KEITH Hill is demanding improvement from Wanderers’ young players, fearing they do not spend enough time honing the technical side of their game.

In a little under a month since he was appointed as manager, Hill has instigated a massive overhaul of the first-team squad, signing nine players on deadline day, and implementing a more attack-minded brand of football which has been popular with the supporters.

The influx of new players has displaced the group of youngsters who became known as the ‘Junior Whites’ when they stepped up to help the club fulfil its early-season fixtures.

The team, which was comprised chiefly of Under-18s, earned plaudits for holding high-flyers Coventry City to a draw at the UniBol but also fell to heavy defeats against Gillingham, Ipswich and Tranmere.

Though Dennis Politic retained his place in the starting line-up and is now starting to look at home at senior grade. Ronan Darcy, Eddie Brown, Yoan Zouma, Matt Alexander and Adam Senior have also been on the bench in recent weeks.

But whether they get further opportunities at first team level could hinge on their ability to satisfy manager Hill, who has voiced concern that the players are spending too much time improving physical attributes, rather than working with a ball at their feet.

Speaking candidly to The Bolton News, Hill outlined the attitude he wants from the players pushing for first team football.

“These young lads have got to look forward to training every single day,” the manager said. “They have got to get out of bed every morning and be excited about coming in and developing to be the best possible player they can be.

“I want them to be the best footballing specimens, not just gym bunnies.

“I want football players and, essentially, those players have to understand everything about that ball, in and out of possession. They must also be able to be comfortable with the ball, I suppose they have to have a relationship with it. I have not seen enough of that from my players, individually.”

Wanderers have had very reasonable success at academy level in the last decade, with the likes of Rob Holding, Josh Vela, Zach Clough, Oscar Threlkeld, Luca Connell, Chris Basham, Tom Walker and Tyler Garratt all now playing football at EFL or SPL level.

Since it was opened in 1998, 50 players have progressed to play senior football for Bolton – although Hill’s ambition is to increase that number significantly.

“I will go in and have a game of headers in the morning and I can do two or three hundred with David Flitcroft but I can do eight with a young player and that really does concern me,” he said.

“Things like that have to be worked on. It’s nobody’s fault but it’s the individual players’ career. And all it takes it getting a ball out in the morning.

“I can be in the back garden in the morning at 6am before my little boy goes to school because he wants to play football.

“He has that driving ambition, enthusiasm, and how far it takes him I have no idea.

“These young players have an unbelievable opportunity. It isn’t mine – I am already here – and I have a ball in my hand every single morning.

“I go into the gym and see them all doing shoulder presses, bench presses, sit ups and then I ask them to do a little bit of two-touch and the ball is all over the place. So it’s that relationship with the ball that we are looking at as much as we possibly can, developing them.

“There will be massive successes within this academy, and players who develop, but those sporadic few will become a relentless turnover of saleable assets, lads who can play for the first team. In 12 years as a management team that’s what we have done, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Although a Boltonian by birth, Hill came through the ranks at Blackburn Rovers under the watchful eye of Tony Parkes and Bobby Saxton, and later Don Mackay, Ray Harford and Kenny Dalglish.

He made more than 100 appearances for Rovers but admits the landscape has changed since the early 90s when he was making his mark at Ewood Park.

“It is difficult being a young player nowadays because they don’t go through the upbringing that we did,” he said.

“It is a different dynamic now. The young players need to know there is real pain in winning and it is not just given to them. You have to test and stress these players in a football environment.

“We are very good at being parents, football parents. We want to educate these players and we want them to develop. We want them to be accepted by the first-team players.

“Not every one will make it, I guarantee that. It might be one or two out of the 11 that played, three tops. When I talk about ‘making it’ I don’t mean making a debut, I mean 50, 100 games, a career.

“But they have to come on the journey and some of them are showing great willingness to do just that.”