In the Liverpool programme we spoke to David Longwell about the changes to the Shrewsbury Town Academy
THE Shrewsbury Academy has gone through a lot of changes over the past year, but their aim remains the same; developing a pathway for players to reach the first team.
David Longwell is the Head of Academy and he oversees the work of the academy right from the under-5’s to the under-18’s trying to break into the first team. He explains the aims of the academy; “The biggest thing with the academy is where we are trying to get to. A lot of what we have done over the past number of years, and over the last year is making a number of improvements and changes.
“It is a really positive place to be at the moment because were creating this pathway towards the first team, our main goal is to get as many players into the first team as possible”.
The academy is completely focused towards developing players who will play for the first team but that focus also runs higher in the club, David said; “The relationship between myself and Sam is strong, we are constantly communicating about how to get the players through.
“I think that is what we are working on, on a daily basis, a weekly basis and an annual basis through Sam, Brian the Chief Executive and even the Chairman.
“We have an aim to get players through to the first team and then to get players regularly playing in the first team and then players we can sell, so that is where we sit at the moment.
“We’ve been working hard over the past number of months to bring better players in and also through the academy to try and improve the players, so were certainly sitting in a strong position at the moment because of the work that is going on”.
Since David and his team arrived at Shrewsbury there have been many changes including permanently moving to their new residence at the Shrewsbury Sports Village. The move has meant that all the academy offices, training and games are based at the same place which has been very beneficial.
On the changes David said; “When we came in, we did an analysis of what needed changing and very quickly we knew we needed to change the facilities because of where we were sitting.
“Where we were was good, but we wanted something better and that’s to get the kids training more often, so now we are at the sports village with a brand-new facility and surface to play on.
“We have brand new offices in here as well so from the staff’s point of view they were over the moon. From a working and professionalism point of view it has definitely taken us up a number of levels where we weren’t before, so again it has been a really good move since the start of the season”.
The improvement in facilities has helped strengthen the bond with the first team and has raised the standards of the academy.
“We are here every day, it is our new home and we are a little bit closer to where the first team. There aren’t really any negatives about being here, the relationship we have got with the Sports Village has been very, very good.
“Just having the boys coming in here on a daily basis with the staff and now reviewing where we were and where we are it has certainly taken us to another level of professionalism, standards, excellence.
“For players being in here they have definitely thrived. Before our teams only used to train twice a week which I didn’t think was enough I think they need to train at least three times a week. Now the programme is a lot more designed to develop them better as players and as people, to get them closer to the first team and again I definitely think we are going in the right direction with the facilities, with the staff and with the content we’re given”; said David.
The club are working hard to change the mentality around Shrewsbury Town as a club and to increase the investment and outcomes of the club. The academy are trying to improve their image within the town and within a wider area where they have to compete with many big clubs in the midlands.
The aim is to make people see and realise the work of the academy who currently employs 13 full-time staff and also 20 part-time staff. There is a big investment in the academy and David said; “It is a good investment because we know it’s going to pay dividends down the line.
“Obviously we have full-time staff all the way from the pre-academy to the under 18’s, when you come in here you can see that there is an awful lot going on, on a daily basis, on a weekly basis.
“We are investing a lot in what we think is going to pay a dividend further down the line so what we need to do in that time is bring in players and show to them that we have the opportunities for them.
“It is the same everywhere you will have people who come and go out of here but if they are good enough then they will get a chance.
“The programme we are putting in place is to get players into the first team, some players might fall short of that but at the bottom line is that there will be opportunities for them moving forward”.
The academy also regularly train with the first team as there is a large emphasis on getting the scholars and under-18’s game time against more physically developed men. That is also why many of the academy go out on loan to get experience of what first-team football will be like, David said: “It is all designed to make sure that they get closer to the first team and again there is a lot of work that is done in a positive way to help create that pathway into the first team and that is what we will continue to do”.
David has a lot of experience in his time working for St Mirren and draws on this experience to help his recruitment at Shrewsbury, he said; “I had John McGinn at St Mirren, he was there from seven years of age and went all the way through the programme he’s now playing at the highest level.
“There are other boys at Norwich who I signed at 15 and the same moral applies here we are looking for both looking for boys for the Pre-Academy who can come all the way through the programme and also lads that we can attract at 15/16. There are many different branches to the tree.
“We have the long-term plan to bring in the 6/7-year-olds but at the same time, we never want to overlook the players who are 15/16 that might be late developers or just players we identify at different clubs.
