Voice), Fraser (Harper) and Wes (Okoduwa).

“They’ve all shown aspects of what they’re capable of, but the level of the 21s performances has been high so they’ve got to keep working hard, making sure they do well in the 18s and when they do get further opportunities in the 21s, do even more to try and cement themselves into that squad more regularly.”

On travelling to leaders Manchester United on Saturday

“We’ve beaten them in the under-17s Premier League Cup and we beat them 1-0 in the under-18 Premier League Cup.

“They’ll know what we’re capable of and I’m sure they’ll respect us. They’re the standout team in the under-18s league.

“I’ve got a report that the analysis team have put towards me and the last three results – a 6-0 win at Leeds, a 3-0 win against Blackburn Rovers and a 5-1 win against Southampton.

“They’re free scoring and are putting a lot of teams to the sword, but it’ll be another good test for our boys.

“We beat them last time so hopefully we can do the same again on Saturday.”

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