January 23 2015
January 23 2015
Up to 50 professional footballers are desperate to score a place on a university’s revolutionary football academy.
The Glyndŵr Wrexham Football Academy has proven so successful that managers Lee Jones and Adam Owen have been inundated with requests from players wanting to join them next season.
With several of the current squad on the verge of breaking into Wrexham FC’s first team, and the rest appearing regularly for sides in the Huws Gray Alliance, Welsh Premier and Vanarama Conference North leagues, Lee and Adam believe the scheme has already been “a major success”.
The waiting list is testament to that, but Lee – a former striker with the Dragons, Wales, Tranmere Rovers and Liverpool FC – says they will still attend exit matches and recruitment events in the coming months in a bid attract quality names.
With interest already received from players at top flight sides including Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Stoke City, he is confident next year will be even more fruitful.
And that’s not just on the footballing side. The existing, 16-strong group knuckled down and are enjoying their studies at Glyndŵr University, taking the academic element as seriously as the physical aspects of the ground-breaking initiative.
“I think the Academy has been a major success,” said Lee.
“If you’d have told me a year ago that we’d have had a couple of players on the verge of Wrexham’s first team, having been on the bench and in the squad then I’d have been very surprised.
“We knew it would take time, and that players would develop at different speeds, on the academic and sporting sides, so for us to have come so far in such a short space of time is really pleasing.”
He added: “I think it’s only a matter of time before one of the lads gets a full debut, and what a boost that will be for the Academy, as well as showing players that if they work hard at their studies and their football they can make it into the first team.”
Supported by ambassadors Michael Owen, Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor, the GWFA allows players to study for a degree at Glyndŵr University while training and playing for the Dragons or a feeder club.
With the backing of the Professional Football Association (PFA) and support from the League Football Education (LFE), the Academy has provided them with a unique educational strategy whilst still playing and training within a full time professional football environment.
With youngsters arriving from teams including QPR, Leeds United, Preston North End, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City and Burnley, Lee and Adam, and Wrexham FC director Barry Horne, were thrilled to see the GWFA hit the ground running.
Adding another 16 or more to the group will give Adam and Lee more than 30 people to choose from, but the latter is confident everyone will get a regular game and the chance to progress.
“I think three or four will move across to the Wrexham squad, or at least that’s our aim; that will leave us with around 28 players – we are not short of places to play, either out on loan, in friendlies or in the reserve league, so that won’t be a problem,” said Lee.
“And who’s to say we won’t only end up with five or six next season. With the demand we have we could take on 60 people and flood the Academy but that would not make sense academically or from the football perspective because it would be unfair to the players and the University.
“This is all about quality, not quantity, and that’s been our ethos since day one. That’s why players from the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool are interested, and why the Premier League has given us its support.
“They see the Glyndŵr Wrexham Football Academy as a vital exit route and a fabulous scheme offering support to players who might otherwise have struggled in the future, and we are proud of that.”
Glyndŵr University sports manager Anna Marie Brown added: “Since day one we have worked closely together for the benefit of the University, the players and the football club.
“The relationship is growing stronger and stronger and the Academy structure is working even better than expected. What we need now is to keep attracting top players who are as committed to improving academically as they are to their football careers.”
To have Wrexham FC captain Dean Keates and teammate Jay Harris involved is another seal of approval for the GWFA.
Both are studying for degrees and are a “huge inspiration” to the younger members of the Academy, according to Lee.
“The lads look to them as senior professionals coming to the end of their careers who want to better themselves, on and off the pitch,” he said.
“That has made a difference to how they approach their studies as well. They have to be as focused on their degrees as they are on their football, and to their credit they have been.”
Lee added: “I must pay tribute to the University because the support and help they’ve given us has been first-class; it’s really helped us to take the Academy in the right direction.
“The vision is to create something special here that will be around for years to come, to build a legacy for the University and Wrexham FC.
“We’re on track to do just that.”
For more information, and for players wanting to find out if they meet the criteria to join the Academy, email firstname.lastname@example.org