Inside Sheffield Wednesday's U18s - Title hopes, internationals and missing the bus running

It's an exciting time at Sheffield Wednesday's U18s right now.It's an exciting time at Sheffield Wednesday's U18s right now.
It's an exciting time at Sheffield Wednesday's U18s right now.
It’s an exciting time to be part of Sheffield Wednesday’s academy – and there’s more to come as the U18s target a league title.

“We’ve got a saying here… We say ‘If you’re going to miss the bus, miss it running’.”

Andy Holdsworth has a talented bunch of players at his disposal as he looks to help develop some stars of the future for the Owls, but he knows that being successful at U18 level doesn’t mean there’s a guaranteed professional career at the end of the road.

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“It’s development football,” he said during the team’s impressive FA Youth Cup run this season. “It’s about getting them in the door at sort of 16-years-old on the scholarship programme and trying to get them up into the U23s and beyond…”

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That run in the cup came to an end at Ewood Park as the young Owls were defeat by Category One side, Blackburn Rovers in a tight game two rounds after they upset the odds by beating Southampton, but his side have shown that they aren’t prepared to go down without a fight.

Probably the best example of that spirit came back in October when they found themselves 5-1 down at the break against Crewe Alexandra. But did they throw in the towel? Absolutely not – it ended 6-5 to Wednesday. If you’re going to miss the bus, miss it running.

And people are starting to notice.

One of the stars of that Crewe comeback was Bailey Cadamarteri, the son of former Everton striker, Danny, a player who has impressed so much at Wednesday that the likes of West Ham United, Manchester City and Brentford are all keeping an eye on him. And for good reason.

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He’s scored 13 goals in Wednesday’s 19 games in the Professional Development League and Youth Cup this season – including the winner against the Saints – and has continued his impressive rise through the ranks, but he’s not the only one who is impressing.

Former City youngster, Leojo Davidson, has caught the eye with some dominating performances and nine goals of his own, while little Murtadha Al-Jahadhmy has chipped in with six strikes and has shown some sparkling footwork.

Six others have scored for Holdsworth’s side this season in their march to the top of the PDL North table – a win over Peterborough United this week took them in first place – while others such as Rio Shipston, Caelan Kilheeney and Sean Fusire are just some of the other names that have caught the eye this season.

In Jack Hall and Pierce Charles they have two international goalkeepers for England and Northern Ireland respectively, and the duo have already been lucky enough to take a step up into the senior team where Darren Moore has put them through their paces.

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“It’s been hard to get up to the speed of things sometimes in the first team,” Hall told The Star recently. “Because it’s a lot quicker and more intense than the U18s, but you have to adapt to it, and that’s what the best do.”

And the lifelong Wednesdayite has big ambitions. Ambitions that involved Hillsborough, the stadium in which he’s been watching games with his family for years.

“For me, I want to keep playing well,” he explained. “To be more consistent in games and improve on that aspect, and then hopefully push for the first team in the future. This is my club, it has been all the way through, it’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve had a season ticket every year, and I’ve always supported Wednesday.

“I’ve been here since I was six, and the aim is to go right the way through – I want to play in the first team. It’s been hard to get up to the speed of things sometimes in the first team because it’s a lot quicker and more intense than the U18s, but you have to adapt to it, and that’s what the best do.”

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And in Moore there is a very clear pathway… The Owls boss is well-respected for his work within the youth sectors and has an academy background himself – he’s said in the past that Wednesday’s youngsters will probably not have a better chance of progression than right now, and Holdsworth said recently that there’s ‘been loads of clarity’ about that progression.

The U18s manager has a young side, with U16s like Isaac Holland and Tony Yogane impressing enough that they’ve been fast-tracked through, while Neil Thompson’s U23s has regularly been populated by the likes of Basile Zottos, Jay Glover, Alex Bonnington and Paulo Aguas – who were all U18s last season – as well as Cadamarteri, Hall, Davidson and others.

“We’ve got a lot of first years in our group,” Holdsworth explained. “We’ve got U16s on our bench, and that’s the conveyor belt. The step from U16s to U18s isn’t the tough step, it’s the ones after this – if they can take that step, and do it at a consistent level, then who knows – they can do what they want in the game.”

After the defeat at Ewood Park there were devastated young Owls sprawled across the pitch, head in hands, but afterwards all the talk was of winning the league title. They believe, and are desperate to try and close the gap on the top two.

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“It’s the kind of kids they are,” Holdsworth said in Blackburn. “They give everything they’ve got. It’s what we expect as a club, we want them to leave everything out there.”

After their 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic over the weekend and Peterborough victory they’ve got six more games to try and maintain their lead over Coventry City – who they play next – and stay ahead of city rivals, Sheffield United, in third. They’ll be hoping that this bus is one they don’t miss.

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