The Academy at Exeter City Football Club have confirmed that from this season’s second-year scholars age group, Ben Chrisene and Alfie Pond are the only two players to have made it into the professional game.
Chrisene moved to Aston Villa back in the summer of 2020, however, Pond, who received City’s young player of the year award this season, has been on the bench for Matt Taylor’s first team, and has been pushing towards the first team group regularly following a successful loan spell at Tiverton Town.
ECFC Head of Coaching and Player Development, Kevin Nicholson, explained the thinking behind the decision, and the reasons why Pond was issued the chance to progress from the Academy set-up.
“We have a tried and tested method here. We send the second-year scholars out on loan, and we have a good relationship with the men’s clubs around us which ends up being a mutually beneficial agreement. The boys often learn the realities of men’s football while they are away. There is always a strong message of learning and developing your game while at the Academy, whereas with the men’s it is all about winning. If you look at the first team, where everything is judged on results, there is a group of staff where winning comes hand-in-hand with aiding players’ development.
“Alfie had a bit of a reality check at first in the men’s game, but he has finished the season really well. The physicality, the little nuances and clever plays, and players buying fouls, there is a lot of stuff you can learn about quickly and he has managed to do that. Alfie in the last few weeks was pushing towards that first team, and training with them day-in, day-out. His pace and power, and his technical ability were above the Under-18s level, and although he has had to fight it out at first, he has got the right people around him that will enable him to continue developing.”
However, for all of the good news surrounding Pond graduating out of the Academy, unfortunately, six other members of the youth side were not offered professional contracts.
Toby Nevile, Eli Collins, Zeph Collins, Michael Lilley, Jamie Nicholson and Charlie Hanson have all played integral parts to the Under-18s set-up over the past two years and they will now complete their respective scholarships this summer.
Nicholson explained that despite not earning contracts with the Grecians, it was difficult a decision to let all six players know that they didn’t make the cut.
“The six lads that have fallen short all have significant attributes and will make it somewhere in football. It is a difficult pathway, but you have to consider who is already in the building, and who else there is. It wasn’t easy making the decision on the six, but I hope they’ve come out of their Academy journey better off.”
Nevile came to the Academy late from Southampton. He has enjoyed a good two years with the Grecians, has shown great character and is a great personality. He is a real leader, and has had a loan spell with Hartley Wintney F.C. and will end the season in a cup final. Nicholson admitted, “Toby wasn’t far off, but with Alfie and Cheick, there wasn’t a pathway for him.”
Eli Collins is the younger brother of first-team regular, Archie, and has been described by Nicholson as a “really good kid”. He worked hard for the U18s, and has similar qualities as Archie, but despite giving it his all, he was unfortunately just one or two bits short.
Zeph, Eli’s twin brother, was unfortunate as a lot of his second year was disrupted with injuries which ultimately kept him out of action for a long time. Nicholson acknowledged Zeph possessed “a lovely left foot” and there are “not many defenders out there like him”.
Lilley was unfortunate and another who was close to reaping the rewards at the end of the season. He possesses an all-round game, and has shown on more than one occasion a fantastic attitude and endeavour. On the subject of Lilley, Nicholson said, “Michael has had a really good scholarship, but we felt he needed a bit of an x-factor in his game”.
Jamie Nicholson has been dubbed as a versatile footballer with a low centre of gravity, but during his second year, he suffered an injury which unfortunately hampered his progress. Kevin Nicholson described the midfielder as ”a great lad with a fantastic attitude who was really good technically”.
Hanson has been praised by Nicholson, who stated, “Charlie has got attributes that would lead himself to be a professional footballer. He is quick and strong, and scored a good amount of goals, but he, unfortunately, plays in the same position as Sonny Cox.”
But while the six players will be disappointed they didn’t earn the professional deals they so desperately wanted, Nicholson ended his summary by stating he still feels they will all still go a long way in the game.
“A few of those players have been in our system since they were nine years old, so it has been a big journey for them, full of ups and downs. They’ve all given it a good go, and across the two years as scholars, they’ve won a lot of games in the league, and put together a good run in the FA Youth Cup, so you can certainly say they’ve had a good run at it, and they leave us with lots of good moments. They’ve since been out on loan and showed that they are more than capable at men’s football.
“Unfortunately this is a brutal industry where less than 1% make it. But at some point, you will face adversity, and now it is up to all of them to prove us wrong.”