LFE takes a closer look at the players to make ‘The 11’ in May 2021 and why they have been included:
Saleem Akanbi (Cambridge United)
First-year apprentice Saleem endured a tough start to his apprenticeship after suffering with a hamstring injury during the third game of pre-season, which sidelined him for a large chunk of the competitive season.
The 17-year-old showcased terrific resilience to make a strong recovery on the pitch, while he has flourished in the classroom, performing ahead of schedule on the BTEC Extended Diploma – equivalent to three A-Levels – alongside studying A-Levels in Economics and English Literature.
“Saleem has displayed a positive mindset to rehab properly and come back fitter than ever,” Vanessa Walker, Head of Education, told LFE. “He also showed himself to be a real team player by supporting the playing squad, where possible, and has put in some really good performances since his return.
“Saleem is an outstanding learner. He has an inspiring passion for his studies. He always pushes himself to his maximum and is willing to listen and learn more on how he can improve. Saleem has growth mindset to everything he does, and he can often be found away from the rest of the apprentices, with a laptop as he keeps on top of his A-Levels.”
James Beadle (Charlton Athletic)
James was an integral part of Charlton Athletic’s incredible run that saw them earn the Under-18 Professional Development League South crown, with the talented goalkeeper delivering a series of imperious displays as they completed the campaign with 11 straight wins and a final-day draw.
The 16-year-old has also featured in a handful of Under-23 matchdays squads, while he is producing consistently outstanding work, attaining Distinction grades throughout his first year on the BTEC Extended Diploma.
“James has been a consistent presence throughout the youth team’s amazing run to the Southern PDL title,” Head of Education & Welfare Joe Francis told LFE. “He also attended the National Goalkeeping Training week at St George’s Park in February and March, playing as one of three keepers in a fixture at Watford, which is fantastic recognition of his burgeoning development.
“In terms of his education, James has found a balance that has enabled him to complete his work at a high level despite the disruptions that have come from his involvement in the Under-23 squad and National side. He has demonstrated a mature, professional and disciplined approach to his apprenticeship development throughout this time.”
Connor O’Riordan (Crewe Alexandra)
Defender Connor has made great progress this season, performing well for Crewe Alexandra’s Under-18s and playing regularly for the Under-23s having worked hard on his technique to be comfortable playing out from back, while using his tall and strong physique to his advantage in aerial duels.
The first-year apprentice also understands the importance of balancing education with professional ambition, generally working at Distinction level on the Extended Diploma.
“Connor is a studious mild-mannered giant who is currently doing excellently football wise and educationally,” Dave Whiteside, Head of Education, told LFE. “He is an extremely polite and diligent young man, who has made a great start to his apprenticeship and who, with his positive mindset, will develop even further on and off the pitch over time.”
Lecturer Lauren Goff said: “Connor’s attitude, conduct and manner make him a role model for other students and an absolute credit to Crewe Alexandra Football Club and Reaseheath College. He has shown a real commitment and desire to succeed to the best of his ability.
“His quality of work and grades so far on this demanding qualification are a testament to his dedication and positive attitude. I have been particularly impressed by how Connor has adapted to maintain his very high standards, with teaching and learning environments being severely impacted by the pandemic – a further demonstration of his desire and drive to succeed.”
Under-18s Assistant Coach Michael Jackson added: “Connor shows an excellent attitude both on and off the football pitch. All the staff enjoy working with him; he is respectful, honest and always applies himself fully to any challenge or task he is presented with.”
Evan Khouri (Grimsby Town)
Despite transitioning into the first-team squad over the past six months, Evan has worked extremely hard on his academic work and is set for at least a DDD overall grade profile on his BTEC Extended Diploma.
The central midfielder, who was offered a professional contract last month, made his senior debut in the Carabao Cup in September, but truly established himself in April when he earned a first outing in Sky Bet League Two against Bolton Wanderers, which was the first of six starts on the trot to finish the 2020-21 season.
Academy Manager Neil Woods told LFE: “Evan has been a model apprentice since joining the programme in 2019, maintaining an excellent work rate in all sessions.
“I really like the way Evan engages with all the multidisciplinary staff to squeeze the most from his apprenticeship, and his knowledge has grown in each phase. This has really accelerated his progress and helped with his transition in the senior squad.”
Oliver Cowling, Education & Player Welfare Manager, added: “Evan has a fantastic attitude to education and has maintained focus even when training with the first team, making up for any missed work in his own time.
“Over the lockdown, he worked incredibly hard to ensure he was ahead with his education and contributed to all sessions with enthusiasm. He also embraces the Life Skills and Personal Development sessions, taking the messages on board.”
Nicholas Bilokapic (Huddersfield Town)
Australian Under-18 international Nicholas joined Huddersfield Town from Sydney United in February 2020 and has already been involved with the club’s Under-23 development team and trained with the first team.
Despite starting six months after the rest of his cohort, the promising goalkeeper was the first of his peers to complete the BTEC qualification, while he has also finalised the NVQ Diploma and Functional Skills in English and maths.
Pat Lally, LFE Regional Officer, said: “Nick has a fantastic attitude and work ethic, which can be evidenced by the fact that he completed his BTEC in just over a year. He is a credit to his family, club and most importantly he deserves nothing but the highest of praise for the way he has performed academically since joining the club.
“Nick is a fantastic character and has been a pleasure to work with during the past two years. He also participated in a Deep Dive conducted by Julie Gibson (LFE Consultant and occasional Ofsted Inspector) and she was full of praise for his mature attitude, communication skills and knowledge of the BTEC. The fact that he has been living away in a completely different environment, culture and in digs, speaks volumes about this young man.
