AFC YOUTH ACADEMY | THE CLASS OF 2020
Starting off on a new season, the Head of the AFC Youth Academy, Neil Simpson, has told us about the new graduates and new recruits joining the Aberdeen U18s this season as full-time professionals…
“Midfielder Jack is a local Aberdeen lad and a former Paul Lawrie Foundation BC youth player. He was recruited to the AFC Youth Academy after his team Airyhall were the last winners of the Alex Willoughby Cup.
“The final was played at Groats Road where Jack scored the goals in a 2-1 win over Kingswells. Jack was also named man of the match.
“Jack’s mum and dad were a big part of the parent’s association over the years, who do such a great job in helping the Youth Academy. Jack suffered a serious injury over in Holland but has worked really hard to get back to full fitness and has looked really good so far in pre-season.
“Technically, he is a very good footballer, a good passer of the ball and I believe his best position at the moment is as a sitting midfielder. A big lad at 6’ 4”, he can also drop back and play in central defence.”
“A former Westdyke BC player who was brought up in Westhill, Finn Yeats was recruited to the Youth Academy via one our Community coaching camps. Like Jack, Finn is another who was part of the SFA Performance School at Hazlehead. He was capped by Scotland last season, representing Scotland U16s vs England in a friendly and then in the Victory Shield in October 2019.
“Finn has done really well over the last couple of years as a central midfielder who makes good use of the ball. He has good ability and has had a good education through the Youth Academy and the Performance School. His Dad is Craig Yeats who is well known in local footballing circles, being the only player to win six Highland League titles in a row. His uncle is former Scottish international Warren Cummings.”
“Jack MacIver is from Kintore and played for Kintore Boys Club. His dad also played in the Highland League at Inverness Thistle. Jack is another who was also part of the SFA Performance School. He is more of an attacking midfield player, who can also play wide.
“Technically very good, he is excellent at set pieces and delivers some great passes, switching the play and also plays penetrating passes. He plays some great through balls to a striker.
“He played for the U18s last season, and impressed when he featured, so he knows the levels and the standards that are required from him.”
“Like most of our Youth Academy graduates, Ryan started with the U10s aged 9 and played up at an older age group most of the way through the Academy.
“From Keig near Alford, he was a pupil at Alford Academy and a former Donside Boys Club and Albion Boys Club player.
“Ryan can play in a number of positions. I think the number 10 role suits him well as he is good at finding space and is a threat in the final third but he can also play wide or left midfield. Again, he can provide excellent delivery from set pieces. He’s also a good goalscorer from the midfield area and has a great strike on him and is a Scotland U16 & U17 International.”
“Mason is a left footed centre-back who we have brought up from England. He has signed from Woking FC, having played for Fulham from age seven to fifteen, alongside Harvey Elliot, and thereafter for Oxford United. Mason really impressed when he came up on trial at the end of last season. He has very strong leadership qualities and communicates well.
“We hope we can give him an opportunity to come to Aberdeen and help him with his football development. We have a lot of very good contacts at clubs in England now and I must praise the work done by Youth Academy Head of Recruitment Jim Fraser in bringing Mason to the club. We get a lot of tips about players down south and Mason came highly recommended. We think we have someone here who can really develop over the length of his contract.”
(Note that Mason Hancock’ signing is subject to international clearance from FIFA.)
“We are delighted that promising left back Evan Towler who attends Portlethen Academy has also committed his future to Aberdeen, and will sign a full-time contract when he leaves school in December. Evan joined the Youth Academy when he was aged 9 from Cove Boys Club.”
Also joining the club officially this season after signing a full time contract will be Kieran Ngwenya. Kieran was a regular last season for the U18s, having a hugely impressive season, whilst also continuing his full-time studies.
“Kieran is from Edinburgh and starred for Tynecastle Boys Club. The left-back was a Scottish Juvenile Youth player, and Scottish Cup Youth finalist. We had watched Kieran for several years before bringing him in last season. His education was important to him so we supported though his schooling last year and he now joins us full-time. He has massive potential, as he showed last season when he played for the U18s.
“He is a left-back who is tall and defends well but can also get forward. His pace is frightening, and he makes good use of the ball. A tremendous athlete, his maturity and footballing ability mean he could go very far in the game, as could all our new recruits if they work hard and show the correct attitude.
