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Jez Says

5 April 2014

Jez Says

This week we had the very difficult job of telling our second year scholars our decisions on their immediate futures.  We ensure the meetings are handled with consideration and empathy, so whilst the players who are not offered a professional contract may be disappointed, they can leave the club on good terms.  It is also important that we keep things in perspective.  For those who leave to peruse other options, it is not the end of the world and not the end of their football career.  In the same way, gaining a professional contract is only the first step and by no means a guarantee of a career in football.

We always feel that if the players have received honest and constructive feedback throughout their scholarship, they should be no surprises at the end.  In Mark Bonner, they have a very talented and committed coach, who leaves no stone unturned in their development and gives every player the best chance to fulfil their potential.  He works tirelessly every day with our scholars on the training pitch and creates an environment that is demanding, yet supportive.  Most importantly though, he is respected by every player because of his dedication, knowledge, work ethic and above all else, honesty.  The qualities that we want to instil into our young players are the core values of our football club and immediately evident in Bonz if you spend any time seeing him at work.  We have so much positive feedback about the way in which our scholars conduct themselves, on and off the pitch, and whilst the culture of the club and the legacy of those standard bearers of the past demands these standards, Bonz is instrumental in how these youngsters develop into responsible and respectful young men.

This year, for a variety of reasons, many of the decisions that we made were not clear cut.  We had already offered Ryan Horne a one year professional contract.  He is a fine example to all of our young players, within the scholarship scheme and our academy.  Ryan is technically excellent but his mentality, desire, determination and character are what really sets him apart from the rest.  I think that without any doubt, he has got everything out of himself in everything he has done in every day of his scholarship.  Whether it's at college, in the gym, doing his rehab after injury, on the training ground or in matches, Ryan displays all the qualities required to be successful.  He creates a tempo through the intensity he shows when he trains or plays, he is a bundle of energy and his attitude is contagious.  We look forward to seeing how he progresses in the next 12 months but we all know that whatever happens  Ryan will play at the highest level his ability will allow in the future because of the way he goes about his work. 

Any regular watchers of our youth team and CRC will not be surprised that James Akintunde has also been rewarded for his excellent displays this season with a one year professional contract.  James demonstrated his pace, power and strength on Monday with a second half hat-trick against  Histon in the Cambs Invitation Cup semi final.  James is an exciting talent, with the ability to create and score goals, and physical attributes that give him  a real chance to progress.  He knows that he has a lot more work to do but there are great examples that he can now see every day in training with the first team as well as the tempo and quality of those sessions.  The environment created at the training ground throughout the whole football operation is brilliant for our young players.  The bar is high so it's tougher to come through than in the past but for those good enough, they will improve quicker than ever and be better for it.

Finally, we have offered Matt Lowe a professional contract until Christmas.  In the last six weeks, following a meeting where we really spelled out the likely outcome if he carried on at the same level, Matt has worked really hard, matured immeasurably and showed great improvement.  There is loads more work for him to do but he has considerable potential and his graph is going in the right direction, on a steep upward curve.  There are aspects of Matt's game that he knows need attention but he has earned the opportunity for longer to develop, especially as he is still growing physically and improving mentally.

Of the other players, we have deferred a decision on Jack North until the end of the season, Lamell Howell had only just returned from a long term injury and Eoin Kerwin had surgery on Tuesday to reconstruct his anterior cruciate ligament.  This is a major operation so our responsibility is to ensure his successful rehabilitation and return to fitness before even considering a football decision.

Sadly, there are always players that leave the club at the end of their scholarships and we wish Dylan McNulty, Nathan Heath, George Coy and Ben Pring our sincere best wishes and good luck for the future.  The way in which these boys have conducted themselves over the last two years and the mature way in which they handled their meetings speaks volumes about their characters.  They have all played a full part in their scholarships, they are all great lads and we are proud of how they have all grown up during their time at the club.  They have represented Cambridge United superbly and we will now do everything we can to help them in the next chapter of their lives, both in terms of football and potential further education or careers.  

The reality of football, and life, in that everything is finite and comes to an end can be quite a jolt for the first year scholars.  They see some of their team mates progressing at the club to the next challenge ahead and others leaving.  Their group is split up and they get a glimpse of the individual nature of this profession.  For players at this level, and many higher, it is a precarious, fickle, insecure and cut throat world.  It is a reminder to players one year away from the next big hurdle in their ambitions that time goes quickly and opportunities can pass you by unless you make the most of every day.  For every Ryan Horne, there are many others who let the chance pass them by and don't realise until it is too late.  In our CUFC philosophy we have a Latin phrase - Carpe Diem.  It means "seize the day".  It is good advice for young players.

The last month of any season with our scholars almost becomes the first month of the new cycle.  We have now almost completed our new intake with the quintet of Jake Chambers-Shaw, Owen Boddey, Dom Mason, Dylan Williams and Justin Leavers from our own academy plus another local boy, Jordan Brown, from St Neots Town.  Jordan is a quick striker who has attracted internet from a number of big clubs, so we are delighted that he has agreed to accept our offer of a scholarship.  In addition to these players, we have also been successful in recruiting three scholars from other professional clubs.  Jordan Williams is a centre back who spent eight years in Birmingham City's academy but we found our about him thanks to our excellent relationship with West Brom, where he went on trial after leaving the blues.  Josh Burniston is a left back or wide left from Nottingham Forest, who impressed at the Football League Exit Trials and in a number if games with our Under 16's in the last few weeks.  Frankie Jones is a central midfielder from QPR who we also spotted at Football League Exit Trials and has also accepted our offer to join us following a few days spent training with the scholars and games for our Under 16's.

In addition to this trio, we are also trying to sign a player who's name would grace any team, let alone one in the Football Conference!  If he accepts our offer, he could well be the first ever Rivaldo to don the black & amber!  His full name is Rivaldo Nunez and he is a forward or wide player who was released by Watford.  

All of the players we have signed demonstrate the character and personality that we look for in our young players, they all have technical strengths in their games, they all have physical attributes and most importantly, they all have potential to develop.  Our job, with  the environment that I have described above, is to help them to become the best they can be.  That is our aim for every player at every level of our football operation.  You cannot achieve any more than that.

That brings me onto a very important game tomorrow, not for this club but for a bunch of players who have worked hard all season and done everything they can to be the best they can be.  It is not their first priority.  Their first priority is a degree from Cambridge University that will be their passport to a career of their choice.  Yet they would all swap their chosen career path to become a professional footballer.  

When that is not your aim and you demonstrate a passion for the game that has nothing to do with money but purely a love of football, it is very humbling to be able to help them.  They are a great bunch of lads.  They have worked really hard, have improved beyond recognition and are fitter than they've probably ever been.  They now look like a proper football team.  Tomorrow they face their counterparts from Oxford University in the Varsity Match, staged at Craven Cottage.  The result will depend on how every football match between two evenly matched sides is determined.  Who performs, who makes a mistake, who takes a chance, who gets a refereeing decision, who gets a bit of luck.  But in my eyes they are all winners whatever the outcome.  They are well prepared.  They are ready.  They have all done everything they could do and they are the best they can be.  And as I have said previously, you can't do more than that.  They have learnt a lot about football but also many life lessons that can be applied to any career they may embark on in the future.  That's the true value of football.  That's why our scholars, even the ones who don't make it as professional footballers, will be better equipped for life thanks to their time with Cambridge United.  I think the same may be true of these high flying students, which is pretty incredible when you think about it!  

Enjoy the game.

Jez 


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