Aston Villa’s Under-18s won the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 19 years as the club’s academy continues to turn heads across the country.
Only Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have won the competition more times than Villa’s academy.
Six of the players in Villa’s side – who took on Liverpool’s youngsters in the final – started against Jürgen Klopp’s first team in the 4-1 FA Cup defeat in January after a Covid-19 outbreak had ruled out the club’s senior players.
When 17-year-old Louie Barry wheeled away in sheer delight after scoring his first goal for the senior side, with incredibly his first shot for Villa – who’d have thought that a schoolboy with claret and blue coursing through his veins, scoring in a 4-1 defeat would be the release many of us needed, only one week into 2021.
But while the former Barcelona teenager wouldn’t score in the cup final, Brad Young grabbed his 21st goal from the 27 starts he’s made across Villa’s youth teams this campaign.
Both boyhood Villa fans have enjoyed sensational seasons, as did Carney Chukwuemeka. After making his first-team debut in an away victory against Tottenham Hotspur, Chukwuemeka made a successive substitute appearance in the Premier League against Chelsea at Villa Park, all in the week he also starred in Villa’s FA Youth Cup final win.
While Villa are intent on scooping up the very best young talent from across the second city, recruitment further afield has been a common theme of the club’s academy player identification this term.
Villa paid £100,000 for former Peterborough goalkeeper Sam Proctor as the 13-year-old joined the club back in January. Villa also took Bristol Rovers duo Bradley Burrowes and Kyrie Pierre from the west country to further bolster their Under-14 and Under-16 teams.
Villa’s FA Youth Cup victory, as well as the impressive investment, ploughed into the club’s facilities and recruitment strategies, Villa’s academy can attract exciting talent from across the country.
Ben Chrisene, who joined the club from Exeter City in August 2020, made five senior appearances for the Grecians last season and opened the scoring for Sean Verity’s Under-18s by turning home a cutback from Arjan Raikhy in the opening stages of the game.
Young converted a penalty soon after to make it 2-0, before Villa twice hit the post. Melkamu Frauendorf’s volley deflected in off Seb Revan in the closing stages of the second half but Villa held firm to win the cup for the first time since beating Wayne Rooney’s Everton in 2002.
Lead PDP U18 Coach Verity has been at the club for 27 years in total. After starting off in the first six months or so as a volunteer helping out with coaching and getting his preliminary badge – which is now known as the UEFA B Licence – Verity has spent his whole professional coaching career at the club.
He and Liam Bramley were proud men after seeing Villa lift the FA Youth Cup at Villa Park.
A crowd of 4,600 spurred the side on, particularly as they held onto their 2-1 win, and Verity believes the run to victory will be invaluable as the players go forward in their careers.
He said: “I’m absolutely made up for the boys. I’m lucky enough to have known some of them for a long time.
“I’m immensely proud of the job we’ve managed to do in some trying circumstances. I can’t overstate how big a team effort it is.”
He added: “They tell me there were only 5,000 people in here tonight – it sounded more like 55,000 to me.
“The crowd was unbelievable and the lads will have felt that.”
How Aston Villa are planning to reproduce the likes of Jack, Vassell, Gabby and Barry
Having worked at Villa for some time, Verity joined an academy trying to get the most out of Darius Vassell and Lee Hendrie. Now, having also worked with Jack Grealish through his development years from the age of eight, Verity can identify what a top player looks like.
Verity believes the club ‘is going places’ and has previously described a contrast from current to previous regimes, in how the club supports and champions its academy.
While Verity has been preparing his youth team for U18 Premier League fixtures most weeks, he values competition and understands the benefits attached to FA Youth Cup football.
“A lot of them view this as a really important competition,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement around and it’s one of those competitions that gets the juices flowing.
“These big stages are the ones that seem to get them going, especially in this competition as well.
“It’s invaluable experience for what might happen in the future if they get to that point. That’s the beauty of going through a couple of rounds – they get more and more of these experiences.”
Before Villa’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Villa Park to claim silverware for the first time since the club won the Premier League Cup in 2018, Verity said: “The way they’ve played football has been fantastic.
“Some of the attacking play has been breathtaking and we get to watch some of that on a daily basis..
“We know what they’re capable of and they probably haven’t hit the heights yet. We all came away after the West Brom game – and if you win a Semi-Final it’s fantastic – thinking that there was some more to give.
“That’s exciting, but I’m also extremely proud of how we’ve played in this competition.”
Villa are going to great lengths to ensure they can equip their promising youngsters with the necessary tools to fulfil their frightening potentials. Plans to build an inner-city academy also speak volumes of Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens’ approach to academy operations.
In a design statement, a spokesman for HB Architects said: “The club’s focus through the city academy will have two primary aims; to assist Aston Villa in identifying talented local young players (male and female), and to provide access for the local community through the Aston Villa Foundation and partnership working with local junior football clubs.
“The location of the city academy will ensure that young people in the city can access these new facilities easily within the urban area, with direct links available locally via public transport.
“By providing the facility in the shadow of the main stadium, and also in an urban location that is easily accessible on foot, cycle and by public transport, there is a greater opportunity for those young people who may not have access or the support to travel the 12km to the Bodymoor Heath training ground facility.”
With strategies in place to invent exciting Villa’s future, it’s the likes of Barry, Kesler and Co. who’ll be making full use of the club’s investment in youth operations and earn their first-team breakthroughs under the stewardship of coaches who know a thing or two about developing local talent.