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Fletcher: 'No such thing as a bad loan'

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Sam Surridge’s call-up to the England under-21 squad represented another triumph for AFC Bournemouth’s category three academy.

The striker has made giant strides since graduating from the club’s youth ranks, his journey highlighting the importance of good coaching, a will to succeed and the loan market.

Coached by Carl Fletcher during his time as under-18 and under-21 manager, Surridge last season made two brief substitute appearances for the Cherries in the Premier League.

And while the 21-year-old may have come off the bench at Emirates Stadium and Selhurst Park, he cut his teeth as a teenager in far less glamorous venues.

Surridge’s first career goal in the non-league school of hard knocks came for Weymouth in a 3-2 defeat at Bedworth in the Southern Premier League in January 2016.

The following season, he stepped up to National South with Poole before making his Football League debut for Yeovil in a chastening 8-2 defeat by Luton in August 2017.

Surridge went on to score ten times for the Glovers before another spell in League Two saw him net 12 goals in 22 games for Oldham last season.

His goalscoring exploits had Championship clubs clambering for his signature this season with Surridge continuing his development at Swansea.  

In days gone by, the Cherries were beneficiaries of the loan market, with several players from top-flight clubs drafted in to bolster their resources.

Now, and with Fletcher coordinating operations in his capacity as loan player manager, the boot is firmly on the other foot.  

Fletcher told afcb.co.uk: “All players develop at different stages of their career and, sometimes, what’s right for one’s pathway is not going to be the same for someone else.

“It’s important to look at the individual and their needs. Certain things with the first team will dictate that and we have to balance up what’s best for the club.

“I’ve learned that every team in the world wants a striker! We could have 20 strikers and we could get them all out on loan.

“They have to get used to men’s football so that’s usually their first loan. Each loan will be dependant on how well they do. You can have all these plans but it’s irrelevant if the player doesn’t do well.

“There are lots of different areas where you can see a successful loan. There is no God-given right for them to walk into a team or play every game. If they are doing well, the manager of the loan team will play them, there are no politics involved.

“Some players will get it straightaway, others will take two or three loans before it finally clicks. We find out a lot about our players when they are away from the football club.

“The way I look at it is there is no such thing as a bad loan. There is always something the players can benefit from.

“If a player hasn’t played much then he needs to know why. Whatever the reason, there will always be a benefit to the loan in terms of experience and trying to get better each time they go.”

Fletcher has regular updates with Richard Hughes and the coaching staff at first team, under-21 and under-18 levels to discuss loan possibilities.

“When they first start playing men’s football, people start knowing who they are,” said Fletcher, who was appointed in November 2018. “When I first took on the role, a lot of our under-21s had never been out and nobody knew who they were.

“If you speak to a lot of scouts, they don’t judge players on under-21 or under-23 games. A scout from a League Two club trying to find a centre-back from an under-21 game may find it unrealistic to the demands they would come up against in a league fixture.

“We are not always going to get teams who play how we play. But we are not sending them out to see if they can pass the ball – we know they can pass the ball because they are here in the first place.”

Asked how he determined which player went to which club and at which level, Fletcher replied: “We will have our plans and then see if clubs need that kind of player.

“Take someone like Sam. When there looked to be potential for him to go to Swansea, we could appreciate that it could be a good fit.

“Their manager is used to dealing with younger players, he likes his teams to play and we know he is going to be well coached well. It suited both parties.”

While the Cherries’ rapid rise to the Premier League makes its first-team squad players an attractive proposition to a loaning club, its category three academy status can have an impact in the younger age groups.

Fletcher said: “If a first-team squad player is looking to get out on loan, it’s easier because they are at a Premier League club.

“For other players, clubs will generally look at category one or two academies. That’s why it’s so important to get our players out so people can see them in that environment.

“Whether it’s right or wrong, subconsciously, people are always going to be happier to pick someone from Tottenham or Arsenal’s academy because they have been playing at what is perceived a higher level of football within the higher category status.

“From that point of view, it’s been difficult. When I got the role and Shaun Cooper came in to do the under-21s, we made a conscious effort to get as many players out as we could to get them experience in the men’s game and exposure to other clubs as every game you play is a shop window.

“It was almost to the detriment of the under-21s. We could have kept players and made the under-21s stronger but we wanted to get them playing men’s football.

“Shaun has done a fantastic job. We have a number of under-21s on loan now but we still fielded a team strong enough to beat Nottingham Forest in the Premier League Cup.”

Asked how the transfer window impacted on the loan market, Fletcher said: “Most of our loans go from window to window which is great because the player is there for a period of time.

“But the way football is these days, where so many things change, there can be frustrations. You can loan a player to a certain manager who then gets replaced after a couple of months. If a new manager comes in and doesn’t like our player, he’s stuck there.

“I try to watch as many games as I can. I visit clubs, watch them train and speak to the managers and coaches.

“If a player is away from home for the first time or at a club which is far away, I will see where they are staying and make sure everything is okay.

“I will have dialogue with them after they have played their games. As much as I don’t want to go against what their manager is telling them, it’s always nice to have someone from their own club giving them feedback.

“The biggest benefit is that I’ve coached most of them so I know what’s required for them to kick on and get to the next level while still having an understanding of what’s required in the different leagues.”

Asked how pleased he had been to see Surridge make his Premier League debut, Fletcher replied: “It gives everyone a massive boost and it was the same with Jack Simpson and others who have made first-team debuts.

“Huge praise has to go to the players that they have had the drive and determination to push themselves to improve on a daily basis.”

Surridge will be hoping to feature when England under-21s meet Slovenia in a friendly in Maribor tomorrow.

Cherries team-mates Aaron Ramsdale and Lloyd Kelly are also in the Young Lions squad with England hosting Austria in a European Under-21 Championship qualifier at MK Dons on Monday.

Main picture of Sam Surridge – courtesy of the FA. Picture of Sam Surridge playing for Weymouth – courtesy of Mark Probin.

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