Recently I was able to fly over from Sydney, Australia to England to visit three EPL Academy set up’s, which was an amazing experience. To see how they are organised and the thought process that goes into not only the training sessions but many things behind the scenes was fantastic to see. The clubs I was able to visit were West Ham, Reading and Fulham, who all participate in the South group of the U18’s Premier League competition. Historically, they’re all clubs that have produced some of England’s best players.
I was able to see an Under 18’s training session at West Ham, under the guidance of U18’s coach, Mark Phillips, and Under 16’s coach and former West Ham first team player, Jack Collison. The session focus was on the players keeping possession in tight areas (largely an overview type of session) using different types of restrictions. The players’ skill level and ability to solve different problems under pressure was an insightful experience, and showcased to me the level of player that England is producing, even if it’s only one or two per club for that top level. Whilst their results haven’t been overly outstanding this current season, you can see that the club are producing some great individuals, who will end up being professional footballers, whether that be at West Ham or another football club. This is also largely down to the culture being created in the Academy from the staff, where hard work, integrity and desire are all so important.
Post session, I was able to learn the most, as it gave me the opportunity to sit down with Jack, Mark and other Academy coaches at their Chadwell Heath training facility. I was able to hear about the West Ham Academy philosophy, how they build the club culture and what particular assets they look for in each position, amongst other topics. It was very rewarding to hear about the thought process regarding the decision making, rather than ad hoc decisions being made based upon short term criteria.
At Reading, I was able to view a combined U15/16’s training session, which was a very light session as it was the day before a match for the boys. This visit was mainly focused on hearing about the pathways and principles which the club have in place, all the way from their under 6’s through to their first team. The Reading Academy mission statement being, ‘Brilliantly technical players, who work tremendously hard.’ Hearing about the technical director, which the club have put in place and who is constantly in contact with Academy teams, to maintain continuity in styles of player which the club are trying to develop was also very interesting. I believe that the outcomes of this will begin to show in the coming 2 or 3 years, when more Academy player progress through the system to the first team and reserves squads.
The training session which the U15/16 boys focused on was a finishing practice, working on volleyed and headed finishes. This involved balls being clipped in from about 30 metres away and either trying to head the ball in or volley it past the goalkeeper, involving different scoring systems, the feeding coming from different angles and also different ways of striking the ball. It was a fun session, but did allow me to see the level of player which the club is attracting/producing at one of the historically best academy systems in England.
This was the club which allowed me to see the most, with the club being very open to me coming in. I was able to see their high flying under 18’s team, currently 4th in their league (behind Arsenal and Chelsea), in a training session. The session was run by Steve Wigley, Head of Academy Coaching and former assistant coach at Manchester City and England U21’s, and Colin Omogbehin, under 18’s head coach. The standard that was set in the training session was very high but this shows why they’re doing so well in the league, as they are able to meet those expectations. The session focus was around short passing and moving defenders around to see if you can create overlaps in wide areas, a great session.
After the session was completed, I had the chance to sit down with U16’s head coach, Dan Thomas, and Fulham Youth Development Phase Manager, Ali Melloul, to discuss the next phase of their periodisation plan for their U13’s-U16’s age groups. The detail involved in this plan is very thorough and showed me the components which goes into such a plan, such as key individual focuses involved in each individual session for individual players. This approach is key, rather than just an overall session focus for the whole team.
I was also fortunate enough to get to sit down one on one with Academy Director, Huw Jennings. This was an invaluable experience, as he detailed the process of improving the Fulham Academy set up, culture and players over recent years. Huw was also able to give me great advice on what to focus on for my coaching journey over the coming years, something which is so valued. To get to sit down with someone like Huw one on one for almost an hour is something that very few people get to do and was such a great learning experience and something that I won’t forget. I will need to put his thoughts into action now, which I intend on trying to do in 2018 and beyond.
Each club was very different but taught me very valuable things to take note of. The standard of player in which England is producing currently is outstanding, as has been seen by the World Cup results for their youth teams in recent times. This will continue to improve over time, with lots of resources being promoted into the Academies all across the country.
I have to thank all the people that allowed me to come into the Academy environments, particularly to Jack Collison, Lewis Goater and Huw Jennings, from the three clubs. It was a very enlightening experience to see the level of detail that goes into training sessions and also the set up’s of the various clubs, something which would be the envy of many Australian football club’s.