Last season wasn’t bad for the kids at Stoke. An excellent cup run which captures the hearts of many across Staffordshire alongside an actual first team breakthrough for Julien Ngoy. The upcoming season offers more youth promise than ever before, with the standard of player improving more and more at a time when they’re sorely needed. Here’s a preview, including the squads and potential talking points, for the upcoming 2017/2018 season.
Disclaimer: This isn’t designed to be an expert look at the sides – there are far better people than me for that kind of insight. This is just written by a Stoke fan with an interest in the academy sides and can hopefully inspire more supporters to keep an eye on the U18 and U23 teams for the coming season.
2016/17 Round Up
Player Of The Season: Tom Edwards
Top Scorer: Jordan Greenidge (14)
Highlights: The FA Youth Cup run, The Greenidge/Campbell front two, Edwards’ first team inclusion
League Table (Stage 1)
League Table (Stage 2)
Don’t let the lowly league positions fool you – the U18’s had a promising season at Stoke. The impressive youth cup run halted by Man City was supplemented by strong performances against better academy setups in the league. When you consider that players were needed for the U23 side and the Staffs Senior Cup, the players did well to perform on all fronts.
There were more goals, too. Across the U18 league and U18 FA Youth Cup, Stoke managed 54 goals compared with 35 the previous season. To give some context, the previous season’s U18 scorer was Julien Ngoy with 11 goals, followed by Hakeem Abdallah and Jake Dunwoody with 5 goals apiece. Last season both Campbell and Greenidge topped Julien’s total with 13 and 14 goals respectively.
Player Of The Season: Lewis Banks
Top Scorer: Julien Ngoy (9)
Highlights: The Staffs Senior Cup win, Ngoy being named PL2 player of the month (April) and his first-team breakthrough
The Staffs Senior Cup win and Julien Ngoy’s breakthrough did well to mask a frustrating season for the inaugural season of the Premier League 2. Dom Telford’s injuries prevented him from retaining his U21/U23 top scorer crown, with Julien Ngoy’s firing in 9 goals across the league and U23 cup to top the charts.
Moved up to U23: Tom Edwards, Jake Dunwoody, Shola Ayoola
Released: Harvey Read
New Arrivals: Max Murphy, Nathan Collins, Abdoulaye Toure, James Jennings, Joel Kaduba, Ethan Stanton, Will Forrester
Released: Daniel Bachmann, Harry Isted, Liam Edwards, Joel Taylor, George Waring
Arrivals From U18: Tom Edwards, Jake Dunwoody, Shola Ayoola
New Arrivals: N/A
2017/18 Talking Point: Breakthroughs
The main talking point whenever academies are mentioned, the breakthrough potential this season looks to be better than ever. Stoke may yet save themselves some money this summer by looking closer to home for first team acquisitions across a variety of positions.
Julien Ngoy (Striker)
The young Belgian made his first team debut last January across a series of cameo appearances. Deployed out wide, despite being a centre forward, Ngoy struggled to make a huge impact. He did offer plenty of running and was never afraid to take on his man and move forward with the ball, but he was unable to find the net.
Saido Berahino’s addition in January alongside Sobhi and Diouf returning from the African Cup of Nations all but halted his first team game time from February onwards. He dropped back down to U23 level where he scored 4 in 4 to seal the April PL2 Player of The Month award, and will train with the first team once again this pre-season.
Thibaud Verlinden (Winger)
Whisper it quietly but Thibaud is probably the most gifted youngster we’ve had in decades. The Belgian endured a frustrating season due to a back injury, but is fully fit once more and will be gunning for the first team. RB Leipzig and Feyernoord were rumoured to be eyeing him up across the last 12 months, and there’ll no doubt be a tug of war for him over the coming season regardless of what happens on the pitch.
That being said, Stoke need to get him on the pitch. Thibaud managed to get on the bench alongside Ngoy towards the start of last season at Goodison Park, but wasn’t given a chance to make his debut. Stoke need a player who can change the game from the bench, especially beyond the hour mark where the side has struggled to attack and has been all too happy to drop back and defend. Verlinden would push the team forward with trickery, passing and technical brilliance.
