Chirewa Set to Start Scholarship Despite Fulham Interest
Thursday, 9th Jul 2020 17:20
General manager of football operations Lee O’Neill says he’s not concerned by interest in the club’s second-youngest-ever first-team player Tawanda Chirewa - TWTD understands from Fulham - who will begin his two-year academy scholarship once the new season gets under way.
Chirewa made his Blues debut as a late sub in the Leasing.com Trophy tie at Colchester in November while still a schoolboy aged 16 years and 31 days with Connor Wickham the only younger player to have made his senior Town bow.
The Zimbabwe-born, Shenfield-based midfielder is due to begin his scholarship in 2020/21 but we understand Fulham have been keen to lure him to their academy.
“I’m not going to comment on the club because it’s unfair to do so, but he is a good prospect,” O’Neill said when asked about the interest.
“That U15s, U16s crop that we’ve got are really good, so there is interest in those players but Tawanda is going to be here, he’s going to join as a scholar when it is safe to do so.
“He’s had a little bit of a sniff in and around the first team at the moment, which is great and he’ll be one over the next 12, 18, 24 months that will be pushing people to try and get that regular spot in the first team where he wants to play.
“You see it now, there are more and more younger players playing in the Premier League, Billy Gilmour is a good example the other night with Chelsea, and I think clubs will have to start looking at what they’re developing internally because they’re not necessarily go out there and spend vast sums of money.”
O’Neill says he has no concerns regarding the interest in Chirewa or rumours that Liverpool are interested in central defender Albie Armin, another of this summer’s full-time recruits.
“I’m not worried about that situation at all,” he added. “There has been interest in him [Chirewa] and there has been interest in a few other players in that group.
“We’re not worried about it because he, the family, the agent and the dad are all happy here and they want to commit to our programme.
“They can see a pathway with what’s happened with some of the younger players. He’s trained with the first team and that’s very different to probably the norm at some other clubs.
“We’ve gone through our online inductions, it was very different because normally we’d do it down at Portman Road. It’s been very different through this whole process but those scholarships are all sorted and ready to go.
“I haven’t heard that particular club mentioned [Liverpool regarding Armin] but if that is the case then great, it shows we’ve got some good players that other clubs are interested in. I can speak on behalf of those players, they’re all committed to our programme going forward.”
Regarding the impact of the coronavirus crisis on academies across the board, O’Neill, who is Town’s academy manager in addition to his role with the overall club, says that’s not yet clear.
“I think time will tell on that,” he continued. “I think clubs will seriously have to look at their productivity and whether it’s of value to them.
“Obviously we are part-funded from the Premier League, which was an issue, we were considering whether they would pull the funding or not and they’ve guaranteed that commitment for the next 12 months, albeit we don’t know when the schedule of payments will come through, and then on top of that there’s the same level of investment and some more from [owner] Marcus [Evans].
“So I think every club will have to look at it individually. From our point of view I think it’s a no-brainer, we have to run an academy and we have to make sure it’s of the highest standard we can possibly get to.
“My aspirations are still to try and achieve category one, that’s not going away. It just becomes a lot harder under the financial constraints but it’s still an aspiration I’d like to get to.”
Three more clubs - Burnley, Crystal Palace and Leeds - have taken their academies to category one status this summer, taking the current total to 27, but O’Neill anticipates that others will drop a level.
“I think there’ll be some that will come out of that programme as well,” he said. “They’re going through their own audit process, I think the bars are constantly being raised to get to category one. And even to maintain category two licences it’s getting harder. For the right reasons, everyone wants to improve the standard.
“Over a period of time if clubs are not getting revenue in and generating revenue with the investments that are being made and if there are no players coming through and no players making debuts, then clubs may look at their academies as a bit an expense.”
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