Today we look at Exeter City's Youth Academy graduates through the years Click here to read our other Exeter City Coverage
It's been a long road for some of the lads who started with Exeter City as schoolboys, but some of them are reaping the rewards for sticking with the club. And the club has seen some stunning performances from them.
First up under the microscope: Archie Collins With 23 starts in the Prem in 23-24, Collins is nothing but class
Collins earned the manager's trust with composed performances back in his league 2 days, where, manager Andrea Daudelin notes, "I could see his dynamic potential, knew he could be great, we just had to unlock that confidence." Collins has repaid the manager's faith in spades, consistently notching an assist every third game. What has been most impressive has been the addition of his goal-scoring abilities from the midfield, even as competition has grown fiercer and fiercer. In Exeter's first season in the Premier League, Collins fired in a whopping 16 goals to secure Exeter's top-half finish. Stunningly, that tally led the team, eclipsing striker James Scott's 11 and winger Antonio Marin's 12
Collins' midfield presence has been invaluable to the Grecians
Collins is effective as a true box-to-box midfielder, tracking back diligently as part of a midfield three set to defend the centre-backs. While he doesn't show the tackling stats of partner Allan Campbell, his work helps funnel the balls out to the wings, where they are far less dangerous, as he shuts down attacking runs in the middle.
Next on our review is old boy Jack Sparkes, who made his Exeter breakthrough in 2019-20, after loan spells with non-league Salisbury and Chippenham Town.
Sparkes often plays as a true wing-back, pressing high up the pitch
Since his breakthrough, Sparkes has only come off the team sheet in times of injury or youth cup rotations. A slightly undersized wing-back at the Premier League level, Sparkes has hit the weight room to develop the strength needed to bang around with larger midfielders and forwards.
He provides a dangerous overlap going forward. Tactics recently have seen the right-back Lutsharel Geertruida stay back to help counters, while Sparkes is free to push forward. Marin cuts inside, from the wing--with the ball, playing a Robben-style cut-in to shoot; without the ball he plays as a centre-forward next to James Scott, opening the wing for Sparkes. This play has notched Sparkes 3 assists already in Europa League games and one more in the Prem.
Our last look-in is academy winger Cian Cafferty, who moved to the academy as a 15-year-old schoolboy from Derry, Northern Ireland. After a full year with the reserves and academy teams, he earned 12 matches in the second half of the 22-23 Prem season, mostly as a second-half substitute. "You can see his great potential when he gets on the pitch" notes manager Daudelin; "we are just working on getting that positioning, those runs timed right." Cian Cafferty's Scouting Report
Cafferty notched 4 assists and 1 goal in his debut campaign, and has improved on those numbers in 23-24. In a stunning Europa group stage, he tallied 4 goals and 3 assists in the 6 games played, stunning crowds in Utrecht, Fiorentina, and Genk, and electrifying the home fans.
Cafferty has earned significant minutes this season
Cafferty comes with incredible fitness. "I enjoy a cross-country run and a steeplechase in me spare time," he said in an interview. "The gaffer had me put in my contract that I wouldn't do them during the season, but I said 'okay, as long as my offseason is fine,' and she agreed that was swell." As games wear on and his opposing fullback wears down, Cafferty seems to enjoy a second wind and fresh legs, leading opposing managers to a dilemma-- leave a tired fullback for Cafferty to beat; or sub that fullback and risk another tired player struggling against Exeter's blazing fast counters.
In addition to academy youngsters earning significant minutes, the Academy remains a substantial source of income
for Exeter City. This season alone, academy players have netted 6,320,000 in sales. The record was the 2021 sale of goalkeeper Ian Morrison for 17,400,000; that sum would only be rivaled by the 2022 sale of MacDonald for 13,400,000. And there are rumors swirling that starting goalkeeper Henry Morgan and backup Christopher Okara have been scouted by other Prem sides and even European teams.
Can Exeter's academy keep producing? Is Cafferty good enough to make everyone forget about the sales of Ollie Watkins and Ethan Ampadu? Keep reading right here for more!