AFC Youth Academy | The Class of 2023

19 June 2023
Author AFC Media Team

As Barry Robson continues to build his new look first team squad, our U18s Development Group welcomes six new players who recently won full-time contracts after working their way right through from the youth set up to the professional ranks.

Academy Director, Gavin Levey, spoke to us about the new recruits joining the Aberdeen U18s this season as full-time professionals. They are all players the club has high hopes for and the quality of talent coming in this year highlights the continued excellent work being done all the way through the Academy setup.

“We are really excited about the boys coming in this year again. They were all part of an U16 side that won the Club Academy Scotland League at that age group. There is a good balance this year with the players who join on their first professional contracts as there is an even split between defensive and attack minded players to complement the existing U18 group led by Scott Anderson and Stuart Duff.

“They arrived at Pittodrie Stadium with their parents on Friday evening to officially sign their contracts and as we sat down pitch side, we emphasised the point that this time last year we were speaking to the likes of Alfie Bavidge and his family, and at a club like ours there’s a great chance that one of you could go on and made their debut for the first team. Alfie managed to do that and also Findlay Marshall has continued to be involved with the first team squad. So, we have put out the same challenge this season to these players, we truly believe that is possible as we have such a visible pathway at Aberdeen. Barry will continue to utilise the U18s in first team training groups as he’s well aware of the capabilities of the young players and is determined to stretch their development and see how they cope in the first team environment.

“All these players who have signed professional contracts were recruited by our Head of Academy Recruitment Jim Fraser and his scouting team who do a terrific job. Everyone of this year’s group started with us at the Academy aged 8-10 years old and have come right through the system. The recruitment team work tirelessly to ensure we have a great starting point to enable the coaches and support staff to help nurture each individual’s potential. None of this would be possible if it was not for the work of Jim and his team eight or nine years ago identifying the talent, we believe that these players have.”

Rodrigo Vitols | Goalkeeper

“A Fraserburgh boy who went to Fraserburgh Academy, his family can all be very proud of what he has achieved so far. Rodrigo would travel through four times a week and that level of commitment from the whole family is remarkable. I am very pleased for them, as I am for all the families, as I know what it means to them, that their son will continue to represent Aberdeen.

“As well as being a very good goalkeeper, he has strong leadership attributes for someone his age. Rodrigo is someone who has been out to a lot of international tournaments over the years and impressed at that level. He is very dedicated and sets himself very high standards and he puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform at the highest level. The good thing is, I love how he is so vocal and demands those standards from his teammates. He was rewarded at the tail end of last season with some games for the U18s whilst he was still at school.

“He has also trained with the first team goalkeepers. During any of the school holidays, Craig Samson would ensure Rodrigo could come in to train extra so he could work with the likes of Kelle Roos, Joe Lewis, Jay Gorter and Tom Ritchie. This has given Rodrigo a taste of the full-time environment and he’s demonstrated in that time just how much he wanted to earn a chance to become a professional player.”

Jamie Mercer | Central Defender

“Jamie is from Balmedie and went to Ellon Academy. He came in at the end of the U10s season and since then has been a player who has always played up a level. He started out as more of a left back who could play at centre back, but we always felt his strongest position would be in the left side of central defence. Jamie is a very competitive defender who loves a challenge whether that be in the air or on the ground. He goes into every tackle full blooded and trains the way he plays. A very aggressive player who shows good composure on the ball and another one who demands very high standards. One of his biggest strengths is that he never looks fazed at all and is another young player who has demonstrated strong leadership qualities when progressing through the academy.

“Jamie has also had to show a lot of strength of character to overcome some different injuries and has had to be very patient at times. He has been very good with his rehab and is a lad who has worked very hard on his education and his football this year, as he has been a regular in the U18s squad this season as well as playing for the 16s.

“The importance of the international tournaments we play in Europe enables the coaches to see who excels at that level, who stands out against some of the top academies in Europe and Jamie has definitely been one of those players.”

Victor Enem | Right Back

“Whilst some of our graduates got a taste of U18 football last season, Victor played the whole season! That is a great credit to himself. Victor, who is from the Bridge of Don, attended the SFA Performance School at Hazlehead Academy and has worked with Stuart Glennie over the years in there but this year has almost been treated like an U18 player which will have greatly advanced up his development.

