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Neil Ross Interview: Academy Scoring Success Despite League Suspension

By Ben Swain

“As a player who has the ambitions to play higher – they should motivate themselves,” explains Academy Manager Neil Ross.

The club’s academy sides have all seen their season suspended – the last action for the Under 23s coming on December 14, a 2-2 draw with Halifax Town – following the latest lockdown rules imposed in January, but neither Ross nor his players are taking a holiday.

Louis Fialdini’s call-up to first-team training shows Ross’ academy is still scoring successes while in lockdown.

League fixtures are suspended, trials at professional clubs are unviable and Ross has had to adapt his coaching style in isolation, but the academy manager constantly reiterates to his players that this is no excuse to stop working and is leading by example.

Coaching in Lockdown

Wednesday is supposed to be matchday.

Instead, the academy players train individually on their local fields while Ross works in his academy office preparing for next season’s campaign.

Due to current changes to his coaching schedule, caused by isolation, the inability to man-manage his players is Ross’ biggest frustration.

“Today would have been specifically tied into matches so we’d have had college games or youth alliance games, so my Wednesdays vary a lot.

“We’ve set them a 6-week programme to do so every day they send us videos or they upload the runs onto Strava so we’re just keeping tabs on what they’re doing at home.

“It’ll be set out on a daily basis. In the morning, depending on when they are online to do their education, in the morning – stretching/strength work, and in the evening, it’ll be 1k or 5k runs.

“All of the lessons are done, at the moment, over Microsoft Teams, so the lads have got their own log-ins so they’ll log in when the lesson starts and then we can track who is in lesson, who isn’t and it’s a case of chasing them up.

“Now, because there are no games involved, today I’ve just been chasing up players, getting documents ready.

“Part of our role as well, once we’re not coaching, is looking at the academy, and how we can better it. How can we start recruitment for next season?

“Asher Bailey (Assistant Coach and U16s Manager), he’s just working on contacting players, speaking with new recruits, and working on the pre-academy, under 16 stuff.

“I like to coach players on a day-to-day basis when they’re here and interact with them, talking with them and finding out what they need.

“I love coming in and being around the place and making sure we’re up to date with everything.”

Social media is one adaptation to Ross’ coaching style forced upon him by lockdown, to help motivate his players in the same way he would usually do face to face.

“A lot of things what we do is when we post stuff on social media, the players will see things going out, they’ll think ‘I want one of my videos going out there’.

“Certain players know what they want to achieve and know that they have to go and do stuff away from here and even when we’re in on a day-to-day basis there’s still players that do stuff when they get home so it’s all about the players knowing what their own goals are and what they need to be doing.”

Trials on Hold

The progression for academy players ready for trials in first-team football is “on hold” for now as teams can’t add people to their existing ‘bubble’.

“Keenan Mannings was another one, we looked at getting him to Doncaster but with the lockdown, it’s just put everything on hold.

“They’ll have a bubble as a first-team and bringing in external people to that, it just makes things complicated.”

Like first-team football in the National League, no COVID-19 testing has been in place for Farsley’s academy.

“It should have been in but obviously, financially, it wasn’t. It just wasn’t made available to us.

“It was talked about after Christmas, coming in and doing the testing. But obviously, after that, it was total lockdown so they didn’t come.”

Individual Successes
Louis Fialdini’s call-up to first-team training is the latest success for the academy.
Akeel Francis at Falkirk, Amin Ahmed at Aberystwyth and Kwame Boateng at TNS are examples of players who have earned professional contracts after training under Ross.

Fialdini, 17, a “pure goal scorer” according to Ross, scored four goals in four games for Farsley Celtic Under 23s, continuing his strong goalscoring form from the youth alliance team and the academy manager explained the reasons behind Fialdini’s impressive form:

“His whole attitude, his dedication to the game, he listens, he’s constantly working. For me, [he] has what it takes to make it as a professional footballer.

“We look at players and think ‘will they do stuff behind closed doors. Will they go and push themselves and do this’ and Louis is one of them who has stepped up into the youth alliance – he smashed that. He’s stepped up to the u23s – smashed that.

“So for me, it’s players like him that deserve an opportunity.”

Keenan Mannings, a hard-working, technical, defensive midfielder and Moussa Sidibe, a winger full of flair who can beat his marker, with the final product to match, are currently ones to watch, according to Ross.

“[It’s] a massive incentive for other players that look and think ‘if I conduct myself the way Louis has’, in terms of his training, the way he eats, the whole package he offers, if other players can see, well he’s gone into the 23s, now he’s gone into the first-team [training], it’s an incentive for other players then to say ‘well if I sort myself out and do what needs to be done, the opportunities are there’.

“Me, as a footballer, when I was their age and I was playing in the Championship – I had my own motivation.

“I knew what my goal wanted to be, I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do and I went out and did it so for me, they [his players] need the realisation of ‘is this what I want to do? If it is then this is what I need to be doing’.”

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