Bobby Hassell was delighted to see five former under 23s players in Barnsley’s starting line-up on Saturday and has backed them to have very bright futures.
Head coach Gerhard Struber started Jack Walton, Ben Williams, Romal Palmer, Jacob Brown and goal-scorer Elliot Simoes in the 1-0 win at Queens Park Rangers.
Jordan Williams and Clarke Oduor, who have also come through the under 23s, were on the bench.
Hassell, the former Reds player who is now academy manager, told the Chronicle: “It’s great for us and testament to the coaches, especially Martin Devaney, who has developed these players. You have to give a lot of credit to Gerhard who has been brave enough to put trust in them.
“We have come a long way as an academy in the last three or four years and, hopefully, now we are starting to see the fruits of that. The best thing is that the age groups below are really strong and, if we compare them to the lads coming into the first team now, those younger lads are probably slightly ahead of them at that age.
“When you come back for pre-season, the young lads always shine straight away.
“They are really enthusiastic and they don’t take as long to get up to full fitness.
“Playing in front of no fans probably helps them because they are used to playing in an empty ground in the under 23s.
“They did really well on Saturday but they need to stay consistent now.”
The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a dramatic financial impact on many clubs including the Reds.
Hassell said: “It might force the hands of clubs to play youth players, not just Barnsley.
“There will be a financial hole for clubs now and it would be great to see academy kids filling it. In this academy, over the last seven or eight years, we have made enough money to fund ourselves for the next 30 years in terms of transfer sales and also saving money on wages because academy players’ salaries are about 70 per cent less than a new signing.
“It would be great if Barnsley can have at least five or six academy players in the first team squad regularly going forward.”
Palmer, a 21-year-old central midfielder, has been with the club for five years since leaving Manchester City but made his first appearance on Saturday.
Hassell said: “Injuries have held Romal back a lot because he’s incredibly talented. I remember when Davvers took over the under 18s and we did a lot more running than he’d been used to. He was virtually in tears. We have had to do a lot of work with him to get his mentality stronger and now he believes in himself and he’s a lot more resilient.
“He’s got the ability to be a top Championship or lower end Premier League player.”
Forward Simoes, 20, joined from FC United of Manchester in January last year. He has made 12 appearances and scored twice. Hassell said: “A club like Brentford will pick up a player like Elliot and develop him. That’s what we’re trying to do as well. He came in as a left-winger but we have converted him into a central position. Martin has done wonders with his finishing because it was poor when he first came in but it has improved so much.
“He could be the next multi-million pound player because he’s a goal-scorer and, when you score goals regularly at that age, you get a lot of attention.”
Brown, 22, is the most established of the five as he has played 74 games for the Reds, scoring 11 goals. He arrived aged 16 from Guiseley AFC.
Hassell said: “He was the first player I gave a professional contract to.
“He was nearly sold to Bradford at one point but the club listened to us telling them he had a chance to get in our first team. He has got a lot of assists in the Championship and, if he can add goals and start getting ten goals and ten assists in the Championship, he’s another one the club can make a lot of money on going forward. We want to keep him but this is a club that develops players to sell them on. I agree with that model.”
Goalkeeper Walton, 22, signed after leaving Bolton Wanderers aged 15 and made his tenth first team appearance on Saturday – his first in 15 months.
“Jack is competing for one position and you very rarely see goalkeepers under 25 playing regularly at this level. He has had to bide his time but, everytime he’s played, he has never let the club down.
“I have seen massive, massive improvements, especially mentally and with his kicking. He has a great future and everything is coming into place for him.”
Defender Williams, 21, has played 33 first team games since arriving from Blackburn Rovers at 18.
“One of our scouts went to watch another player but Ben caught his eye.
“We brought him in after he left Blackburn and I always knew he would get in the first team. He has had good games and not so good games but he will become much more consistent.
“He is a bit of throwback in that he is very wholehearted and likes to tackle so the fans will like him. He was very very nervous around the first team at first but now you see his personality come out and he’s a lot more confident.”
Hassell is hoping that the under 18s and under 23s can start training in small groups in a venue away from Oakwell in July with a full return due on August 1 ahead of the season beginning in September. The younger age groups, from under nines to under 16s, are likely to return in October.