Speaking to Valley Gold, Academy Manager Steve Avory has reflected on the past couple of months within the academy, January departures and highlighted the progress of Aaron Henry and Charlie Barker.
With a third lockdown in England being announced at the beginning of the year, Steve Avory explained the impact that this had on the academy.
“We came back after Christmas into lockdown again. Fortunately, we were allowed to carry on to some degree. The Under 18’s and Under 23’s games programme continued. The Under 16’s were allowed to continue training which is important as some U16’s figure in the Under 18 squad.
The schoolboy programme has been paused for the time being until the schools go back. The boys can’t come in and train so we can’t forget about them. From Under 9 through to under 15, the lead coaches have been doing things remotely. Some technical work that they can show them, for them to practice at home or a session led by a sports scientist. They have been doing match analysis with Rhys Williams and Vince Lee and Dave Chatwin – they’ve been asking the boys to observe games and do some match analysis of the two teams.
“We’ve had to continue having our contact with the schoolboys, with two zoom calls per age group each week but in terms of the reality of training, we are only allowed to have the Under 18’s and Under 23’s in.”
Since Christmas, the Under 18’s have only played twice, a win and a draw, whilst the Under 23’s have played more matches. Both age groups are sitting in fourth spot in their respective leagues but the games in hand can see the Under 18 age group move to the top of the league, and the Under 23’s could climb into second with 12 games left in both seasons.
January saw Aaron Henry and Charlie Barker involved in the first team squad for a trip to Bristol Rovers, which the Addick’s won 1-0. Avory praised the development of the duo.
He said: “Since his debut, Henry was around the first team then went back to play Under 18 and 23 football. Both him and Barker featured in preseason and into the season before going back to the Under 23’s.
“Although they are Under 18’s we made sure they’d be training with the 23’s and playing for them. They’ve both figured in the FA Youth Cup for the Under 18’s and they want to come back and play that competition. Where they’ve both done really well is when those games have come along, they’ve been with the 23’s and first team but have coped with the transition back down and back up again, they’re such humble boys and these young players have to be able to mentally adapt to that with guidance and feedback from the first team and academy staff.
“The two lads deserve praise for how they’re coping with that transitional phase at the moment. They are both clearly on Lee Bowyer’s radar as he continues to look at them from time to time.”
Avory has spoken about how the pair can now use their first team experience to act as role models to their academy colleagues.
He said: “These academy players see others break through and look at it and think they can do it, there’s a pathway there and they can do that. They only have to look at the others who have done so, they’re all aware of the productivity and numbers we’ve had come through over the last ten years. It becomes motivation for these players and it’s also so important for recruitment of players.”
The past month has also seen Nathan Harness make the Charlton bench on several occasions, filling in for the injured Ashley Maynard-Brewer. When asked about the two goalkeepers, Avory said: “Ashley Maynard-Brewer has been really unfortunate recently. The first thing I saw at Bristol City for the Under 23’s was Ashley walking into an ambulance.
I’ve had a one to one with him today to catch up with him. He spent a few days at home recovering, we must remember that home for him isn’t really home as he’s 11,000 miles from his family but he’s adapted to that and been at the club for over 5 years. He’s begun his concussion protocols and hopefully he will return to training soon. In terms of playing, he would’ve been looking forward to playing for the U23’s as he’s the number two at the moment and on the bench most weeks to support Ben Amos.
“Ashley can take advice in terms of prevention now, looking at his technique as well as the physical side of it where he can strengthen his neck muscles. He’s having this specialist advise with Andy Marshall or the sports science team.”
On Nathan Harness, Avory continued: “Nathan is getting a wonderful opportunity at the moment, being around the first team environment. He’s a good lad and we’re very pleased with him, he’s dedicated as well. He suffered disappointment at Ipswich but has made a lot of his opportunity here.
“He joined us as an Under 19 two years ago and we’ve extended his contract since. There’s less likelihood for a goalkeeper coming off the bench but you never know and both Nathan and Ashley have to be ready for when that happens. Both of those boys relish being around the first team, match-day environment.”
On the other side of things, the past month has seen first team players such as Akin Famewo, Alex Gilbey and academy graduate Albie Morgan play for the Under 23 squad.
“Famewo came in for fitness reasons against Bristol City and Swansea. He shows, like 99% of players that play for our 23’s from the first team, they’re a good example for the lads in the changing room and on the pitch.
“The senior players such as Jason Pearce are the more talkative ones, they’re an immense help and support. Famewo was too. This week, Alex Gilbey was crucial in the changing room. He was so good for the lads in what he was saying to them before the game, on the pitch and at half-time.
“These players are the ones with the biggest influence. It’s good for our lads to see that even if you get a Famewo or Albie Morgan, who was back this week, they equally have to adapt just like our lads do going into the first team.”
Avory continued to praise Albie Morgan’s transition into the first team, which has been seen over the last year.
“Albie has adapted to the first team role now. Initially, when you make the step to the first team and coming back to play U23 football it can be tough but he copes with that now and understands it.
“Albie is for me, in the Lapslie and Doughty category. He’s established himself at first team level, part of that squad every week every day and every game. It takes time as it did with Albie but we had no doubt that he has the ability and the right attitude to establish himself.” he said.
Another key part of the day to day work of Steve Avory and the academy staff is the recruitment process. Although this has taken on a different form due to Covid-19, the Academy Manager explains how his role has not changed.
“I did a talk two weeks ago to the Under 8’s and their parents, who hadn’t even signed for us yet.” he said. “Even though this is now over Zoom, it is just as important.
“I did a talk which I do every year and the fact that we can proudly show off our statistics, and videos of former academy graduates. They can resonate with some of these players, the Konsa’s, Lookman and Gomez who are in the Premier League now.”
The Academy Manager went on to discuss players from the academy that have departed from Charlton in the January transfer window, notably George Lapslie and Alfie Doughty.
He said: “A few players have moved on. Alfie Doughty completed a move to Stoke City, we wish him all the best for the next stage of his career but it’s disappointing to be losing him even though he earned that chance to play at the next level.
“In Alfie’s case, he’s the one that has really done some impressive things and that’s attracted attention of clubs in the Championship and even above that. In our current position you hope that players will establish themselves like Alfie and George (Lapslie) have done and stay but that’s not always the case.
“For Alfie it was the challenge of playing at Championship level which he had already done and he felt he needed to make that move. Both those players established themselves at first team level here and there’s always bound to be a decision to make regarding the next move and they’ve both made that move so we wish them well.”
On fellow academy graduates George Lapslie and Brendan Wiredu: “George, who has been with the academy since 10/11 years old completed his move to Mansfield so we are sad to see him go but it was the next step for him. Brendan has been in the academy since he was 12 and he’s decided the next stage of his career was needed to get first team football at Colchester, we wish both of them well for the future.”
Avory went on to discuss a temporary move away for Josh Davison, who had spent the first half of the campaign on loan at Woking.
“There’s a few still out on loan – Josh Davison has started a new loan moving to Forest Green Rovers from Woking. He started on Tuesday and scored so we are all pleased for him. We also have Ben Dempsey out on loan at Woking and making progress.” he said.
Article by Nick Emms