Darren Wassall says he’s thrilled to see Derby County’s youngsters flourishing under the guidance of Phillip Cocu.
As many as four players to have come through Derby’s Academy system have made their first-team debuts for Derby during the 2019/20 campaign so far.
Jason Knight and Max Bird have been regulars in the Rams’ midfield in recent weeks while Morgan Whittaker, Lee Buchanan and Louie Sibley have also featured.
Defenders Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe, also graduates of the Academy, have also been regulars in Cocu’s side during the campaign.
Bogle enjoyed a stunning breakthrough season in 2018/19, while Lowe has impressed this term following an impressive loan spell at Aberdeen last year.
Wassall, Derby’s Academy Director, believes the current season has surpassed all others with the amount of involvement of players to have come through the Rams’ youth system.
The 51-year-old has also spoken of his delight at not only their involvement within Cocu’s squad but the way they’ve made their mark after being given the opportunity to shine.
“No matter how well our Academy teams do, it is always about the individuals and getting them, if we can, into the first-team,” Wassall told RamsTV’s Academy Review Show.
“The main aim is always our first-team and if that isn’t possible, then hopefully somebody else’s.
“We have a number of players from our Academy that are playing in the EFL right now, as well as in non-league too, and we are delighted to have helped play our part in their development.
“As an Academy, the trophies are our players that make it to the first-team after graduating.
“This year has surpassed all others really in terms of minutes that the Academy has contributed with the likes of Max Bird, Jason Knight, Louie Sibley, Morgan Whittaker and Lee Buchanan to name just five of them.”
He added: “It is really encouraging for everybody and it’s a major achievement to see the players from the Academy making the first-team and holding their own.
“They haven’t just made their debuts and the odd appearance; they’ve held their own and are contributing to the team and that’s fantastic for everybody.”
Derby’s Under-18s made history as they were crowned as the National Champions back in May.
After finishing top of Under-18 Premier League North, they defeated Arsenal 5-2 in the National Final at Pride Park Stadium on a memorable evening.
Knight, Bird, Whittaker, Sibley and Buchanan all played their part in that success, as well as regularly playing at Under-23 level, as they development rate accelerated.
While there are no assurances in football, Wassall was confident the quintet would impress if given the chance at first-team level.
“We had high hopes for the players, but you can’t guarantee anything,” Wassall admitted.
“Ultimately, once they cross the white line for the first-team they either sink or swim.
“We’ve had it before where you have high hopes for a player, but they can’t quite make that adjustment from the Under-18s or Under-23s to the first-team.
“The current crop, who helped the Under-18s win the league last year and played a big part, were ones that we knew would take their chance if given the opportunity.”
Wassall has been the figurehead of Derby’s Academy since 2009.
Working towards a long-term development plan, aided by the significant investment from Executive Chairman Mel Morris CBE upon becoming a Category One Academy in 2014, Wassall feels the club has built a strong reputation within the game when it comes to developing young players.
He explained: “Over the last ten years, with our long-term development plan, we have built a reputation that players that come from our Academy are well-schooled, well-disciplined, good people and good players.
“It’s a credit to the work of everyone in the Academy for the work they’ve put in to facilitate so many players’ development over the years.”
Wassall is convinced that the clear pathway from the Academy to the first-team at the club is only a positive when it comes to recruitment.
He knows plenty of hard work lies ahead in the future too and explained: “We need to keep the conveyer belt going, even though competition is so tough when it comes to recruitment.
“There’s a pathway for young players and that helps with our recruitment, that is for sure. We have fantastic facilities, it is a joy and privilege to work at Moor Farm every day, and having that pathway is so to players and their parents.
“We have great staff here, not just coaches, everyone plays their part in a close, talented and big team. We all want the best for our young players.”