TRAINING with the under-21 squad as part of my rehabilitation from injury has given me a close look at some of the youngsters who signed this summer.
The development squad has been bolstered with new faces and I have to say the standard and quality of player is higher this season.
Ivan Calero, Alban Bunjaku, Alefe Santos and Shaquille McDonald are among the signings, and there is some talent in the group
Calero looks a tremendous talent.
He has got really quick feet, as well as a good touch and awareness. He’s a good player and I tried to stay on the opposite side of the pitch from him in the training session!
There are three or four similar players who can play out wide including Alfie and Shaquille, both small in stature but very pacy with quick feet and good ability.
Alban is taller and has not got the speed of the other three, but he is technically very good.
The under-21s are playing at a higher level this season following the success of the Academy in gaining Category One status. They started with a victory over Middlesbrough a week ago and played Arsenal last night.
The new lads have settled in well. I think it is easier to do so when you’re younger. I remember being a YT at Rotherham, you get really close with the lads who are in your squad and who are around your age. You tend to stick together as a group.
Of course, the test for these young players is whether or not in time they can take the next step.
Their aim is to impress and hopefully go over and train with the first team as much as possible.
Young players need that test, that pressure of being in and around the first team whether it be training, travelling to games, or getting 10 minutes at the end of a match.
There was probably only one or two who could do that last season, players like Jamie Hanson and Kwame Thomas.
The current under-21 group is really strong and a few of them could probably go and train with the first team now and not look out of place.
They are not the finished article, of course, because that takes time but there is a bright future for the club if they continue to develop.
We have seen some really good players come through the Academy in the last five or six seasons, players like Mark O’Brien, Jeff Hendrick, Will Hughes and Mason Bennett. All good players, great lads and extremely well-grounded.
Another youngster to have come on leaps and bounds is Jamie Hanson.
He was with the first-team squad pre-season along with Max Lowe and Farrend Rawson.
When we first heard about Jamie, it was about his ability at set-pieces. He seemed to score free kick after free kick, which is not a bad trait to have.
Now we are seeing him as a composed, technically good player, and he also likes defending.
He is not the biggest for centre back, but he can also play full back and in the holding role in midfield.
I’ve enjoyed training with the under-21s as I continue my comeback.
I did three sessions last week – Tuesday and Thursday with some contact, and Sunday.
I ached a little and felt a bit of soreness after the Sunday session and so I eased back this week. That is to be expected having been out for so long.
From doing a warm up with the under-21s to a week and half later doing a full session is another big plus for me.