“Although he has completed all his academic work for this year, Nick has decided to undertake a Business Administration course along with learning a language, Croatian, which is where his family originated from.
“On the pitch, he always gives 100%, irrespective of what squad he is training or playing for. Additionally, he has always been keen to get himself involved in delivering coaching sessions for the club’s Community Trust when the opportunity arises. He is very respectful to his teammates and staff and is very highly thought of by everyone at the club.”
Louis Beckett (Hull City)
Louis has played consistently well for Hull City’s Under-18s and Under-23s over the past couple of months, covering a vast amount of ground as a box-to-box midfielder and filling in admirably as a right-back when needed.
In the classroom, he is meeting his BTEC target grades and has made terrific progress on the SEP qualification, producing his portfolio of evidence and recently passing through gateway.
Head of Education Dean Jennings told LFE: “Louis’ performances for the Under-18s have been outstanding, and he has replicated these performances for the Under-23s, even when being asked to play out of his natural position.
“Even with his playing commitments, Louis has managed to complete his BTEC work to the level we expect. He is due to undertake his professional interview and practical assessments for SEP in the coming weeks – his preparation for these has been excellent.”
Antony Papadopoulos (Leyton Orient)
Midfielder Antony started the season in a rich vein of form, scoring a hatful of goals, including an FA Youth Cup stunner that was nominated for LFE’s Goal of the Month competition in December.
Although he is yet to make his senior bow, Leyton Orient’s Youth Team Player of the Year has been in and around the first-team setup for a large portion of the season, while he has also been a standout student on the BTEC Diploma.
“Antony’s growth during the last 12 months has been incredible,” Head of Education & SEP Coordinator Craig Heskey told LFE. “He is such a big figure in the group that he has influenced others to try harder and push on, rather than take it easy.
“He leads by example with his performances on the pitch and in the classroom. His involvement with the first team has really pushed him to ensure that he is not only on top of his work, but ahead. He is somebody that if we could turn the clock back and convince to complete the Extended Diploma, we sure would.”
Casey Pettit (Luton Town)
Casey is an all-round high achiever, having earned a regular slot in Luton Town’s Under-21 team, alongside working towards a D*D*D* grade profile on the BTEC Extended Diploma and making great progress on the SEP programme.
In addition, the 18-year-old runs his own coaching company away from the club, working with individuals and teams, and is currently completing his UEFA B Coaching qualification, remaining on course to become the youngest ever person to attain it.
“Casey has been very proactive with his education throughout the two-year apprenticeship, which has seen him surpass his target grades of DDD,” said Simon Dwight, LFE Regional Officer. “His punctuality, attitude and work rate have all been exemplary.
“Having been selected by his peers to captain the Under-18s, Casey has been a good leader on the pitch and has established himself as a role model off the pitch by doing charity work for a range of local and national causes, including Prostate Cancer UK.”
Josh Coburn (Middlesbrough)
Highly-rated striker Josh rose to prominence in April when he gained a first outing in Middlesbrough’s senior team during an away victory over Rotherham United, and then scored the winning goal on his home debut against Sheffield Wednesday three days later.
The 18-year-old, who signed a professional contract in January, has made four Sky Bet Championship appearances off the bench in total, although he has not allowed that success to impact his education, demonstrating great maturity and dedication to continue working towards his Extended Diploma.
Barry Dawson, Head of Education & Welfare, told LFE: “Josh is an educated and refined old fashioned centre forward, who has terrific athletic prowess. He has the ability to hold the ball up when opposed, then the intelligence to distribute the ball accurately to advance his team up the pitch.
“His finishing has been outstanding this season, scoring goals with both feet and his head. He impressed in the Under-18 and Under-23 groups, which accelerated his progress towards the first team.”
Manager Neil Warnock said: “He’s one of those who just loves the game, always gives 100% and has a smile on his face. It’ll be a good experience for him being with the first team, working on his close control and the runs he makes, because it’s so fast at this level.”
Andre da Silva Mendes (Morecambe)
As a Portuguese national, Andre has worked very well towards his education, attaining his target grades on the BTEC, completing his NVQ Diploma and earning his Level 2 Coaching award.
On the pitch, the talented goalkeeper has received a professional contract offer having established himself as a permanent member of the first-team squad, finding himself on the bench for the Sky Bet League Two club on several occasions.
“Andre settled into his accommodation remarkably well and has adjusted to his new environment away from his family extremely well,” LFE Regional Officer Ben Lavelle said. “He has largely overcome any language issues and worked very hard on his education.
“His football development has been really strong, and the way he has improved his technical and tactical awareness is testament to his strong determination and professionalism.”
Eddie Brearey (Oxford United)
Sixteen-year-old Eddie earned a call up for the England Goalkeeper Development camp at St George’s Park in April, following a successful season as first-choice keeper for Oxford United’s Under-18s side.
The young stopper was also named on the first-team bench for a Papa John’s Trophy fixture in November, and has balanced all of his playing exploits with maintaining high academic standards, studying for the BTEC Extended Diploma and working towards his D*DD target grade.
Matt Jarvis, Head of Education & Welfare, told LFE: “Eddie has enjoyed an outstanding first year of his apprenticeship, juggling commitments of first-team training and games with studying for an Extended Diploma, SEP qualification and regularly playing for the Under-18s and Under-21s.
“He has gone from strength to strength in the youth setup, which earned him the right to move to the first-team ‘bubble’. Eddie is also a model student, who balances his time well away from the classroom, too, and is regularly in touch with staff while working from home.”