Stoke City youth chief looking to build on breakthrough season for academy



Stoke City’s youth chief Gareth Owen is looking to build on what could be a breakthrough season for the Academy.

Stoke have enjoyed good results at junior level, with the under-18s reaching the Premier League Cup final – chalking up a fine win over Chelsea and, 8-0, against Norwich – while the under-23s had got to the knock-out stages before the shutdown.

More importantly, players have been pushed towards the first team. Tyrese Campbell has leapt up the pecking order while Tom Edwards, Nathan Collins and Thibaud Verlinden are firmly on Michael O’Neill’s radar. Lasse Sorensen is knocking on the door too.

But Owen said: “We’re pleased with what we achieved until everything was shut down but staff are never satisfied. This has given us time to reflect.

“Yes, we didn’t play well in the under-18s final but up to that point in that competition we’d had some of the best performances we’ve had as an Academy.

“Likewise with the under-23s, we would’ve finished as high as we’ve ever done. A lot of good stuff is going on but it’s important we realise it’s only a start.”

He added: “We’ve had a good season for results and a good season for players starting to break into the first team picture – and it’s reciprocal. You need good players in the first place and they drive results.

“But we don’t get carried away with wins and losses. Sure it is great to win because we’re competitors and it’s a healthy competition that drives us.

“Even though we have a little bit of success, we always think we can do more. We utilise this off period. We’ve done ok, done well… but how can we take it further? We are looking to introduce one or two new things and keep progressing.”

O’Neill has been checking the progress of Stoke’s prospects and there is a feeling through the club that players like Edwards and Campbell have kicked the door open for others to follow.

Owen said: “Adam Porter has had training opportunities with the first team and done well. Now it’s up to him to kick on and build on the performances he’s had this season, nail down a place in the under-23s and then go again.

“We’ve got others knocking on the door too. Mo Sankoh, you forget, is an under-16 and he’ll be coming into the building full-time next season. It will be interesting to see how he develops and we have every faith that he will respond positively.

“There are opportunities there.

“We have seen the one that Tyrese has grabbed and who’s to say who can be the next? We keep stressing to all our players that they can be the next one – and they have to be ready to seize any chance that comes there way.”

Stoke have maintained their Category One status as an Academy and are competing against some of the best and biggest spenders in world football both on the pitch and, with clubs in Manchester and Liverpool lurking, in terms of recruitment.

Owen said: “Ultimately there are Academies who have huge budgets and spend a lot on their teams and infrastructures – but that is not the be all and end all.

“It’s about the staff and the players – and we’ve got some of the best staff you can have in an Academy in all  departments and players who will be the envy of all clubs as well.

“It bodes well for a positive future.

“The environment you create is vital and in recent years we’ve managed to provide opportunities for players to get into that first team picture.”





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