With the curtain having been brought down on his side’s domestic exploits for 2015/16 earlier this month, Under-18s’ head coach David Lee took time out to sit down with bwfc.co.uk to offer an insight into happenings in the youth ranks over the course of the last nine months.
Firstly David, what's your assessment of the Under-18s’ season?
Overall, I’ve been really pleased with the success rate of the players and their development from Under-16s right up to making that transition into the Under-21s and even the first team.
From the academy’s point of view, to have a young player in Alex Samizadeh touching the first team at the age of 17, it’s a real boost and for us, that’s what it’s all about.
You mention young Alex there – his rapid progression must have been a inspirational for everybody at the academy?
Definitely – it just shows how much hard work goes in up here at the academy into producing players that will one day play for the first team.
To make his debut at just 17 years of age was fantastic for him personally, but it gives everybody a real eye-opener and a morale boost right across the players, academy staff and even the club’s fans who will see that youth coming through.
The money that is invested into the academy is producing players that will eventually help this club at the top level and although we know Alex isn’t the finished article, he’s a natural goalscorer and he’s taken his opportunity.
This season has also seen a number of the younger players given a chance for the Under-21s...
Iain Brunskill and I talk on a daily basis about how players are progressing and if I tell him that an Under-18 player is doing well, he’ll immediately give them a chance to show their worth.
That just shows that the perfect blend of communication can reap dividends for all involved and thankfully all those who have had a chance this season have grabbed it with both hands.
That has certainly been the highlight of the season for me personally, to see those players making that step up as I know that hopefully further down the line, they’ll become real assets for this football club.
At the other end of the scale, a number of Under-16s have featured for the Under-18s this campaign. How have they done?
They’ve done very well and it all stems from that natural progression where the first and second year scholars make that jump up to Under-21 level and leave spaces and consequently opportunities for the younger lads to grab with both hands.
At that age, they’re always going to make mistakes, but it’s how they learn from that in their natural development. Just giving them that opportunity at the age of 15 though will stand them in good stead when they come into full-time training with us next season.
And the number of youth team graduates in the first team squad this season shows that it can be done!
There’s nothing better from the academy’s perspective to see home-grown players running out there onto the pitch. The club will ultimately get the publicity, but the groundwork that goes into getting them to that point is so pleasing.
It’s all about opportunities at this age and productivity comes with that. The relationship that we have throughout the club from grassroots level right up to the first team is imperative in ensuring that we continue that production line and produce players that can help Bolton Wanderers.
It is clear to see though that the production line is still there and that is definitely a boost for all involved, from the staff to the supporters around the town.
When players come here at eight or nine years of age, their dream is to play on the pitch at Macron Stadium. Right now, we have the proof that it is possible which is fantastic for the club.