With AFC Bournemouth Under-18s hosting Manchester City at Vitality Stadium on Tuesday night, afcb.co.uk caught up with head of academy Joe Roach to discuss the academy’s rapid progression and the unsung heroes who work behind-the-scenes.
afcb.co.uk: How different does the academy look now to when you first joined the setup?
JR: When I started, I was sat outside Dean Court with no youth team and no training facilities for them. There’s been a huge step forward, and especially in the last three years we’ve really managed to progress.
afcb.co.uk: Much of the academy coaching staff is made up of former AFC Bournemouth players. How important is it to maintain that DNA in those senior positions?
JR: We always used to find it difficult to get coaches, who in the main had been part-time, to stay with us, because the finances were never there to reward them properly. There was a bit of a turnstile on the Centre of Excellence door.
We felt that we needed to allow people who knew the philosophies of the club such as ex-players and developers to come in and learn from each other.
We’ve got good, thoughtful, considerate, hard-working staff. Alan Connell coming in after being a player and working with the under-18s with no ego; Shaun Cooper doing the same now with the under-21s, not to mention Mark Molesley. All those ex-players have come in and learnt the job with support from good developers.
Gaz Stewart has also coached within younger age groups, as has Alan with the under-12s, Shaun with the under-13s, and Brian Stock with the under-14s.
When we do get visits from the Premier League, they always comment on how good, well-mannered, and thoughtful our players are as well. With all of that together, we’ve got a good chance of achieving what we’re after.
afcb.co.uk: Behind-the-scenes, where have there been changes among the academy staff?
JR: All areas have improved, including sports science, which is evident in how much more physically adept we are now thanks to Ben Bradley and his operation.
Medically, we’re getting really good care for people like Christian Saydee, who are unfortunately out injured. Years ago, these physios and sports science staff were all only part-time.
Academically, we’re the only team in the Premier League that has had a one hundred percent attainment from the education programme, which means that we challenge the players to achieve.
The support we’ve been given from the owner, the CEO, the chairman and the management team has given us the opportunity to move forward. We’ve got a fantastic training ground with a lot of facilities that Category Three academies typically don’t have.
Additionally, the operations area, a job which involves arranging fixtures, has been managed extremely well by Sam Gisborne.
afcb.co.uk: On the pitch, did you believe the under-18s could reach the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup for only the second time in history ahead of this season?
JR: The club motto speaks for itself. Anything is possible if you truly believe in it and work hard enough. Carl Fletcher helped win the EFL Youth Alliance League and Youth Alliance Cup a couple of seasons ago, which we probably wouldn’t have thought we’d have done.
The youth teams are doing exceptionally well now. The younger age groups are also competing really well against bigger, more established academies.
There have been fundamental staff changes through the academy to make sure we have the right people in the building doing the right things. Ultimately, we have to be mindful that we’re preparing the players for life after football as well, whenever that might be.
None of this is down to luck. The work that Alan does, as well as the other coaches and staff, has got us to where we are.
Carl Robson with recruitment, Dawn Roach with education, Ben Bradley with sports science, Sara Sayer with medical, and Lauren Jones with analysis - thanks to everyone the programme is unrecognisable, light years away from where it was 20 years ago.