PNE ex-coach Unsworth leaves a lasting youth legacy

David Unsworth
David Unsworth
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Preston North End’s youth system has born fruit over the last couple of years with more than a dozen players rising through the ranks to play in the first team.

Danny Mayor and Adam Barton – until the ankle injury he recently suffered – have gone on to be regulars in the senior squad.

And in the last two games, George Miller, Daniel Devine and Bailey Wright have tasted League One action with North End.

It’s helping their progression up the footballing ladder which David Unsworth takes a huge amount of pride in as he reflects on his two-and-a-half year stay at Deepdale.

Unsworth, who left PNE in January after a stint as joint caretaker manager, arrived at the club in a newly-created development coach in the summer of 2009.

His task was to try and bridge the gap between the youths and first team in the hope of seeing more home-grown talent make the grade.

A glance down the current Preston squad suggests that the bridge is now firmly in place.

Unsworth told the Evening Post: “After a chat with my family I made the conscious decision at 35 to give up playing and become a coach.

“I knew Alan Irvine from Everton who had moved on to become Preston manager.

“Alan and Derek Shaw were keen to change the dynamics of the youth set-up.

“In the previous 10 years, Paul McKenna was the only outfield player to come through and establish himself in the North End first-team.

“Sometimes in youth football you can have a bad couple of batches of players, but 10 years?

“Paul Simpson had put a youth set-up in place by bringing in Jamie Hoyland, Dean Ramsdale and Nick Harrison, and Derek Shaw was really keen for the final piece of the jigsaw to be put in place – and that was me.

“I spoke with Alan in great detail when I arrived, and at that time we had five young professionals on the books.

“Alan asked me to bring Danny Mayor and Adam Barton through.

“Straight away I could see their talent but they weren’t ready for the first team, neither physically or mentally.

“I set about doing a lot of specific training with them, while we spent hours in front of the laptop showing them footage of their training and matches.

“Over time we developed them into the players they are today.

“They were the catalyst really for what has happened since.

“I’ll never forget Danny making his debut at Bristol City, he made three 50/50 tackles which you often don’t see from a winger.

“Each time I just prayed he would come out of them without being injured – it was almost like watching one of your own children play at school.

“Then Adam got his debut later that season against Scunthorpe and did very well.

“It was just a case as in any walk of life of them getting an opportunity.

“Since Danny and Adam made their debuts, it’s been like buses.

“Conor McLaughlin made his debut and 13 lads in all have come through over the last two years.

“I worked it out the other day that the lads who have come through have played about 250 games between them.

“The biggest jump in football is from being a young pro in the reserves to getting into the first team. It’s alright making your debut, what you are looking for after that is them getting a run of games.”

Unsworth thinks the current crop of youngsters doing their scholarships at PNE have bright futures. But it’s only through hard work that they’ll develop.

Said Unsworth: “The lads with Jamie Hoyland at the moment are probably the best of the lot in my opinion.

“Doyle Middleton, Luke Clark, Brandon Zibaka, Reece James, Will Hayhurst and Ryan Croasdale are top quality for the level they are playing at.

“You need them to keep developing and there comes a point when they have to grasp the mantle themselves if they are to play in the team every week. That is the next step, something which a coach can’t give them – it has to come from within.”