As with Ngoy, Stoke could save themselves millions in the short term and make themselves millions in the long term by blooding the youngsters in the first team and injecting some life into our matchday. With Jon Walters reportedly eyeing up a move away, there will be a place in the squad for versatile forward thinking players – Verlinden needs to be one of them.
Ryan Sweeney (Centre back)
With Bruno Martins Indi’s likely transfer rumbling on and the potential exits of Phil Wollscheid and Marc Muniesa, there may yet be a matchday place for Ryan Sweeney this season. The towering Irishman impressed many during a productive loan spell at League One Bristol Rovers.
There were some remarks regarding his pace, although he wouldn’t be the first defender to lack speed – we played Wollscheid for 18 months and he did alright. If he’s able to use positioning and physicality, the defender will shut out most forwards. He may be one that finds himself on the bench for the coming season, but it’s more likely that he’ll continue his development out on loan before taking the captain’s armband in 2019. Maybe.
Tom Edwards (Right Back)
Picking up the U18 player of the season award for a second consecutive season, wowing fans with his performances against Man City and others in the FA Youth Cup and finding himself on the bench for the final game at St Mary’s, Tom Edwards has had quite a year.
Whilst he’s been touted as the next breakthrough, it looks quite the challenge. With both Phil Bardsley and Glen Johnson having their contracts extended whilst the Mame Diouf wing back experiment continued, and Geoff Cameron ended the season at right back, there appears to be more chance of Edwards getting a game up front than at right back.
2017/18 Talking Point: Loans
If players aren’t going to break through, then loans are an absolute necessity this season. The Premier League 2 is becoming a wasteland for young talent that should be out playing first team football, whether it’s at Stoke or elsewhere. This age group is at a key developmental crossroads in their careers and we shouldn’t be stifling their talent by not utilising loan moves.
A decision on Julien Ngoy needs to be made quickly. The young Belgian, rumoured to be a potential replacement for Kylian Mbappe at Monaco, can’t afford another season of kicking his heels on the team bus. If he isn’t in the first team, then he needs a Championship loan. Jules is one of the starlets we can’t afford to waste, his future is too bright. He could save the club so much money in the long run by answering our striking problems. Fast, strong and fearless, the young Belgian has stopped the U18 and U23 scoring charts for Stoke in the last two seasons, despite bouncing in-between age groups and the first team alongside battling injury in that time.
Dom Telford had an awful season with injury, which really stifled his development. The small forward still knows how to find the net however – his previous season was no fluke. Able to create chances from nothing, the striker could do with a move to a League One side in order to recapture his form and pit his wits against battle hardened defences.
Ryan Sweeney had a great time at Bristol Rovers last season, with many fans begging him to stay permanently. If the first team at Stoke has come a season too soon, then a Championship loan is the natural step up after rave reviews with the Gasmen.
Alongside him, it may be time for Harry Souttar to take his first steps into first team football in England. The towering centre half, who impressed many with his ball work during the Youth Cup run, may be ready for a loan to a League 1 or League 2 side. He’ll learn plenty across a 46-game season against a variety of striker types in the lower divisions, from pacey finishers to juggernauts. If he can develop his game to handle both, we’ll have one hell of a defender on our hands.
Ollie Shenton may take his chance to break into the Football League pyramid following an excellent spell at Wrexham last season, whilst Danny Jarvis may also fancy his chances after being in the matchday travelling contingent towards the end of last season. Tom Edwards may also be fast tracked by heading out on loan to a league side age 18.
There are so many options this season, my only hope is that we end the season with a better calibre of player due to the opportunities and experience they’ve had during the campaign.
2017/18 Talking Point: Goalkeepers
The keeper situation at both U18 and U23 level could be quite interesting this season, with a few departures and potential arrivals signalling change across both age groups.
Dan Bachmann’s release looked inevitable, with only a one year deal provided last summer. He’s a good keeper and still a young prospect in goalkeeping terms – leading him to sign for Watford on July 1st. His loan spells at Wrexham and Bury saw him leave with glowing reviews, so there’s almost certainly a keeper in there capable of being an immediate success in the Football League pyramid with one eye on a long-term future at the Hornets. He just needs games.