“What we are trying to do continuously across the board is to bring the kids in young but also keep the recruitment through Gary Wharton. We constantly try to improve the level of players we recruit and do that all the time because that means the player’s we already do have in the academy have to improve and keep working harder. It lifts up the levels we are trying to get to and again I think we are working extremely hard to do that and its certainly going to take a little bit of time, but we are heading in the right direction to recruit better players and to identify the players that can progress through”.
The academy are constantly looking to recruit new players at all levels and regularly hold trials for any aspiring young Shrews.
“We did some pre-academy trials this weekend in Telford, we like to open it up so we can get the best kids from all over and not just Shrewsbury.
“We have also opened up a centre in Cheshire while I’ve been here and what is important is that we’ve already signed one player from that, and we have an elite group out there who train.
“We are also trying to recruit players from Wolverhampton and from Birmingham, because of where we are we want to get the best local talent from here and work outwards from that.
“I think if parents can see what we are trying to do then there should be a real willingness to want to come here because I do. We are trying to mirror previous experiences and the more we do that the more players we are going to develop and again hopefully that will lift up the percentage of players that we will get in to the first team.
“We are trying to open the bottleneck so we can get more players through but there is a massive willingness from myself, from the manager and from the club to achieve that”; said David.
Some people may be wondering why Shrewsbury don’t have an U-23’s team and the Academies thinking behind that is that they don’t want it to turn into a place where players might get lost. Instead, David prefers to use the loan system where players can get experience in a more physical game.
David said; “Kids can get lost in there just for the sake of having players just to fill the under-23’s.
“It might suit clubs in a higher category than us but I don’t really think it’s for us at the moment. I think if we can get really good players and attract some at 16/17 there’s a far better chance that they are going to play in the first team if they are good enough.
“What we are trying to do is to use the loan system in and out against men, and in our under 18’s at the moment I’ve had about nine out recently. At the moment we’ve got five and there’s another couple that are going to go out and we are continually going to do that to expose them to playing with men.
“Depending on how well they do is up to them, we give them the platform and those opportunities to do that but it is all designed to give those that better platform to get to the first team and try to expose them”.
There is an emphasis in the academy that the result isn’t always the most important thing and it is usually the performance and development that shines through.
“With the under 18’s people look at our results but that isn’t always the most important thing, we are playing at the moment with a lot of younger ones in there but at the end of the day who is going to remember that in three years-time.
“It is more about who is actually getting in the first team. We’ve got Ryan Sears who is there or thereabouts, we want to make sure in years to come that there is a lot more than that and make sure there are players regularly playing in the first team.
“To achieve that we have really got to push to improve the level, we have got to make sure that they get there. If you’ve got the right players some of them can get overlooked but here they will get opportunities using the loan system, even the older ones we’ve got some lads who are on first team contracts who are out on loan”; said David.
The partnership between the club and the academy is to continually get players through the academy and in to the first team on a more regular basis, David said; “What we want to do is to create a bit of a conveyor belt, a positive conveyor belt that every year we get more players through.
“Eventually you have got a bigger percentage playing week in week out and whether we sign them at 16 or whether we sign them at 9 we are still here for them.
“If there are any players out there who want to come here then they are going to have a better opportunity coming here than some of your ‘so called’ bigger clubs because I think there is something special we are creating”.
The academy is not just focused on the older players the younger age categories also receive a lot of support and their development is fundamental to the success of the academy as a whole. David said; “If you drop down the age levels the 12’s,13’s and 14’s played against Aston Villa recently and in two of those games we drew with them.
“The result isn’t important, but it is the fact we have actually matched them shows a lot about where we are going and how we are improving things. Our 9’s and 10’s are playing in the Midlands Championship and they have held their own in those games, they have done really well because they are playing against bigger clubs.
“The biggest testament to all the work that is going on is the long-term plan, how many players can we get through. The thing at Shrewsbury is that even when bigger clubs show interest this is the place that you want to be at because we have the community at our heart and at bigger clubs some players can get lost”.
CPD is at the heart of what the academy are trying to improve not only improving the players but also the coaches to provide the best environment and results. “We have great staff here and we have everybody singing from the same hymn sheet and with the same common goal which is to get players through. To be successful you have to have that drive which comes from the top from the chairman and from the chief executive and I certainly think we are going in the right direction”.