Cobblers boss Brady keen for youth graduates to make more of a first-team mark

Boss Jon Brady is very keen for the Cobblers to improve their record of homegrown youth products going on to have sustained first-team careers - but insists the onus is always on the players to prove they are up to the task.

By Jeremy Casey
Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 11:04 am
Jay Williams made 14 League apperances for the Cobblers in the 2018/19 season, but was released the following campaign
Jay Williams made 14 League apperances for the Cobblers in the 2018/19 season, but was released the following campaign

In recent years, there have been many examples of academy graduates being offered professional contracts, and then also going on to make debuts for the first team.

But the players who have managed to get a proper foothold in the first team and enjoy consistent careers are minimal, with only Shaun McWilliams so far fully making the transition.

Scott Pollock is another who may well have done so by now but for injury, and Caleb Chukwuemeka certainly made excellent strides last season, but he still only made two League starts.

Morgan Roberts has not been offered a new Cobblers contract, but has been invited back for pre-season training this summer

Central defender Jay Williams also broke into the first team and made 14 appearances in the 2018/19 season, before surprisingly being deemed surplus to requirements by then boss Keith Curle, and moved on.

The list of other youth team products that have signed professional deals or played the odd first-team match in recent seasons before then departing the club is a fairly long one.

There have been the likes of Joe Iaciafano, Ryan Hughes, Sean Whaler, Camron WcWilliams and Jack Newell as well as others.

And then at the end of last season, two more youth-team graduates in Ethan Johnston and Morgan Roberts weren’t offered new deals, although Roberts has been invited back for pre-season.

Shaun McWilliams has been the Cobblers academy's big success story

Three more youth teamers have this summer been offered professional terms in Max Dyche, Liam Cross and Josh Flanagan.

They are all obviously well known to their former Under-18s boss Brady, as were all the others listed above, and although he is keen for them to succeed now he is first-team boss, the Australian has made it clear they will have to ‘earn the right’ to get selected.

Asked how the club can make it work that more homegrown players stick around the first-team scene for longer, Brady said: “I totally understand the question, because I have been the youth team manager and worked with these players.

“It’s not just me who has been developing those players that have come through, it has been a pathway from all of our coaches that deliver from the under-nines all the way through.

Cobblers boss Jon Brady

“I would then sort of mould them and try and make them first-team ready, that was my remit throughout my coaching life with the youth team.”

As stated, several players were deemed good enough by various managers to make that initial step up, but most of those players couldn’t maintain that progress for whatever reason.

And Brady knows all too well how difficult it can be for them.

“We have had a few different managers here at Northampton, and everybody has got a different opinion,” said the Cobblers boss.

“There are also so many variables, it is how the team plays, how the player thrives in that environment, do they go under in the environment?

“You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and I don’t, because I was very respectful with the first-team managers.

“I didn’t knock on the door and ask why he wasn’t playing, or things like that.

“But if the first-team manager asked me about a player’s character, or why doesn’t he do this, then that is when I would speak to them.

“The youth-team players, or the younger academy players such as the three coming through this year, they will have to earn the right to try and prove they can get in the first team.

“And if they are good enough, then they will get in there and play.”

Brady is of course now the man with the final say on those team selections, and he added: “The one thing that has been out of my control, but now is in my control, is the selection of those types of players.

“But we have to win games of football as well and in doing so we have to pick our best team.

“If it is going to be a youth-team player that is the best player for that day, the position, that moment, then I certainly won’t be frightened of picking that player.”