With a busy few months ahead, Soccer Saturday‘s Johnny Phillips went to the Wolves academy to see how Nuno Espirito Santo is utilising the club’s young talent.
Rob Edwards is pacing across pitch number three, ready to blow his whistle to begin a training move after imparting instructions to the youngsters scattered across the pitch. There are not enough players in front of him to work with, but this is a problem Wolves’ U23s coach is glad to have. Seven of his squad have been summoned across to the first-team pitch, tucked away down an embankment just a few yards away, to work with head coach Nuno Espirito Santo and his squad.
Wolves may have invested heavily in recent seasons, but they have one of the most integrated academy structures in the Premier League. The players from the U23s and younger age groups can, quite literally, see the pathway to the first-team squad.
“Nuno works very closely with us,” says Wolves’ Head of Academy, Scott Sellars. “Towards the end of last season, he started talking about these elite young players and how he didn’t care what age they were, he wanted to work with them.
“The group who went to China in the Asia Trophy included a 16-year-old boy and a couple of 17-year-olds. He really wants the academy to be a part of what he is trying to do. Nuno doesn’t have a massive squad so a lot of players will be taken from the U23s and he is not concerned if he is taking younger ones from the U17s and U18s. The academy is very much part of the football club and part of what the ownership want to do.”
Christian Marques was the 16-year-old given the trip of a lifetime when he joined stars like Joao Moutinho, Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves on Wolves’ pre-season Asia Trophy tour to Shanghai and Nanjing. Wolves won the tournament after a penalty shootout victory over Manchester City, and Taylor Perry – a local lad who had just turned 18 – was one of those entrusted to take a spot-kick.
“It was one of the best feelings so far in my career,” he explains. “It was a big moment for me stepping up to take a penalty and it shows Nuno had trust in me to step up and take one. Playing against the likes of Bernardo Silva and David Silva, you’ve got to take that experience when you come back here, whether you’re with the U23s or the first team.
“Nuno has had a big impact on the academy because the first-team levels are getting higher, it raises the standards in the academy because Nuno wants players stepping up when he needs them. The quality is definitely getting better and I think it improves us as players as well.”