LFE takes a closer look at the players to make ‘The 11’ in June 2020 and why they’ve been included:
Connor Shanks (Bradford City)
Connor has been a model apprentice as a player, student and person at Bradford City, having excelled on the pitch and in the classroom, as well as contributing to community activities at the club.
The 18-year-old played in a first-team friendly against Liverpool this season and has trained regularly with the senior squad. Meanwhile, he has worked diligently to complete his BTEC Extended Diploma to the best of his ability, likely achieving a triple distinction final grade profile.
LFE Regional Officer Pat Lally said: “Connor is a talented young footballer and has the ability to go a long way in the game. A stress fracture in his back has hampered his progress this year, but he has not let this lessen his enthusiasm for the game.
“He has attended award nights and delivered coaching sessions for the younger age groups and was also selected to undertake an interview with TalkSport, discussing how he has managed his education remotely during lockdown. He is a very mature young man and a great example to his peers.”
Carl Johnston (Fleetwood Town)
Northern Ireland youth international Carl quickly adapted to life as an apprentice after making the move to England, becoming a key player for Fleetwood Town’s Under-18s and completing his BTEC Extended Diploma to D*D*D* standard, while he signed his first professional contract in January.
Head of Education & Welfare Ben Lavelle told LFE: “CJ had to leave home in Northern Ireland to start his apprenticeship with Fleetwood, but he has shown great resilience and has been an exemplary apprentice, working well with his team-mates and staff and showing genuine commitment to the group development.
“CJ has set new standards of application to his development, that we are using to establish expectations for the new intake of apprentices this year. He has made an outstanding contribution to life at Blackpool & Fylde College, supporting the others willingly. He is a true team player.”
Alex Henderson (Ipswich Town)
After seven years at Ipswich Town, defender Alex has earned a professional contract having captained the Under-18 team and made several appearances for the Under-23s this season.
The second-year apprentice has also been a high achiever in the classroom, with his outstanding grades on the BTEC Extended Diploma, plus an additional A-Level in history, helping him gain offers from American Universities, including Georgia State in Atlanta.
Regional Officer Gavin Willacy said: “Hendo was so determined to study an A-Level alongside the Extended Diploma and has secured the highest possible grade of D*D*D* on his BTEC.
“He made sure that he was well-prepared for every eventuality by applying for USA Scholarships, although his success in the youth teams and on loan at Bury Town has seen him gain a professional contract offer. He’s earned opportunities for himself and now he can control what pathway he takes.”
Stuart McKinstry (Leeds United)
Having swapped Motherwell for Leeds United at the start of the season, Stuart immediately joined the Under-23s and has been part of their training and playing squad for the majority of his first year as an apprentice.
The Scotland Under-17 international’s family was directly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, with his grandfather taken into hospital having contracted the illness.
After his grandfather had made a successful recovery, Stuart showed his gratitude to the hospital staff at Wishaw General by donating care packages of food and drinks, as well as tubs of Vaseline for carers’ faces.
Lead PDP Coach Mark Jackson told LFE: “It’s great to see a young player donating to charity, particularly during the current circumstances and recognising the support the hospital gave his grandfather.”
Wynford Marfo (Leyton Orient)
Seventeen-year-old Wynford has had an excellent first year as an apprentice at Leyton Orient, achieving the highest possible grades in the BTEC Extended Diploma and impressing all the staff at the club and Waltham Forest College with his attitude to learning in both football and academics.
The teenage defender has not let the lockdown affect his commitment to education, completing the year with two D* grades on the 90-credit Diploma.
Craig Heskey, Head of Education, told LFE: “Wynford is a very hard-working young man and has been an exceptional student during this season, in particular during the pandemic. He is very well driven to achieve the highest grades possible and work hard at his football.
“Wyn continues to show a major interest in his studies and has set the standard very high of what a student athlete should look like. He has often helped the teaching staff get in touch with the other members of his team during lockdown and has really worked hard independently to get the first half of his course completed.
“For him to juggle his education and his football career so successfully is outstanding. We hope that this continues into the second year.”
Ziyad Al-Oyouni (Lincoln City)
Ziyad has demonstrated exemplary qualities regarding holistic development during the current pandemic, continuing to focus on his education during lockdown under very challenging circumstances.
Academy Manager Jordan McCann told LFE: “Ziyad is an only child to a single parent, his mother Judy, who works as an ICU nurse at the Leicester Royal Infirmary hospital.
“Over the past few weeks, he has managed to balance all of the increased pressure and responsibilities that he has had to take on across the life skills programme. This includes evidence of cooking, applying BTEC information to his own personal physical development, as well as the upkeep of his home.