“We were so pleased to get Kieran here, as a number of top clubs were keen to get him but Kieran was pleased with the support he received from the club in terms of helping him with his education. It’s great for us to get such a highly rated player from Edinburgh, under the noses of the big teams in the central belt. Eddie Smeaton is our scout in the Lothian and southern Scotland and is a very well-respected figure in the area and he knew Kieran well as he had coached him in the past. We are always looking to get the best players we can throughout the whole of Scotland.”
“The U18s had a very strong squad last season and they will be another very good group this year as we still have the likes of Kevin Hanratty, Michael Dangana and Tom Ritchie who have been training with the first team so far this year.
“They younger boys coming through have all had prior experience with the 18s. We always bring in the younger ones to give them an opportunity and they will know what it is all about, especially working under Barry and Scott. That has really helped their development.
“It has been difficult with lockdown and uncertainty over how and when youth football would return. We’ve finally got up and running, and four weeks ago we began our phased approach with two sessions, and the plan was gradually building that up to three before getting back to our full coaching set up after about six weeks.
“We were two days into it, everyone was buzzing, and then came the Aberdeen lockdown, so the programme came to a complete stop. It was so frustrating because all the players and coaches were desperate to get back. With the easing of the lockdown last week, we are up and running again in terms of our training. If all goes to plan we will have our full training programme going before the end of the month.
“The next phase is the opportunity to play friendly matches in September and the SFA have a identified a date when we will start our games. Again it is provisional, but at the start of October, the U18s will hopefully resume their fixtures as well as all our other Club Academy Scotland matches.
“I must give a lot of credit to my colleagues Gavin Levey and Liam McGarry. The three of us really engaged well with the parents, the players, the coaches. We got everyone working at home in terms of their skill development, their individual technique, we gave them tasks to do on a weekly basis. We really made sure that everyone felt part of the club over that three or four months. The feedback we have had, even from outside organisations, has been a credit to everyone involved with the youth academy.
“We worked as hard as we could to make a difficult situation the best it could be. We now need to get back to some kind of normality with our regular normal training regime and curriculum and start working and developing these young lads again. I’m sure they are determined and hungry to come back and get playing again.
“I’ve had to put the boots on again too! I have been helping Scott Anderson with training the U18s as Barry Robson is out of action with us at the moment because he is in the first team bubble. It has been excellent working with the boys in the afternoon and now I can just stay on to coach the youth academy boys at night.
“It is a worrying time for everyone involved with youth football and a real shame when you see some other clubs having to cut back their Youth Academies. Here, youth development is a huge part of the club’s philosophy. Seeing young players develop and coming through and getting an opportunity in the first team is what we as a club are all about.
“It brings prestige to a club.
“I have been in regular meetings with all the heads of the Academies and everyone is so keen to get back playing. There is a big commitment from the nine elite clubs in Scotland to get back and deliver a fantastic programme for the young players. Everyone is working together to develop players so we have good home grown talent, not just for the clubs but for the international teams as well at all the different levels.
“On a club level, we are still hopeful the SFA Youth Cup final will get played. It’s still on the agenda. It is a great shame that some of the young lads on both teams who are no longer at the clubs will miss out but players who are U18 last year, and are too old now, will still be eligible to play in the final. So the likes of Connor Barron, Kieran Ngwenwa, Tyler Mykyta, Connor Power, Luke Turner with feature, so that is good for them.
“It is not about winning trophies as we always say, but the 18s deserve recognition for what they achieved last season. They did so well in the league and some of the football they played was just fantastic. All the young lads bought into the training programme and the work ethic Barry and Scott demanded of them. The different patterns of play and the forward play was just fantastic. It was really enjoyable to watch. I know Barry is keen to get going with this group as well and train them and get them into the routine of how they work on and off the ball.
“There are exciting times ahead.”
Senior Youth Academy Coach Scott Anderson has been putting the new recruits through their paces at pre-season training these past few weeks. Scott coaches the U18s alongside Barry Robson and has been instrumental in recent years helping the Youth Academy players make the difficult step up from U16 to U18 level.
There is a feature with Scott on RedTV. To watch please click here.
Connor Barron, Mark Gallagher, Jack MacKenzie, Tyler Mykyta, Kieran Ngwenya, Conor Power, Michael Ruth, Luke Turner, Miko Virtanen
U18’s Squad (Full Time Players)
Lyall Booth, Michael Dangana, Ryan Duncan, Mason Hancock, Kevin Hanratty, Jack MacIver, Jack Milne, Calvin Ramsay, Tom Ritchie, Evan Towler, Finn Yeats
U18’s Squad (Non-Full Time Players)
Tom Findlay, Corey Gerrard, Luke Renforth