“During his time with Aberdeen Victor has almost played almost every position. He started out as a striker as he has a really good eye for goal, and since then has moved about different areas of the pitch. He played as a central defender before we moved him over to right back. Victor is a very effective wing-back too because of his energy, pace, and strength, but he is also technically very good on the ball. So, he is comfortable building from the back, has a great range of passing and then has the ability to contribute in the final third with his crossing and shooting.

“He was around the Scotland set up at U16 level as well and we are excited about Victor’s next chapter in his development as he’s thoroughly earned his chance to join the club on a full-time basis.”

Ellis Clark | Central Midfielder

“From Westhill, Ellis played for Westdyke Boys Club. They always have a very strong set up at the very early ages and quite a number of their players came to the Advanced Centres that Jim Crawford ran at the time with Liam McGarry.

“Throughout his time in the Academy Ellis has very much stayed in his position of central midfielder. Very two footed, comfortable on both sides and you don’t use the words ‘weaker foot’ with Ellis. Has had a very good range of pass and from a young age has always seen the game very well. He is a player Barry Robson has always been very excited about, because of how capable he is on the ball.

“Like all our new additions, Ellis has a very supportive family, who are all incredibly proud of what he has achieved so far, having made the huge commitment over the years to support his journey the academy.

“Ellis has also been involved in Scotland camps but has not played anywhere near the amount of football he would have liked this year due to injury which has held him back a little bit. Thankfully he has come through some successful surgery, and it is important that I mention the medical team at Aberdeen and our sport scientists who have done an amazing job with his rehab. When we talk about best practice at a football club, it is highlighted in the work they have done with Ellis. However, the player is the one who has to go through it all and his dedication and positivity has been unbelievable in ensuring he gets back to full fitness. He has been putting the work in in the gym whilst he has not been playing, so all that should help him this season.”

Fletcher Boyd | Attacking Midfielder

“Fletcher is the youngest of the group. He grew up in Portsoy before moving to the SFA Performance School. He is a player who has played up one or two age groups regularly during his time at the Academy. He can play up front or as an attacking midfielder and is very fast, so can be equally effective in the wide areas or through the middle. It is his impact in the final third that is key. Fletcher is very strong technically and if he continues to develop other areas of his game within the full-time environment, he could have a very bright future ahead of him. An exciting prospect who is involved in the Scotland set up.

“The commitment again shown by his family to get him to this stage has been remarkable. When Fletcher joined Hazlehead Academy his mum also moved to Aberdeen so she could be with him, allowing him to concentrate on his football. So, for the last five years they would stay in Aberdeen during the week, before going back to be with the rest of the family at weekends. Fletcher has been involved in both the Scotland U15s & 16s and has also picked up some individual awards at European Academy tournaments.”

Fraser Mackie | Striker

“Fraser is another player who joins us from Fraserburgh Academy, so two of the six lads this year are from Fraserburgh. It is huge credit to the boy’s club set up in that area as they have helped develop players who have signed for the Dons this year. Fraser and Rodrigo travelled through to Aberdeen together for all those years, so it is a great story that both have joined as full-time professionals at the same time.

“Left footed, Fraser predominantly has played through the middle as a striker. He was top goal scorer in two of the really high standard European tournaments during his journey in the Academy. Fraser has a real eye for goal, clever with his movement and is someone we see as having a lot of goals in him. He has proved that at every age group he has played at.

“He has had to work incredibly hard this year to earn his contract. He never gave up, right to the very end. We don’t give contracts to players, they need to ‘earn’ them. Fraser has shown resilience to overcome setbacks and has just got his head down and worked even harder. Sometimes what players like Fraser have had to go through to get to this stage, and the fight they have shown, stands them in good stead for when they come in here full-time. Because for Fraser, and all the six new boys, they are going to have to keep showing that hunger and fight if they want to make it to the next level.

“We give them the platform, and work with them every day at Cormack Park to make them better players, but they now need to go take advantage of the opportunity they have been given. The likes of Ryan Duncan, Connor Barron, Calvin Ramsay, Alfie Bavidge – these guys did not just get to the first team because of their ability. They also showed an incredible work ethic.”

On behalf of all the Academy staff, we wish all our new graduates the very best during their time as professional players at club.

from left to right: Rodrigo Vitols, Jamie Mercer, Victor Enem, Fletcher Boyd, Fraser Mackie and Ellis Clark. (Photos copyright Newsline Media)