Harry Isted’s release at the end of the season however was met with more surprise. The young stopper had been travelling and warming up with the first team contingent on matchdays and was considered a steady keeper for his age. With 20 appearances at U23 level last season, he appeared to be the natural progressor to the first team in coming seasons.
Mitch Allen looked like one of the keepers who may step up to fill Isted’s void in the U23s. The youngster featured in 17 games for the U18s last season and performed well in a competitive U18 squad.
Mate Deckzi had a solid showing in the U18 side in his debut season. The Hungarian youngster, who joined alongside Szereto in the summer of 2016, featured in 16 matches and most notably helped the U18 side to win a penalty shootout in the FA Youth Cup. With one year left on his scholarship and a professional deal in the U23s to play for, this will be a huge season for Mate.
Dan Gyollai is the main keeper in the U23s at present, but I can’t see him staying in the Premier League 2 this season. The Hungarian spent the latter half of last season on loan at Nantwich Town, where he featured in back to back wins in his first two games. The experience will have done him well and there could yet be another loan on the cards for him this season. Stoke will need to be careful not to have another Bachmann scenario; Gyollai needs more game time now that he’s had experience of men’s football, he can’t be left to waste in the U23/First team purgatory.
2017/18 Talking Point: Recruitment
There isn’t much need for recruitment at the U18s level, with a fresh batch of Scholars being confirmed at the end of June. Their roles and abilities were detailed in the Sentinel by Jim Hunter, Stoke’s Head of Academy Coaching.
Goalkeepers will be a pressing matter this summer at U23 level. Stoke did look to move quickly following Isted’s release, as the Sentinel reported that Stoke were chasing two new youth keepers.
The first of which was Millwall’s Tom King, a former England youth international. He may be 22 now, but he’s still a baby in goalkeeping terms, with 11 League One appearances to his name last season. Whether King leaves a starting berth in League One for Stoke’s U23 side is another matter. Logic dictates he won’t and indeed shouldn’t, unless we’re able to provide a buy and loan policy to tie him and allow him to develop in the Football League pyramid.
The other keeper is Josef (or Joe) Bursik, a 16-year-old who currently plays for AFC Wimbledon and is a regular in the England U17 setup. He has since been confirmed as a signing. It may be the case that Bursik is fast tracked to the U23s despite being 16 years of age due to his ability, which may save the club some money over the summer.
Stoke do know keepers, and in Andy Quy have arguably the best goalkeeping coach in the country – so it’s safe to assume that both would be good prospects.
In terms of the defence, Chris Camwell had been heavily linked. The Coventry U18’s defender made great strides least season and appears to be highly rated. Barnsley were keen to snatch him from Stoke’s clutches by offering a clearer development path to first team football – a formula which few can argue against given the emergency of Stones, Holgate and Mawson to name but a few. However it does seem that Camwell will remain at Coventry for the time being, having signed a professional deal this summer. No doubt Stoke will continue to monitor his progress and may yet return for Camwell next summer.
Left back may be an area that Stoke look to recruit in the for the U23s. With Joel Taylor’s summer release, the side are left with Cameron McJannett, a January arrival from Luton Town, as the only real left back/wing back in the side. Josh Tymon would fit the ball and looks a likely arrival from recently relegated Hull. The youngster looks destined for the first team, but he may yet feature in the U23 side to maintain match fitness and sharpness.
The U23s midfield may be an area of interest in the coming season. Sergio Molina’s mid-season departure leaves a gap in the squad, whilst Eddy Lecygne may feel a permanent move is on the cards after arguably one season too many in the U23s. Ollie Shenton has had a taste of first team football at Wrexham and another loan should be used to further develop his game. Mark Waddington is back in the fold after a frustrating loan spell and injury hit season, but he could well find himself loaned out over the coming season.
