Nigel Clough believes that Derby County is one of best clubs in the land for young players to learn their trade.
Kieron Freeman, 20, came off the bench to play the final nine minutes of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Blackpool, becoming the eighth player aged 21 or under to appear for the Rams this season.
While Freeman was signed from East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest, Darren Wassall and the Clubs Academy staff have been working overtime at the Rams Moor Farm training ground to provide an endless supply of talent for the first-team.
Two of those to come through the ranks – midfielders Jeff Hendrick (20) and Will Hughes (17) – have become regulars in the first XI and are expected to start tonight’s game against Barnsley at Pride Park (7.45pm)
In addition the likes of Mark O’Brien, Michael Jacobs, Tom Naylor and Mason Bennett have also enjoyed stints in the first-team while another product of the youth system, on-loan Callum Ball, scored the opening goal for Coventry in their FA Cup win on Saturday.
And Derby boss Clough insists that if he needs to plug any gaps in his starting line-up it will done by promoting from within.
“We’re not even looking at loan players at the moment as we’ve got the squad strength we want,” Clough said.
“We are relying on youngsters, but you see the benefit of that in the long run. With Kieron, we’ve been trying to get him on and, for 10 minutes, he did very well. He can play right-back or even one position further up, and he’s done very well in the under-21s.”
“I don’t think there’s any other club that has a path from the academy to the first team like we do.”
Former Ram’s defender and LFE Regional Officer John Barton who works with the clubs apprentices throughout the season endorses Clough’s view that Derby is the place to be for an aspiring professional.
“They’ve got a phenomenal record,” said Barton.
“Will (Hughes) and Mason (Bennett) are 17 and 16 years-old Apprentices, yet both are heavily involved with the first-team.”
“Then you’ve got the likes of OB (Mark O’Brien) who is a great lad and good player, Jeff Hendrick and half a dozen others coming through. It’s a great set-up and the club does really good work at youth level.”
“The manager isn’t afraid to blood young players if he thinks they’re ready and that’s a major factor in why it works so well.”