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Lee warns Wanderers' youngsters that first team chances won't come cheap

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
David Lee has vowed to offer no “free passes” to players on the cusp of senior football at Wanderers.

Promoted from Under-18s to Under-23s coach by Phil Parkinson at the start of the season, Lee is determined to set high standards for the young players looking to make the final leap into the first team squad.

His diligence should come as no surprise to Wanderers fans, who still remember the former winger fondly for his non-stop energy on the flanks during the White Hot era in the nineties.

But after cutting his coaching teeth with Wigan Athletic, the development squad role is another step up the ladder at Wanderers for Lee, who is showing a similar appetite for hard work on the other side of the touchline.

“It’s a tremendous honour for me, not question about it,” he said of the new role. “I have always wanted to progress in coaching and under previous regimes I haven’t really been given that opportunity.

“I’m very thankful for the chance to manage the Under-23s and determined to work just as hard as I did with the 18s.

“This role allows me to progress players a bit further towards the first team and the staff we have got here are giving 100 per cent.

“But ultimately it comes down to the player and every lad has to earn their right to make the first team. It is a big leap.”

Lee re-joined Wanderers in 2008 as assistant academy director and then took up a specific coaching role with the Under-18s alongside another Burnden favourite, Tony Kelly.

He has been credited with a major role in furthering the professional aspirations of Josh Vela, Zach Clough and Rob Holding, among others, and will now step into the role vacated by Iain Brunskill in the summer.

The landscape has changed for Wanderers at development squad level since they stepped down from a category one academy and they no longer cross swords regularly with the Premier League’s elite.

But the demands on the youth system during a challenging financial period for the club have increased, and Lee is relishing the chance to operate at a different level of football.

“The demands are higher, the quality of football is higher, you need faster decision-making,” he said. “The fundamentals we had in the Under-18s are the same but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the rewards at stake are higher for the players involved.

“There is a natural progression and it’s my job to try and pass on the information they need to make that final leap into first team football.”

Lee has inherited a small group of players after some wide-ranging cost-cutting over the summer and will be looking to add a few new faces over the coming weeks.

A 6-1 victory over QPR at the Macron on Monday night, including four goals from highly-regarded striker Alex Samizadeh, showed there is still plenty of promise outside the first team ranks but the Whitefield-born coach does not believe his success will be measured in wins and losses this season.

“Results are still largely irrelevant at this level and we still need to focus primarily on individual performances,” he said. “If you can get a win, fine, but really we need to analyse specifics and make sure players are developing in a way that can edge them towards the first team picture.

“We try and pass on information, a work ethic or patterns of play but whether you are successful or not depends entirely on the player and their willingness to listen and learn. The attitude has got to be right at this age.

“They are that little bit older and wiser and this is the final step before the senior level but there are no free passes.”

His squad was swelled on Monday night by first team regulars Lawrie Wilson, Derik Osede and Tom Thorpe, along with new goalkeeping signing Ben Alnwick.

The players Lee gets to work with on match-days may differ wildly depending on the proximity of the next senior game, the venue, the opposition or the injury situation within Parkinson’s squad and he could equally be forced to supplement his side with the Under-18s he helped to school last season.

“It’s all about the development of the players,” he said. “It’s a big plus to be able to name some of the senior lads in what is still a small squad, and to get a result like that can only do good for their confidence.

“We won’t go overboard with it, though, because there may be times this season when we come up against a squad which is supplemented by senior players and get a hammering ourselves. It can make a big difference.”

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