The English Football League’s annual Youth Development Week is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the success stories of players throughout the leagues up and down the country and their own individual journeys in the EFL.
This year’s EFL Youth Development Week takes place between 7th-13th June 2021 and there’s plenty of focus this year in relation to the number of players in the England squad that cut their teeth in the EFL in the early years of their careers.
As many as 26 members of England’s provisional 33-man squad for the upcoming UEFA European Championships either made their senior debut in EFL competition or have been part of an EFL Academy.
The trail which starts at EFL level and leads to international football was blazed long ago, and it’s one that the League’s growing list of young talents are continuing to follow.
The extension of the League's EFL Futures initiative in 2019 means many more chapters will be written in the years to come and more characters will emerge right across the divisions.
Since launching in 2016, the £1 million-per-season programme - which will now run until the end of the 2021/22 campaign - has provided EFL clubs with a financial incentive to give home-grown players more first-team opportunities.
It follows the introduction of the Club-Developed Player Rule at the start of the 2018/19 season, which ensures each club is required to nominate at least one Club-Developed Player on their respective teamsheets for all League competition matches, alongside an increase in the number of home-grown players that must also be named.
Derby County’s Academy, which holds Category One status and has done so since 2014, has produced several players that have progressed through the ranks to play first-team football, either for the club or elsewhere, since Academy Director Darren Wassall took up his role in early 2009.
In the 2020/21 season a trio of Academy graduates in the form of Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United and Republic of Ireland), Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe (Sheffield United) appeared in the Premier League.
Their significant first-team experience and grounding in the EFL with Derby stood them in good stead to make the step up to the highest level of English football.
Hendrick starred for the Republic of Ireland at the 2016 UEFA European Championships and the 2021/22 season will be his sixth successive year playing in the Premier League.
Another player to have come through Derby’s Academy ranks, and be raised in the EFL, is midfielder Will Hughes. He helped Watford gain automatic promotion back to the Premier League in 2020/21 at the first time of asking, meaning the former England Under-21 international will be gracing the biggest stage once again in the months ahead.
On top of that, Liam Delap (Manchester City) and Kaide Gordon (Liverpool) were signed from Derby’s Academy before they were able to sign scholarships with the club.
In addition to the trio of Academy graduates playing in the Premier League, Derby can also proudly look at the exploits of Mason Mount (Chelsea and England), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United and England), Jack Butland (Crystal Palace and England), Michael Keane (Everton and England), Fikayo Tomori AC Milan and England), Patrick Bamford (Leeds United) and Harry Wilson (Liverpool and Wales) over the last year.
All of those players have spent time on loan at Derby in recent years as part of their career development at a young age to either progress at their parent club or kick on elsewhere.
Mount, who is in the England squad for the upcoming delayed 2020 UEFA European Championships, is also a Champions League winner after the Blues’ success against Manchester City in May of this year.
The value of Derby’s youth system has been more prominent than ever in recent years and Academy products Jason Knight, Max Bird, Lee Buchanan and Louie Sibley were regulars in the matchday squad throughout the 2020/21 campaign.
Knight gained his first international caps for the Republic of Ireland's senior side during the season, while Buchanan made the step-up to the England Under-21 squad.
Six players from the Academy – Jack Stretton, Kornell McDonald, Louie Watson, Kaide Gordon, Cameron Cresswell and Festy Ebosele - made their senior bows in the EFL during the season too while several other promising youngsters made the bench at various stages.
Knight (46), Buchanan (37), Bird (34) and Sibley (32) made a total of 149 appearances between them for the Rams during the season and the total number of outings from Academy players in the campaign concluded at 181.
Some players have come through the ranks at Derby and gone on ply their trade elsewhere in the EFL such as Mason Bennett (Millwall), Morgan Whittaker (Swansea City), Luke Thomas (Barnsley), Emil Riis Jakobsen (Preston North End), Charles Vernam (Bradford City), Jamie Hanson (Oxford United), Offrande Zanzala (Barrow), Callum Guy (Carlisle United), Calum Macdonald (Tranmere Rovers) and Kellan Gordon and Farren Rawson (Mansfield Town).
Others have enjoyed success elsewhere with Mo Adams of Atlanta United in Major League Soccer a shining example after coming through Derby’s youth system before moving to the United States of America in 2017.
There are many others too, playing in leagues right across the football pyramid in England and further afield, who were raised in the EFL with Derby County.
Derby County is proud to have played its part in the development of so many youngsters playing the beautiful game - and is committed to continuing that trend for many, many years to come.