Wilcox enjoying exciting U23 role

Iron U23 manager Russ Wilcox provides an update ahead of the Premier League Cup tie with Newcastle at the Sands Venue Stadium this evening.

Wilcox also discusses returning to the club last January, why the U23 side is important for the club and the form of John McAtee and Jacob Bedeau.

On returning to the club last January

It’s great to be back. It’s obviously a club that’s close to my heart. I think overall it’s about 12 years I’ve done the club now. It’s a different role but it is an exciting role that I’m enjoying. It’s about development now any hopefully getting players into the first team. We’ve already got players close. Last season we brought Jordan Hallam in from Sheffield United and he made six or seven appearances and scored on his debut at Rochdale so overall I think overall we were pretty pleased how it’s going.

On how his return came about following his sacking as first team manager in 2014

I think he (Peter Swann) was very respectful of the decision he made. Obviously I thought it was the wrong decision at the time, which you always do but we did keep in touch. I went to York City and spoke to the chairman a few times regarding certain things. I obviously took Deon Burton there, so went through the chairman regarding that.

I went back to a few games to watch Scunthorpe play because I’ve got a good relationship with the chairman and and lots of people at the club as you do when you’d been there for that length of time. So it came from there really.

I think when Stuart (McCall) was in last season, he spoke to the chairman regarding putting an under 23 group together and I was contacted by the club regarding that role. I went in for a few chats, put things in place and the rest is history as they say.

On setting up the U23 side

I’ve been back at the club a year in January, setting things up. It’s always difficult in your first season. I spoke to a lot of 23 managers and they say it does take a few years to get things put in place. Infrastructure of training facilities, putting a squad together then obviously your staffing. Kevin Pressman’s come in as my number two – he’s been brilliant with the lads and obviously developing the goalkeepers as well right through the club from the Academy up to our group and assisting me as well.

On whether the development side play a similar system to the first team

I think we’ve gone with the shape that the first team have. We’ve gone with a back four, we tinker a little bit in midfield sometimes with a 4-1-2-3 or a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-4-2, but it’s always been a back four this season. The lads do sessions with the first team. That gives the manager and his staff a chance to look at the lads as well.

On why the U23 side is important for the club

I think one of the big reasons for me is that it’s a building block for the Academy players. I think it’s been very difficult to get Academy players through. I think the last player we probably had was Hakeeb Adelakun that came through, straight to youth from first team. But now it gives them hope and a pathway. I think that’s the key.

George Hornshaw is now a second year pro, Tom Pugh is a first year pro so that’s two that have come through the academy and we’re looking at more because it gives them an opportunity now to to step into my group and see how close they can get to the first team.

I always use Andy Butler as a prime example many years ago. When I was at the club the first time around it was a three year scholarship. If it had been a two year scholarship we wouldn’t have taken Andy Butler, so it was that third year that helped develop Andy and the rest is history 500 league games later.

On McAtee and Bedeau

They started the season with me but didn’t stay with me long and rightly so. We don’t want to have players with us that are ready for first team action. They are now in the first team squad. I’ve been very impressed with McAtee. That was the managers signing, he knows him his Shrewsbury days. He’s come in and really impressed. He’s played quite a few games from me, mainly as a 10 and just off the centre forward.

Jacob’s only 19. Jacob came in last season and he’d had a few injury problems at Aston Villa but in the last two months, he’s really kicking on. He had an outstanding game against a very, very strong Sunderland first team. (in the Trophy)

On how signings are made for the u23 side

We sit around the table and we’re on with that already because January is looming. We are looking at areas that we can improve or bring in a couple of bodies because we have got a smallish squad at the moment. We’ll sit around the table and and see what’s available in January and then after that moving towards next season. Hopefully next season, next summer we’ll get a few of the second year scholars who have impressed, and they’ll get a better opportunity.

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