One to watch – Osaze Urhoghide
Hull City goalkeeper Will Mannion and Stoke defender Ryan Sweeney are prized products of AFC Wimbledon’s acclaimed academy.
Another prospect hoping to join the ranks of those successful graduates is 16-year-old Osaze Urhoghide.
A first-year scholar formerly of CB Hounslow United, the tall and nimble centre-back was discovered at a tournament where he was representing his former club.
“We were at a tournament in the summer and there was an AFC Wimbledon scout who approached me afterwards. I went on trial for five months and then I got signed on a two-year scholarship deal,” Urhoghide said.
Since his arrival at AFC Wimbledon, Urhoghide has seen drastic improvements in his game.
He said: “How I see the game tactically, the way I play, I have to do more things now. My positioning and what I do with my first touch, plus talking and communication are emphasised at our club.”
AFC may be categorised as third in the pecking order under the Premier League’s controversial Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) introduced in 2011, but in recent years they have often punched above their weight at academy level.
A good example is this year’s FA Youth Cup run that saw them finish just outside the quarter-final places after a defeat to Preston North End.
Being in London makes a place at AFC’s academy a prized possession. Many of the players released by the top London clubs, still young and wanting to stay in the capital, find themselves fighting for scholarships at clubs like AFC.
As a result of this, Urhoghide admits himself that this makes things “quite competitive”.
To add to that, featuring for under-21s against more physically developed opponents adds more fuel to his desire to succeed.
“Height-wise it’s not much of a difference. They may be bigger, but once we’re playing, I feel like I can handle it,” he said.
“Football is my main focus, so I hope that the hard work pays off”
Despite his shy and calm demeanour off the pitch, once on it Urhoghide enjoys making things difficult for opponents no matter what their size or level of talent and experience.
With his first year as a scholar almost completed, attention will soon start to turn towards life after the academy.
Players will usually know their fate at their academy clubs a few months into their second year as scholars, with the offer or lack thereof, a professional contract.
“I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot lately. My aim is to work harder going into my second year so I can get a professional contract. Football is my main focus, so I hope that the hard work pays off.”
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s have nine games left in their current campaign. It will not be long before Urhoghide begins the most important season of his life.