Preston North End are creating an exciting pathway from their academy to first-team squad

Preston North End’s successful season at youth-team level has been a welcome one but shouldn’t be used to criticise past years when youngsters haven’t made the jump to the first-team picture.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 21st May 2022, 6:00 am

That is the view of Peter Ridsdale who is delighted to see teenagers from the academy stepping-up to work with Ryan Lowe’s squad having had such a good campaign in the Under-19s.

Mikey O’Neill, Aaron Bennett, Harry Nevin and Dana Amaral are all joining the pro ranks next season, joining Lewis Leigh, Josh Seary and Noah Mawene who had previously signed professional terms.

Certainly the flow from academy to senior level has quickened pace this season, something PNE director and advisor Ridsdale thinks can happen in football from time to time.

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Preston North End's youth team parade their trophies at half-time of the Middlesbrough game at Deepdale

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Ridsdale said: “We have been heavily criticised in the last few years for our academy recruitment process and those who have come through – I think unfairly.

"The guys at the academy do an outstanding job. I said to Nick Harrison our academy manager a few years ago that it is about quality not quantity. If there is no one ready, don’t worry.

“Sometimes you get a situation where players don’t break through for a couple of years and then you get three or four at once. You’ve seen that happened at other clubs.

Preston North End's Mikey O'Neill warming-up before the Barnsley game

"This year we have won the Central League which is a reserve league but predominantly we have relied on the young lads from the academy.

"They won the Under-19s league and then went down to Luton and won the Youth Alliance Cup. It’s an exciting time for the academy lads.

"It’s a big step from the Under-18s to the Championship but it is one which can be made.

"Mikey O’Neill has shown that over the last few weeks, he’s an exciting prospect as are others. We have shown our confidence in them by giving professional contracts.”

PNE boss Lowe has shown a willingness to work with young players which Ridsdale is pleased about.

However, he sees both sides of the argument about some managers not giving youth a chance.

Ridsdale said: “The easy answer would be to say having a manager prepared to give youngsters a chance does help.

"Those managers who haven’t done might well shoot back to say the players they had weren’t good enough.

"It’s a balancing factor. Having a manager like Ryan who is prepared to give young players their chance is very helpful.

"Ryan has demonstrated both in the past and with us, that is is prepared to do that. But I stress, the players have to be good enough.”