Danny Jarvis was coming closer and closer to the matchday squad towards the end of last season, so he may well push for a loan this season. Of all the central midfielders available you could probably say that Ryan Hill, a late signing last season, and Jake Dunwoody, freshly promoted from the U18s, would feasibly be regulars in the side. In terms of arrivals, Stoke could do with looking for a young destroyer capable of transitioning to the first team within 2-3 years.
Up front there needn’t be much recruitment done. George Waring was the lone departure last season and spend most of the campaign out at Carlisle. He’s now signed a deal at Tranmere Rovers (see above) and we wish him the best of luck. Despite his Staffs Senior Cup goals, him leaving won’t leave Stoke with a striker shortage at U23 level.
Dom Telford is back fit to tussle with Julien Ngoy for game time, whilst Tyrese Campbell and Jordan Greenidge will be breaking down doors to move up an age group after bagging a combined 27 goals at U16 level last season. Shola Ayoola has also moved up from the U18s and will likely be pushing for more games when some of the more experienced forwards seek loan moves.
2017/18 Talking Point: Unified Systems
The U18s side operated a 352/343 formation for large spells of last season, utilising wing backs and two up front to good effect. Tom Edwards in particular was allowed to bomb up and down the right side to aid the side at both ends of the pitch. The success of the Campbell-Greenidge partnership up front is already well documented and was only enhanced further by Twyford, who also had a strong season in the U18s.
Will this aid the transition of youth players in to the first team? We saw Mark Hughes operate a 343 at times last season, and it could be that this becomes the norm for the upcoming campaign. Having players who know their roles and can operate in the system may make the pathway to the first team clearer.
2017/18 Talking Point: The EFL Trophy
Still the most hated trophy ever created (besides the Emirates Cup), the show must go on for the revamped Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. A battle of League 1 and League 2 sides against top tier U21 teams will continue this season, and Stoke have confirmed their participation once more.
Last season saw Stoke crash out of the group stages, which led to question marks as to the strength of the side. The teams were a mix of U21 players and first teamers, with Charlie Adam and Jakob Haugaard featuring for Stoke in the early fixtures.
Things could be better this season. A back four of Edwards, Sweeney, Souttar and Tymon (upon arrival) could feasibly shut out league sides. There is genuine creativity in the midfield with a fully fit Thibaut Verlinden returning alongside the likes of Daniel Jarvis and Jack Devlin, underpinned by the dogged work of Jake Dunwoody, Eddy Lecygne and Mark Waddington. There is also no shortage of talent up front with Ngoy, Telford, Greenidge and Campbell all capable of posing a threat up front.
It’s not just Stoke who look better, though. The Football League pyramid grows ever stronger and this will prove to be a real challenge for the young Potters. Alongside this, the likes of Manchester City and Spurs are now entering their U21 sides, both of which could cause a genuine threat to league sides alongside Chelsea’s existing U21 team.
It will likely remain a lose-lose situation for Stoke due to the contempt demonstrated towards the competition, but it will be good to see how our starlets shape up against “real” footballers once again.
2017/18 Talking Point: Stoke Coverage
Last season felt like a real step up for Stoke’s media team in terms of the academy offering. The online streaming of the Youth Cup journey gained huge online audiences and created a real buzz around the academy and more supporters were interested than ever before.
The interviews with youngsters as they pushed for the first team also created excitement, whilst online campaigns such as #DeployNgoy added both fun and encouragement in to a somewhat lifeless campaign. The seriousness of the campaign only underlined when he made his debut and subsequent cameos in January, as well as having his face on the front cover of the matchday programme.
How do I keep up with the Academy this season?
As mentioned above, the club are getting better at reporting on the youth sides and they will be the main source for many fans for the upcoming campaign. There are a few other areas that you can also use for academy news, though.
Should you want to keep up with the youth sides on Twitter this season, I highly recommend following Paul Ruane – your go to for academy news, especially on a matchday. Alongside this, I would also recommend Bayernoatcake – who also runs the Academy and Development thread on the Oatcake.
To view the youth squads, visit the Teams page on the official site. You can also use the Premier League’s official site to view the U18 and U23 league tables, whilst Youthhawk also provide excellent coverage of many youth sides in England, including Stoke U18s and Stoke U23s.