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Chuks Reflects On Youth Team Year Of Progress

7 May 2024

Club News

Chuks Reflects On Youth Team Year Of Progress

7 May 2024

After finishing the season on a high with a three-nil victory over Shrewsbury Town, U19s Head Coach, Chukwuma Akuneto, reflects on the young Latics’ campaign.

That victory meant Athletic finished the season ninth, a far cry from the 7-0 humbling on the opening day of the campaign back in August.

A good run just before Christmas put Chuks’ side in a good position, and since then they’ve not looked back, slowly climbing up the table.

“I came into this season with a lot of unknowns, all the players were new to me.

“They deserve huge amounts of credit for making their way through the early stages when it was tough.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.

“They have believed in the process since day one, understanding our methods and processes, and they’ve got their rewards from it now.

“The players might not have seen the growth at the start, but once they did they fully understood it and it gave them a huge boost.

“When they work on something for weeks on end and finally see it come off as part of the bigger picture, that is great for them.”

After that heavy defeat on the opening day, defensive solidity became a key priority for Chuks and his coaching staff.

Having worked with the lads on becoming more resilient to opposition attacks, Latics soon became one of the better defensive sides in the division, allowing them to make those huge strides up the table.

“If you take away the seven goals we conceded in the first game, we have the second-best defensive record in the whole league.

“That one match at the start of the season, a blip when we were still learning, take that away and it shows how solid we have been as a unit.

“You can have attacking players, patterns of play and creativity, but defending is also a real science.

“We have worked really hard on it to make sure we have been solid at the back this season.

“I look back at this campaign and see that we drew five games which we really could have won, had we won just a few, we could be many more placers higher up the table.

“Playing with a smile on their face is crucial for the players.

“Everything we do in life is a function of our emotions, if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing then you won’t do it well.

“I want their time here to be fun and enjoyable, but also challenging and tough.

“You have to find the right balance between the two, and if you do that - like we have - then you’re in a good position.”

Chuks is also impressed with how the first-year players have conducted themselves on and off the pitch this season, as they made the step from U16s football into the academy setup.

He’s worked tirelessly to form a bond between the two groups, allowing them to push each other on, leading to positive results on the pitch.

“The step up the first years have made has been immeasurable, and that is exactly why I like coaching.

“I’m glad that we as a group have been able to take players from where they were 12 months ago to where they are now.

“I am happy that the progress has been visible.

“We have ten second years, but we’ve never started a game with less than five first years in the team.

“That shows how much faith we have in them, but also the quality they possess to stake a claim in the team.

“Looking at the team, as a neutral you would not be able to tell who is a first year, or who is a second year.

“That has been fantastic for us because it has created a lot of competition for places in the team.

“If you do not bring your first years up to the same level then you’re in danger of having the team be dominated by the second years, which isn’t beneficial for anyone.

“I am pleased with the work both sets have made.”

With all players now making their next steps in football, whether that becoming the second-year group or stepping into men’s football, Chuks had nothing but praise for the group he’s worked tirelessly with over the past twelve months.

“I don’t want to single any particular player out, because they’ve all been great this year.

“We had one player who joined us at the start of the year who had only been playing football for two or three years.

“He has come on leaps and bounds and is now in a position where if he carries on learning at the same rate in the same environment, he has a promising future.

“The lads all understand that the team as a unit is better, but also that they have all made huge strides individually.

“They should be very proud of that.

“My message to the players has always been that they are in charge of their own destiny.

“What learning they do, the work they put in, their desire to progress, it is all there if they want it.

“A lot of this squad were told they are not good enough by other teams we play against prior to them joining us.

“We brought them in because we thought otherwise, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve been vindicated with some of the performances they’ve put in.

“Some have even won man of the match awards or scored against their former sides, you can’t get any better than that really.”

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