Academy chief backs rising stars
DAVID CUFFLEY Academy manager Ricky Martin issued a challenge to all Norwich City's young hopefuls after three of his best prospects joined the club's professional ranks.
Academy manager Ricky Martin issued a challenge to all Norwich City's young hopefuls after three of his best prospects joined the club's professional ranks.
Goalkeeper Steven Arnold, forward Bally Smart and Patrick Bexfield, who can play at left-back or in midfield, signed one-year contracts with the Canaries yesterday.
Arnold, 17, from Hertfordshire, played 10 reserve games this season and became the second 'keeper this week - after 19-year-old Joe Lewis - to sign a contract. He was on the bench for City's Carling Cup tie at Rotherham last September.
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Cambridge-born Bexfield and South African youngster Smart both played in 17 of City's 18 reserve games this season, Smart making his first team debut as a substitute for Dion Dublin in the 3-0 defeat at Burnley last month.
Academy boss Martin said the trio's promotion to the paid ranks should inspire the rest of the club's scholars to try to follow suit.
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He said: “They've all been given one-year contracts, joining up with Chris Martin and Michael Spillane from their age group, which means out of this group of nine players we have five professional contracts, something the academy is very proud of.
“Three of those five have played in the first team this season and the other two have a great opportunity to follow suit.
“It sends a message to the rest of the young players that you can get that first professional contract.
“You can't switch it on and off and there are a lot of sacrifices to be made as young teenagers to get where they are, but they have their reward.
“Steven joined the Academy two years ago and has progressed very well under the guidance of goalkeeping coach James Hollman. He deserves his opportunity because he has performed well for the under-18s and the reserve team.
“Patrick joined the Academy a few years earlier. He was with me when I was at Cambridge United. He progressed throughout the schoolboy squads very well and has a good technical and tactical knowledge and understanding of the game. He's been a very consistent player for the under-18s and the reserve team and last summer he was involved with the first team in pre-season games.
“Bally certainly catches the eye when you see him play. He joined the academy at 14 and played first in a central midfield position, but more lately as a central forward or wide player. He has pace and directness and caught the manager's eye in the reserve team. He has been in the 16 and was given his debut at Burnley.”
First team boss Peter Grant said: “I think the boys have done very well. I've only come in October and I've seen them a few times, mostly in youth team games, and the boys have done enough to earn that chance and opportunity to come on board.
“I'm pleased for them as there is a lot of effort and commitment from parents pushing them through and helping them and that's what we've got to try to do, produce more of our own players - and the boys have got the opportunity to come in and change that.”
Three Academy scholars have been released, however - 18-year-old Alvin Quaye defender, 17-year-old midfielder Jamie Eames and 18-year-old striker Seb Muddel.
“All three of them have attracted interest from other clubs and we will be really pleased if they can move on successfully,” said Martin.
The ninth player in their age group, Danish striker Asmat El Ouargui, was released earlier this season.