In this week's Academy column, U21 head coach Michael Beale reveals why Fabrice Muamba has been a regular visitor to Kirkby and also speaks about the trip to the FA national football centre in St George's Park.
I'm going to start this column by expressing my gratitude for the work Fabrice Muamba and Salif Diao have been doing recently at the Academy. We already work with Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Rob Jones - and Fabrice and Salif have also come in to do some sessions with us. Fabrice came in to do a talk for the Premier League about his situation and how he progressed from a young player right through to recovering from his near-fatal accident. I was so taken aback by Fabrice's enthusiasm and I spoke with him. Fabrice is friends with our physio, Andy Renshaw, from his Bolton days and he is starting his coaching badges. We invited Fabrice in and his personality has lit up the Academy in the days that he comes in, and he was with us this week watching the Chelsea game.
Salif's son plays for our Academy and Salif is also doing his coaching badges. He played for our first team, he played in the World Cup and has his own academy back in Senegal, and he has also come in to give a talk to the lads. Fabrice and Salif are both active in our sessions as well and want to share their advice. All the experience these people have is invaluable and they help keep our players' feet firmly on the floor. I'm extremely grateful because it is a great help to pick their brains and get their opinions as well. It's lovely to see Steve Heighway back at the Academy working with the younger players and I think we have a lovely mix at the Academy. It's very special and very unique what we have got here and very few clubs in the world have that. It's a real family feel and it really helps us keep the lads grounded because we don't want any U21 superstars or players just happy to play regular U21s football without stepping up. They really help us get that message across.
Today [Friday] we have taken a group of lads from the Academy to St George's Park for a demonstration session. Our Academy director, Alex Inglethorpe, was contacted by coaches from the the FA's national football centre and we are going to share some of our work with them. We have taken our forward players in Harry Wilson, Sergi Canos, Jerome Sinclair, Jack Dunn, Cameron Brannagan and Daniel Trickett-Smith. There will be a presentation which our lads will lead and showcase some of the work we do with them. We will put on a short session and then do a Q&A session with the coaches there. I think it's really good for the players to get the opportunity to talk to people about what they are doing and how they are going about trying to achieve their dreams, so it's more about development for the players and a sharing of knowledge. We think it's very good for the players.
I must say it has been a fantastic boost to everybody at the Academy to see Jordan Williams being named on the first-team bench for our last three games. It's also a huge confidence boost for Jordan himself as he is a boy that last year came back from a long injury lay-off. The night he made his debut this season against Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup he showed he has a fantastic mentality. He was willing to take a penalty in front of the Kop and while you might say that it's everybody's dream, I think the moment you are doing it you would be scared and nervous. But not Jordan. His mentality has really impressed everyone at Melwood, so he is progressing well.
I was absolutely delighted with the lads' performance in our 2-0 win over Chelsea on Monday. I thought that we showed that, rightly so, we have invested a lot of time and effort into our Academy and we feel we have very good players who are highly motivated due to the first-team staff giving them every opportunity. When your first team's average age is 23, like it was against Manchester City, it gives the players motivation to see that the staff are looking at them and they want to use young players. Chelsea have got some excellent players and everyone involved in youth development knows who they are, but I'd like to think we have got players on the same level.
Jerome Sinclair scored a fantastic goal against Chelsea and we are delighted with his progress. What people don't know is that in the off-season Jerome went away and did a lot of work on his own. He did some yoga and worked with a sprint coach just to get his body right after the injuries he had last season, so the person who deserves the most credit for the form he is showing now is Jerome. The staff have supported him and given him mental focus, but Jerome was the one who went away and put the work in.
We host Everton in the mini-derby on Monday night and again the game will be played at Chester FC's Swansway Stadium. The people at Chester won us over in the FA Youth Cup games we staged there. I was shown around the place by the chairman on my first day there and we also played them at U16 level in a friendly last year and took a player from them who has done very well. We have strengthened our relationship with them this year and their hospitality has won us over. I have to say the people at St Helens over at Langtree Park have also been fantastic and we enjoyed playing there, but at the moment the winter weather has taken its toll on their pitch, so Chester are helping us out in our time of need. There is a real buzz amongst the lads ahead of the Everton game. I think we are very lucky in this part of the world that we can have two clubs who are so close together. We all respect each other as well and there is no malice in our rivalry and both clubs have a fantastic reputation for developing youth players from the local area. I am expecting it to be another really good game with that local derby feel. It will be more intense than the Chelsea game.
We will hopefully have Jack Dunn available again providing he comes through this week's training. While it has been a frustrating year for Jack in terms of injuries what he has to remember is that this is the year he made his debut in league football and made a bit of a name for himself with Cheltenham Town. He scored goals and they were delighted with him before he picked up a knock and returned to us. Jack is a very exciting and talented player.
I would also like to express my gratitude for the work and help I have received from Tim Jenkins. Tim is our head of development analysis at the Academy and is an extremely hard-working and honest person. He heads up our analysis department and is also the U21 assistant manager to me this year. He is out on the pitch with me every single day and has to put up with me moaning all of the time! Tim is a very good analyst and is also a very good coach which shows you his unique skill. I consider myself very lucky because besides the privilege of working with Alex Inglethorpe, I am very lucky to work with our physios, Andy Renshaw and Richie Partridge, our goalkeeping coach Mark Morris and our head of fitness Andy O'Boyle. Brendan Mcilduff joined us from the Scottish FA and does a brilliant job alongside Luke Murphy and they are always available for me. They have all made it easier for me and they have really helped me and I'm extremely grateful to them.