Phillip Cocu has heaped praise on Derby County’s youngsters after seeing several players from the club’s Academy step-up to the first-team scene in the 2019/20 campaign.
Cocu, 49, took charge of Derby just over a year ago and arrived with a track record of developing and nurturing exciting young talent.
Over the course of the 2019/20 season, as many as six Academy graduates made their first-team debuts and several others were regulars in the side.
Four players in particular - Max Bird, Louie Sibley, Jason Knight and Morgan Whittaker - enjoyed excellent breakthrough seasons.
Bird’s consistent performances in central midfield in the Derby side saw him become a near ever-present in the second half of the season while Sibley, Knight and Whittaker also gained significant match minutes.
In addition, they scored 12 times between them with Knight leading the way with six goals.
The quartet’s individual journeys over the last 12 months are remarkable, going from starring in Derby’s Under-18s in their title-winning campaign to becoming important first-team players.
All four players have been with Derby for a number of years and have progressed through the club’s highly regarded youth system, under the guidance of Academy Director Darren Wassall and his team.
Cocu says the Academy products should use the brief close season break to reflect on their positive personal campaigns and enjoy the moment.
The season concluded on 22nd July as a result of the three-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result Derby’s players will report back for pre-season training ahead of the 2020/21 season early next month.
Speaking to RamsTV about the impact of the youngsters, Cocu said: “I will have a chat with the young players before we come back because they have to enjoy these moments, especially your first goal and first season as a player.
“You will remember this moment all your career, but you must have a break and enjoy your holiday.
“Next season will come and we will prepare for it, but don’t forget to enjoy the good moments as a player.
“In your career, hopefully they have many successful moments but as a professional you will have some tough moments, so enjoy the good moments.”
Academy products Jayden Bogle, Max Lowe, Lee Buchanan, Jordan Brown and Jahmal Hector-Ingram - as well as Mason Bennett and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson before moving to Millwall and Bristol Rovers on loan – also recorded first-team minutes during the season.
Cocu believes all of Derby’s youngsters will benefit from their first-team exposure over the course of the season moving forward.
The Rams’ boss has been impressed with not only their performances on the pitch but also their desire and determination to put in the hard yards in training, in the gym and doing extra work.
“The young players work really hard in the gym, on the pitch and do extra work and that’s important for me,” he said.
“They put quality in the team, and you have to give them an opportunity to play; sometimes a lot of them play at the same time.
“Sometimes, due to injuries and suspensions, they came in and always did their best. They made some mistakes, which is part of football, but they must grow up and mature really fast in the world of football.
“They take all these lessons on then it’s great.”
Cocu believes Derby’s more experienced players, such as skipper Wayne Rooney and the likes of Curtis Davies, Graeme Shinnie, Martyn Waghorn and Craig Forsyth, are important to help guide the youngsters through the early stages of their careers.
Rooney, as one of English football’s most decorated players in the modern era, offers a vast amount of know-how to tap in to.
Cocu explained: “I always try to keep some balance in the side.
“Therefore, there is not too much pressure on them so the senior players can lift the team.”
He added: “As I said before, the young players have to adapt fast and they need the guidance from our senior players and players with the experience in the Championship, so it is important to have the right balance in the team.
“I can be happy and satisfied with how that has worked and the development of the young players – and how they have helped the team - but more has to be delivered next season.”