During EFL Youth Development week, we are highlighting the important work of Pilgrims’ new-look and ambitious youth set-up, sharing a story every day from the Argyle Academy – and few people have better understanding of youth development at Home Park better than First Team Coach Kevin Nancekivell.
Although much of his time these days is spent supporting Ryan Lowe and Steven Schumacher in first team affairs, Nancekivell’s role also includes keeping a keen eye on the Pilgrims’ developing young professionals, and helping them bridge the gap from promising scholar to first team regular.
In that respect, the 20/21 Sky Bet League One campaign was a resounding success, with an impressive 12 home-grown players, not including veteran Academy products Luke McCormick and Gary Sawyer, featuring in one or more matches throughout the season.
‘Nance’ said: “It’s a proud statistic for us to have. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on in the Academy and it’s imperative that we get as many players through to the first team as possible. But, they’re only going to get in the team if they’re good enough - all the boys that have played in the first team have earned their right to be there, and the same goes for those who are looking for that starting 11 spot; if they work hard and the opportunity arises, we’re happy to take them on.”
Nancekivell, whose long association with Argyle has taken in spells as a supporter on the terraces, first-team player, Academy coach, and even caretaker manager, admits he takes huge pride in seeing young prospects fight their way into first team contention.
He said: “You look at the likes of Luke Jephcott, Ollie Tomlinson, Ryan Law, Mike Cooper, they’ve all been at the club for a number of years, there’s nothing better than seeing them play in the first team.
“We want young lads from the West Country in our first team. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes that we’re hoping will benefit us in the forthcoming years.”
Part of that work includes taking the lead on the club’s developing player loans strategy, designed to provide emerging Argyle professionals with the necessary competitive football experience to make the breakthrough at Home Park.
He said: “The lack of an under-23 or development team at this level means that the loan system is crucial – it gives these developing players a good opportunity to gain experience, and good connections, for the start of their footballing careers. It’s important that we put them at the right clubs at the right times, slotting them into teams where we feel they could develop in the right way, in the ways we need them to.”
An excellent example of the Greens’ loan system in action is promising midfielder Adam Randell, who has played a starring role in Devon neighbours Torquay United’s National League Promotion charge.
Since joining the Gulls on loan, Adam has been a near ever-present at Plainmoor this season, making over 40 appearances for Torquay, with the play-offs still to come.
Nance said: “Torquay’s season is a great testimony to Adam; he puts in a great amount of effort and from what I have seen, he is playing and developing really well.”
Randell is not the only Argyle Academy graduate to have made an impact for Gary Johnson’s side this season, with wing-back Ryan Law also spending a short spell at Torquay, before earning a recall to Home Park towards the end of the Sky Bet League One campaign, featuring heavily.
“These loans for our players are absolutely crucial and act as a springboard for these players to improve their chances of making the first team at Argyle. They need to improve their performance if they’re looking to play in a League One team, so experiencing game time at different clubs, with different players, provides them with more versatility, experience, and game awareness when competing against professionals.”
With Academy graduates like Randell, Law, and Luke Jephcott excelling for loan clubs in recent seasons, Nance is confident that the club’s next crop of talent will be provided opportunities to follow the same path.
He said: “We’re looking to get as many on loan as possible to suitable clubs, so when they do come back, they are much richer in footballing experience.
“With an impressive number of graduates lining up for the first team in recent seasons, we’re excited to build an even stronger Academy, and we feel we have laid the foundations for that in the years to come.”