With the first team and under-18s away on holiday, the last month has provided an opportunity for the younger age groups to take centre-stage.
. mkstadiumOn Tuesday evening, it was the Under-15’s' chance to be in the spotlight as they entertained Premier League outfit Chelsea in the third and final Academy Challenge Match of the season at
Dan Micciche’s side entertained the 1,221 supporters in attendance with some delightful football and although they didn’t come away with a result, they provided on-lookers with another fine example of why the Club has one of the most exciting academy set-ups in the country.
And Head of Coaching for Under-9s to Under-16s Micciche was delighted with the way his players coped with the occasion but was keen to re-iterate to mkdons.com that there is still a long way to go in terms of developing these potential Dons stars of the future.
He said: “I was pleased because they got an experience out of it, which was the main thing, and at times they were more than a match for Chelsea. There was some good football played and I thought it was pretty even for most parts but I try not to look into it too much, it’s just another game and these players are still developing.
“You have to manage your expectations. You’re always intrigued to see how they’re going to cope but if the certain players don’t do well, it doesn’t mean to say that they’re out of the door and if they do, it’s important to not get ahead of ourselves and set unrealistic expectations
“We just see it as another game for them and another challenge. What I want to see is all the things they practice on a regular basis, I want to see them composed on the ball, not in a hurry in terms of how they play and that they’re not fazed by the opposition.
“None of our players are the finished article yet, no matter how much they’ve achieved this year. They’ve all got individual programmes that we set for them so while you might see them try something and get it wrong, it’s fine with me because that’s what we’ve asked them to try and learn.”
With impressive performances against higher-category opponents, like that on Tuesday, as well has having eight internationals currently in the academy it comes as no surprise that the Dons’ reputation in youth football is growing and their improving status is only highlighted by the number of invitations the Club receives for friendlies from various academies around the country.
Only last week the Dons’ Under-16s side were invited down to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham Hotspur while the Under-15s enjoyed stadium games against Brentford and Reading before the clash with Chelsea.
And although it has been busy couple of weeks for all involved, Micciche, who will take three sides over to Carrington to face Manchester United next week, added that it’s been extremely valuable for the players’ development.
“They’ve all had a very hectic couple of weeks but they’ve managed each occasion very well. We’ve had six stadium games including Tuesday night against Chelsea. We also had an invite to St. George’s Park where we had a game. It’s been a really good step forward for the academy in terms of our reputation and how we’re being perceived on the outside.
“In terms of performance, every game was positive and the feedback we’re getting back from these clubs is great too. They’ve told us that the reason why they ask to play us is because we present them with challenges that they can’t get week in week out. They could ask any number of clubs but they’re asking for us – it’s nice. The perception from the outside on how we like to play is excellent.
“Results-wise it was a bit mixed but really, from our point of view, we just look at it as we’re playing away at good and varied opposition and we’re preparing them for the future. It’s also part of each player’s programme to play at stadiums and experience that stadium environment.”
“I also think we were victims of our own success in some ways as we were quite stretched in terms of bodies, but obviously we couldn’t turn these games down. For example we broke our Under-16s off on the 4th (May) to concentrate on their exams and then we got invited to play at White Hart Lane a week before they wanted to do it. So, what do you do? Do you turn the game down because the boys aren’t fresh?
“That performance, then, was disappointing but if you break it down at the end of the day the boys got to play at White Hart Lane. So, all in all, we’re very pleased.”