AFC Bournemouth’s head of player progression Joe Roach has a ‘proud’ feeling when contemplating the career of Cherries academy graduate Danny Ings.
The first team’s Premier League opener today is likely to see the return of the 30-year-old Englishman to Vitality Stadium as part of Steven Gerrard’s squad.
Having progressed through the ranks in red and black stripes during the mid-noughties, Aston Villa’s frontman has gone on to spend his career to date at the highest level.
For Roach, who oversaw the Cherries youth set-up for the duration of Ings’ time at the club, he offers as a shining example of the work done in the academy, formerly the centre of excellence.
“It’s humbling in some ways, makes you proud in others and also excited,” Roach recounted. “There are so many various feelings about it.
“From nearly not getting a contract with his injury and being at Dorchester on loan to his journey since at 30 years of age is… wow!
“If you were writing down a plan of how you’d like it to go 20-odd years ago, he’s probably surpassed that.
“It’s an unbelievable journey and he’s had ups and downs but from a 16-year-old, a lot of his traits have come to fruition and been maintained with the work he’s done.
“I remember speaking to one of the coaches at Liverpool when he was injured there, and he said he was a fantastic mentor for the younger players whilst he was injured.
“He’s very unassuming in many ways and very respectful in many ways as well – which always stands you in good stead from a young age.
“He had a really good family behind him and was really grounded. Even with the accommodation he was in, I think he still talks to them now.”
That unassuming and respectful nature which Ings has been heralded for is one which is a focal point that academy staff look to instil.
As is still the case today, Roach saw their role in the centre of excellence as shaping youngsters as people as well as footballers.
He said: “Everyone was all on the same page, there were no differences in wages or whatever, it was quite a disciplined environment.
“We created an environment that created good people that could go into another career or non-league if football didn’t work out.
“Unfortunately,” Roach added, “we were what we were but a lot of the players of that time have gone into non-league successfully or gone into different types of business ventures and done really well.
“It was difficult, interesting, enjoyable and hard all in equal measures.”
While the academy today has produced players of the ilk of Jaidon Anthony, Mark Travers and Jordan Zemura – all of which are now set to take on a top-flight campaign – the Cherries youth set-up has consistently produced impressive graduates over the years.
Without being the Premier League football club that can be seen today, players such as Danny Ings, Sam Vokes and Brett Pitman were still developed for first-team football.
The scene at the time of those players’ development was far different for Roach, with much progression made since then.
He explained: “It was very, very different and in some ways healthy because everyone was on the same level.
“Everyone dug in, the players as well, there were no excuses in terms of margins for error; players had to step up quite quickly.
“We had to apply for a bursary for Danny from the local council to support him when he went into accommodation – that was the scene at the time.
“To have a non-scholarship programme, basically a college programme, and to be producing professional players and play international football at younger age groups was testimony to themselves, the families and the staff.
“The club has built on that and developed the infrastructure, and our recruitment now is totally different to what it was before.
“We didn’t have dedicated recruitment staff which were targeted, we picked up quite a lot of success with released players.”
While the scene of today’s academy is far different to the centre of excellence, Roach has no doubt that the crosshairs are firmly set on continued development.
Sharing on academy player recruitment, he said: “Players have seen Bournemouth as a good club, as have their families and the intermediaries, and I think we’re recognised as a good academy.
“The club support the academy so that we are, in some ways, punching above our weight a little bit.
“We don’t take that lightly and step off the gas, though. We, obviously, want to go to the next level.
“It’s totally different now from what it was but, in many ways, the same. I’d like to think it’s the same demands on players.
“That’s why we’ve recruited quite a few ex-players, to retain that connection with the club.”