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How Wolves' academy are building stars

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"To see players grow and become established first-team players is extremely rewarding. Then we look for the next one."

Gareth Prosser is a man on a never-ending mission at Wolves.

That mission – to produce young players good enough to become first-team regulars – hasn't changed since he became academy manager in January 2013, after five years as second-in-command.

What has changed, though, is an increasing emphasis on youth development within the club.

Steve Morgan's multi-million pound investment in Compton Park has made the club's status a Category One academy.

With that, there is more pressure than ever to unearth those unpolished gems that will one day become heroes at Molineux.

Prosser, who joined Wolves from Derby County in 2008, said: "Of course, there's an expectation that comes with it.

"They're not just spending the money and saying 'get on with it' – there's an expectation for us to deliver.

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"We all work long hours, it makes our job that little bit easier when we can show people around.

"That's when we talk about how we support their son, their development as a player and a person, socially, physically, psychologically, educationally.

"We want good people here, as well as good footballers, and the show of faith from the club has been excellent.

"It encourages us to work that little bit harder and do that little bit more to bring the best players to this football club."

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1 Regan Upton, defender

Seen as a potential future captain of Wolves, Upton has just turned 19 and is looking to prove himself at under-21 level this season.

A tall, aggressive centre-half who likes playing the ball out from the back, the teenager moved from his local club Burton in 2012.

Originally a midfielder, he switched to defence last season. The move was an instant success, with Upton named Academy Player of the Season.

2 Connor Ronan, midfielder

A big future is predicted for the 17-year-old, who moved from his local club Rochdale last year.

Shone on the first team's pre-season tour to France and was an unused substitute for the Capital One Cup win over Barnet in August.

An attacking midfielder who is technically superb and has a great eye for a pass, Ronan has impressed boss Kenny Jackett and will look to stake a claim soon.

3 Niall Ennis, striker

Aged just 16, but has already trained with the first team.

Reportedly being tracked by Manchester United and Chelsea among others but Wolves are hopeful he will sign professional terms when he turns 17 next year.

An England under-17 international, Ennis is a local lad who has been with Wolves since the age of seven. A big prospect who Jackett is watching closely.

4 Harry Burgoyne, goalkeeper

Ludlow-born Burgoyne joined Wolves aged 12. Now 18, he was the hero of the under-19 team that won a European tournament in Germany on a penalty shoot-out in May.

Then joined the first team on tour in France, and is now on loan at non-league side Lowestoft Town. Could be the latest in a lengthening list of academy goalkeepers to play for Wolves' first team.

5 Jordan Allan, striker

Not exactly an unknown prospect, after hitting the headlines when he became Scottish football's youngest ever league player, aged 14, after playing for Airdrie.

Wolves snapped him up a year later and Allan, now 16, is due to sign professional terms next summer.

The academy is a very different place to when Prosser first started. Back then, all of the staff could fit in one small office.

Now there are two people alone who work specifically on the nine-to-12 age group.

Then two more coaches for 13-to-16-year-olds, three coaches for the 17s to 21s.

Then there's a full-time goalkeeping coach, an assistant academy manager, medical staff, recruitment staff, psychology staff and more – a workforce that has increased considerably in the past two to three years.

That's before the players even get anywhere near the first team.

Yes, academies are big business, and Wolves – as one of 24 Category One clubs — can't afford to be left behind in what is a fiercely-competitive industry.

Players are sourced locally, first and foremost, but Wolves of course look regionally, nationally and internationally to find the brightest young talents.

How then, in a world where teenage sensations can become You Tube phenomena and the 'next big thing' before they've even starting shaving, do Wolves sell themselves to potential young stars?

Welshman Prosser said: "First of all, it's about the pathway to the first-team.

"You've only got to look at our squad with so many academy graduates – and that's a real benefit when competing with Premier League clubs, or other Championship clubs.

"We're a family club, we look after people and they're treated in the right way.

"Our very clear strategy is to recruit the best local players first and foremost, so Wolverhampton and the surrounding regions are where we want the nucleus of our boys to come from.

"Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Danny Batth, for example, have been here since they were eight or nine years old, Jon Flatt the same, Niall Ennis, they've been right the way through the system with us

"We've recruited one or two in recent years who the big clubs have been after and they've come here because of how they've been treated.

"It's also about keeping hold of the best players. Touch wood, we've not lost a player recently.

"And Jez Moxey, Kenny Jackett, Kevin Thelwell, Scott Sellars, Jerry Gill, we'll all play our part in making sure the players are looked after."

Prosser is in daily contact with head coach Jackett, updating him on the progress of his academy players.

If a vacancy crops up in the first-team squad, Jackett needs to know who is ready to make that step up.

And Prosser is keen to leave nothing to chance as he prepares those players to be ready, should Jackett need to call on them.

He said: "We're clear on exactly what the plan is, from under-9s to the first team, there's a document that details where players currently are.

"If there are gaps, then that's where we may need to recruit externally. Or if they're not quite ready, but could be in six months it may be a short-term loan.

"The club will look within first before going out externally. We accept they need to go external now and again.

"Very few teams have a team of academy players, but getting to 40 or 50 per cent for us like in recent years means our opportunities have been excellent."

With millions spent on Compton Park and so many staff hired to nurture these youngsters into future football stars, is there too much pressure on them at such a young age?

Prosser said: "I hope not. Not from within. You do sometimes have to manage expectations of families or agents.

"We want the players to feel a little bit of pressure, because I think it's good, they have to have that desire to improve. But we do minimise it."

Of course, the majority don't make it at Wolves. Only a select few will become first-team players. Others go to different clubs, some drop out of the sport altogether.

Prosser admits telling players they haven't made the grade is the hardest part of his job.

But, as in everything else the academy does, he and the staff do all they can – for the player, and the person.

He said: ""We've got a responsibility for them. They're boys, growing up physically and mentally, we have to look after them, whether it's their school, social media, their 'host family,' we're responsible.

"It's not just about the grass. It used to be. But there are more needs for players now.

"It's never nice looking at a boy you've known for seven or eight years and telling them they haven't made the grade. It's the harsh reality of the job.

"It's important we treat people in the right way, do it face to face. You never know if our paths may cross again."

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