JIMMY Phillips is proud of the Wanderers alumni who have passed through the academy – and feels there is plenty more to come.
In nearly nine years at the helm of Lostock the Bolton-born coach has seen hundreds of players come and go through the gates at the Eddie Davies Academy, and a select few make the grade.
Recent examples Zach Clough and Rob Holding have gone on to make millions for the club at a time when they needed it most, while Josh Vela continues to fly the flag in the first team, playing a key role in this season’s promotion.
This week it was revealed a Premier League study rated Wanderers among the top four productive academies in the country – a feather in the cap for a man who has devoted most of his professional career to his hometown club.
But while such statistics shine a positive light on the often-unseen work going on a mile-or-so down the road from the Macron Stadium, Phillips is keen to underline just how many people deserve the share the praise.
“When you look at players like Zach, Rob or Josh, who were with the club from a very young age of course we take pride in the way they have developed into professional footballers,” he told The Bolton News.
“I emphasise, though, there has been a huge number of coaches, physios, even mini-bus drivers behind their development – 30 to 40 people – so it’s not right for one person to take the credit on how well they have done.
“The environment we create shapes and moulds the young lads into men. It’s hard-working, honest but also welcoming and friendly.
“The fact Zach, Rob and Josh are doing so well reflects well on the job we’re doing here but I look around now and see more players who have got that potential to push on.”
Sam Allardyce’s departure in 2007 happened just before major changes at the academy, which fell under the Premier League umbrella.
The gap between reserve team and first team widened under successive managers Gary Megson and Owen Coyle, however, leading to a degree of criticism being aimed at the academy for failing to produce players who graduated to senior level.
That relationship deteriorated even further as Dougie Freedman and his staff failed to bond with the existing set-up.
In the last few years, however, Neil Lennon repaired much of the damage before Phil Parkinson – who became the first manager based full-time at Lostock with the first team – really reaped the reward of having both sides of the football club on one site.
“From an academy point of view, training with the first team players is an invaluable experience,” said Phillips.
“On a Monday the first team lads who started at the weekend will do a shorter training session, which means our Under-18s who played on the Saturday supplement their training numbers – with the U23s playing the same evening.
“That has been a great experience. It didn’t happen in the past because of logistics and the fact different first team managers have different thoughts.”
Last summer’s restructuring saw mass change at development squad level, where regulars like Tom Eaves, Jordan Lussey, Ross Fitzsimons, Quade Taylor, Harry Campbell, Jon Ceberio, Channing Campbell-Young, Jamie Thomas, Yvan Wassi and Chris Cvetko were all made surplus to requirement. Another departure which hit particularly close to home for Phillips was that of his son Nathan, who abandoned plans to move to the States to play his football for a dream move to Liverpool.
This year Phillips and Under-23s boss David Lee was able to count on the input of Parkinson as they made decisions on players’ future.
And though some familiar faces might well be moving on, last season’s evidence suggests it is not the end of the road.
Academy chief is encouraged to see how many of his former players are staying at a good level in the game - and potentially earning future bonuses.
“Of the players we released Oscar (Threlkeld) went to Plymouth, Niall (Maher) to Bury, a couple of boys ended up at Premier League clubs playing in the Under-23s, Chris Cvetko found a club back in Austria, which is another side to the academy – if the players are not right for what we need, to keep them in football and get a career out of it is the aim,” he added. “Sometimes, down the road, it pays off. I remember losing David Norris for £50,000 and then when Ipswich came calling a few years later we got an unexpected bonus.”