“Ziyad’s impeccable application was also reflected in his performances on the pitch prior to the lockdown, where he has continued to show a strong rate of development in his preferred playing position at right full-back.”
Ollie Leach (Milton Keynes Dons)
Ollie has had a year he will never forget. Just before the lockdown, he was suffering from vision issues which stopped him playing. A scan revealed a tumour in his brain, which is now being treated.
Despite this huge setback, centre-back Ollie has continued to work hard on his BTEC Extended Diploma at MK College and achieved a D*D*D* final grade – five grades higher than his original target.
“What Ollie has achieved academically is above and beyond expectations,” Course Manager and Tutor Nathan Flynn told LFE. “He’s shown true professionalism at all times, especially given his health condition.”
The 18-year-old, who went on loan to Aylesbury earlier this season, has gained offers from several English universities and was planning to go on LFE’s Player Placement programme to Sweden before his health scare.
Ryan Smith (Northampton Town)
Ryan has impressed all staff at Northampton Town having displayed high standards and exceptional level of professionalism on the pitch and in the classroom throughout his two-year apprenticeship.
Academy Education Lead Pete Stephenson told LFE: “Ryan has been an absolute model student all year. He gets on with his work quietly, maximises his opportunities to learn and ask where he is unsure and has completed lots of work in his own time.
“The standard of the work produced is almost always excellent and he has hit distinctions in all but three of his units. He was the first player in our cohort to fully complete his framework, both NVQ and BTEC, despite doing the Extended Diploma, as he went away and got on with the tasks independently.
“The Independent Verifier on more than one occasion has messaged to ask me to pass on to Ryan his thoughts about how good his work has been! He has been an absolute pleasure to work with.”
PDP Coach Jon Brady added: “Ryan’s attitude to training and playing is first class and he embraced different challenges thrown at him. He was doing well out on loan at Hitchin Town before the lockdown and if he maintains his high standards, he will continue to develop and do very well in the future.”
Alexander Aoraha (Queens Park Rangers)
Alexander is a first-year apprentice, who is making every effort to maximise his potential both on and off the pitch. The 17-year-old elected to undertake an A-Level in history alongside his BTEC Diploma, while he has established himself as a highly-rated prospect in QPR’s Under-18s side.
Academy Liaison Adam Kaliniecki told LFE: “Studying an A-Level has put pressure on Alex to balance his training and educational commitments throughout the season, but he is excelling in both due to his effective self-management and strong work ethic.
“During the coronavirus lockdown, Alex’s personal schedule is arguably the most demanding in the squad, as he strives to work independently across two subjects and maintain his physical condition. This is something that he does with good humour and grace. Alex sets a high standard for himself and the feedback he gets from all of his teachers is consistently full of praise.
“On the pitch, he is a talented and multi-faceted central midfielder, who demonstrates good decision-making and composure. It is clear that his intelligence applies equally on the grass as it does in the classroom. He is a highly valued member of the team and certainly a talent to look out for as he continues his footballing development.
“Alex is a personable and much-liked individual and is a great role model for our younger players that wish to progress to be apprentices.”
Alex Bonnington (Sheffield Wednesday)
Alex is renowned at Sheffield Wednesday for his high levels of effort and application in every training session, which has seen him earn Under-23s involvement as a first-year apprentice.
The 17-year-old striker is equally dedicated as a student, gaining a Distinction in every BTEC Extended Diploma unit this season, while he asked for additional work to complete during this period of working from home.
Head of Education & Welfare Dan Potts told LFE: “Alex has done absolutely everything asked of him this season and during this stint in isolation, with tasks including education, analysis, sport science workouts and conditioning.
“He had a mid-season dip in form and has worked with club staff through this adversity to come back stronger and more determined. Alex filmed a great short video of him completing some skills at home, which the club used on their social media to engage our supporters during lockdown.”
Yasin Arai (Stevenage)
Yasin had a really strong first year at Stevenage, particularly impressing with his attitude to learning and improving. The right-back turned striker has been a regular for the youth team and featured with the reserves in the County Cup.
His approach away from football has also been highly commendable, remaining on track for a very high grade in the BTEC Extended Diploma at Marriotts School, where he has studied since Year 10.
“Yasin’s attitude has been excellent this year in the classroom and now his work is reflecting this, improving considerably in terms of structure and referencing,” Tutor Ieuan Lewis told LFE.
Jorden Gibson, PDP Lead coach, added: “I cannot fault Yasin’s professionalism throughout this period. He has been completing his physical and technical programme, while providing us with regular updates on his well-being, as requested by the club.”
Seventeen-year-old Yasin has used his spare time wisely during lockdown, learning Moroccan Arabic – the language spoken by his parents – while, as a Muslim, he was also fasting during the period of Ramadan.