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Bolton Wanderers' academy conveyor belt keeps rolling - but who's next for a chance?

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Opportunity has knocked for Wanderers’ academy graduates in recent seasons – but will the latest crop get their chance in the Championship?

Phil Parkinson has taken a keen interest in youth development since he arrived at the club 12 months ago, and was on hand once again at Atherton Colls on Tuesday night to run another check over David Lee’s Under-23s.

Cole Lonsdale, Harry Brockbank, Alex Perry, Ryan White and Jack Earing have all featured heavily in the pre-season schedule thus far, alongside two other youngsters imported from outside the Lostock walls in Connor Hall, from Sheffield United, and Jeff King, from Droylsden.

The new wave of young talent at the Macron arrive at an interesting period in the club’s history.

More game time has been given to academy players over the past two seasons than at any time in the past 13 years.

Not since Kevin Nolan, Nicky Hunt and Joey O’Brien – all players who spent two years or more in the youth set-up – were representing the Whites at home and abroad has as much emphasis been placed on home-grown talent.

Josh Vela has led the way for the recent crop, playing every game in League One last season. But the rise, and consequent sales of Rob Holding and Zach Clough, to Arsenal and Nottingham Forest respectively, have ushered in a new way of looking at the club’s youth system and how it can contribute in the future.

According to football statistics website, Vela and Clough made up the vast majority of the 7,030 minutes given to academy graduates under Parkinson last season.

That figure was down around 20 per cent on the previous year – in which Holding also pitched in – and the likes of Niall Maher and Oscar Threlkeld were also used extensively towards the end of a disastrous season by caretaker boss Jimmy Phillips at the height of the financial crisis.

Wanderers’ ownership have placed a heavy emphasis on keeping the academy’s category two status this summer and have now attracted sponsorship to ensure its cost-effectiveness.

Just six years ago, however, Wanderers went through a whole season in the Premier League without giving a single minute to a home-grown player. And had it not been for Joe Riley’s brief breakthrough, the previous season would also have been completely fruitless for the club’s youth.

But can the current rise continue after last season’s promotion?

It has been well-documented the combined training base at Lostock has had a positive effect on the relationship between the senior ranks and the academy. Parkinson was fully involved in the offers for third-year scholarships at the end of last season, and on which youngsters were to be released.

While he is clearly invested in giving younger players an opportunity – one wonders whether the cut-throat environment of the Championship is really the right place?

A separate issue for Parkinson is that of the club’s transfer embargo. He must adhere to the 23-man quota laid down by the Football League but can use as many scholars who are not tied to professional contracts as he likes.

That may mean Perry, King and Hall and the highly-rated Jake Turner could find loan football as their best option until the embargo is lifted.

Brockbank, White, Lonsdale and Earing would, as things stand, be able to play without impacting on the quota.

The upheaval at Under-23s level means heavy recruitment is needed this summer, and several trialists were involved in the 2-2 draw at Colls.

Among the new faces on show at the Kensite Stadium were ex-Everton defender Jack Bainbridge, 19, Toby Syme, a former Norwich City academy full-back, aged 18, and Elliott Percival, a 19-year-old centre-half who has been on the books of Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City.

Wanderers have looked to cast the net far and wide this summer and have also brought in winger Antony Wright on trial. The former Fulham and Nottingham Forest academy midfielder, 19, is the son of London-born footballer Paul Wright, who played most of his career in the American indoor leagues.

Ex-OGC Nice striker Nabil Khali caught the eye against Colls, featuring in both halves, but little is known about two other trialists, Esra Walliau and Zach Haydi, who played up front in the first and second-halves, respectively.


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