Despite the difficulties and uncertainty that has surrounded the bulk of the 2020/21 season, Exeter City Football Club have announced that they have offered two-year scholarship deals to 10 members of their Under-16s age group.
While certain terms have yet to be finalised, and as a result, individuals have not been named, City’s Under-18s head coach, Chad Gribble, spoke about how the decisions were made, and explained the process behind it all despite how different things have has been from seasons before.
“Firstly, we are pleased to announce that we have made offers to 10 of our Under-16s, which is a large amount when you compare it to the number we have handed out previously. That is down to how well they have done. They have all played in competitive competitions, were the National Plate Champions in the EFL Floodlit Cup, and in the final, beat a Crewe Alexandra side who are a part of a Category Two Academy and a football club well-known for producing very good players.
“With everything that has gone on with the coronavirus, everybody has had their challenges, but some of it has worked in a positive way for football, and this is certainly one of the ways. In a time where more anxiety exists in the mindset of some of the players, the coaches have had more access to the players in our Under-18s environment. The trade-off is that there was a shortage in Under-16s games, and although the players were allowed to train, no U16s games were allowed to be organised during the pandemic. But we at the club managed to find our own way to make it work.
While their competitive fixtures were affected tremendously by the national lockdown, the Under-16s’ run in the Floodlit Cup has undoubtedly been the highlight of their season, and Gribble acknowledged that those 10 individuals all played starring roles in helping the team achieve their success.
“They’ve all played a humungous part. Despite there being a large number of players, all 10 of them featured heavily during that cup run despite all not starting. Even the quality they showed coming off the bench added another dimension to the matches, and I think in the final, being down 3-1 at half-time, those that were coming off the bench impacted proceedings incredibly.
“That has certainly then come through when they have been with the Under-18s. They’ve been able to impact, from day one for some of them, and, for the rest of them, at other stages of the season when they have been introduced to the group. For many different reasons we have had them come into the side, but, the biggest compliment I can give them is that when they have stepped in, they have stepped up.
“What they have done is stepped up and embraced it. This group have some really good characters and personalities. It would be easy for them to believe their own hype, because you can get a lot of plaudits for the achievements you have done before, but when you get called upon you have got to show what you have got. They showed us they had it in training at first, and from then on, I think they quickly realised the requirement at the Under-18s level. They have shown everyone who they are and what they are about, and they’ve certainly brought value to the current Under-18s group.”
Throughout the season, members of the Under-16s group have been involved alongside their Under-18s colleagues in the Youth Alliance South West division, Youth Alliance Cup and FA Youth Cup. And while in normal circumstances, the bulk of the Under-16s group would be used in the second half of the Under-18s’ season to take part in the Merit League where they can find their feet at a new level of football, this season, the younger group have certainly hit the ground running, and perhaps exceeded expectations early on with City ending the season as runners-up in the Merit League standings. Gribble admitted how excited he is looking forward.
“They are an honest, hard-working bunch, and a group that understands what is required from them. They are really coming into the Under-18s fold with their eyes wide open, and despite being the younger players, they will be looking to grab the shirts off some of those who are ahead of them in terms of age and experience.
“I’ve got a good feeling about them. I’m already in contact with them, and have been talking about their off-season programmes, and there is a real excitement about them. They love playing football, and they love working on their craft. There will be surprises for them along the way, but they have enjoyed the challenges so far, and they are super keen, and really excited to learn and develop more.
But while the Exeter City Academy look forward to a brighter future for their youth side, it was unfortunate to see that there were some members of the Under-16s squad who weren’t offered professional deals. Gribble could only thank those who were unlucky and will be leaving the club at the end of the season.
“There were some players who were unfortunate as we weren’t in a position to offer them a deal. In other seasons they might’ve been able to earn a scholarship, but it wasn’t to be this time around. I know one or two have already earned things from other clubs, and we hope that what we’ve given them has helped in that respect, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a few more individuals had an interest in them and earned trials as well. This year has seen a lot of clubs interested in our Under-16s players as they are a strong group, but unfortunately, we could only offer deals on the here and now, and whether we saw they had a pathway and a journey into professional football. Credit has to go to Chris McPhee and Steve Tully for their support to the players, and the interest those players have had in them is testament to their hard work.”