Often Partisan

Five Scholars Earn Deals

Blues announced yesterday five second year scholars had earned their first professional deals ahead of the 2016/17 season.

David Popa, Corey O’Keeffe and Steve Seddon have all been awarded two year deals, while Beryly Lubala has been given a one year contract. Edjija Mbunga has been given a six month deal having missed most of this season through injury. Josh Tibbetts has been given a year’s extra scholarship having also suffered with injury while a decision remains to be made on Jack Challis. Khaleem Bailey, Jordan Potter and Leighton Smith are to be released.

Of the five who have been offered new deals I’m most excited to see what will come from David Popa. The 18-year-old Romanian striker has featured regularly in the u21 side this season and while still a raw teenager shows promise that he can follow players like Viv Solomon-Otabor and Charlee Adams in pushing into the first team.

With the emergency loan window firmly closed next season Blues have to have a good u21 set up to act as cover for the first team, and the trend in recent years to retain more players following the end of their scholarship has been part of a shift within football generally to extend player development further at the start of their careers.

While it is certainly true that most young professionals won’t make the grade I’ve always personally thought it’s harder to make a decision on how good a player will be at 18 than it is at 21 and I have to admit, I’m pleased that Blues are enabled to give players more time to develop into talent that can make the grade in the first team.

Blues have also utilised the idea of playing many more u21 games than purely just the professional development league to give players an understanding of how gruelling a league season can be; however I also think it’s given the club more opportunity to utilise a full squad system at u21 level to get the best chance to look at players as they develop. It’s given more opportunities to the likes of Popa, O’Keeffe, Seddon and Lubala to play in u21 games and to impress the coaching staff; in turn the u18 squad has utilised more of the first year scholars like Ronan Hale to showcase how far they can step up.

Blues may be going through some trials and tribulations on the ownership front but there really does seem to be a genuine continual improvement at academy and development level which will only bode well for the future of the team – and if we can keep producing talents of the level of Demarai Gray and Nathan Redmond – of the club itself.

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