Academy manager Joe Roach has spoken about the AFC Bournemouth Academy’s fruitful link-up with Bermuda.
Earlier this month, Ajani Burchall – who became the third youngest league player in the Cherries’ history in December – made a move to Aston Villa, with the club receiving substantial compensation having nurtured the 16-year-old winger though the Academy set up on the south coast.
The move came after compatriot Remy Coddington had made a similar transfer, from Bournemouth the West Ham, the previous season.
Roach discussed the genesis of the connection to Bermuda, with it having positive aspect for all parties involved.
“Previously our recruitment was very localised,” he began. “We had a number of scouts who went out in the local area but we thought we needed to explore other routes.
“We looked at a number of locations. We had two players who came in from Bermuda, there was a connection there, and we had a scout named Andy Powell who was Bermudan so he knew well about the culture and some of the opportunities available.
“I went over to Bermuda with Andy and we did a presentation to the Bermudan FA, while there was also representation from the local clubs there. We watched a game one morning and Remy Coddington and Ajani Burchall were both playing and both stood out.
“Their families were keen on exploring the education route in either the US or the UK, both players having a parent who was a teacher. They decided to relocate to Bournemouth where they attended Bournemouth Collegiate School.
“A lot of work was put into them from the coaching, sports science and medical staff at the club. They both explored different positions and eventually we got to a point where they were on the cusp of getting into the youth team.
“We’d offered them pre-scholarships at under-14s as a protection in case any clubs wanted to come in for them. We had early contact for Remi from West Ham, he and his family were keen to go and we had to negotiate with West Ham for appropriate terms in compensation.
“At that point we’re looking at the opportunity for the player and for us – ultimately if the player doesn’t want to stay you have to explore the best options.”
The departed Coddington was a year older than Burchall, and opportunities soon opened up to allow the younger player to break into the youth team and show his own qualities.
Roach continued: “‘The opportunity to play Ajani in the under-18s has provided a good grounding for a young player to explore the nature of ‘winning’ football and he adapted really well, playing a significant amount of games.
“He started in the FA Youth Cup against Exeter City and was probably the best player on the pitch in the first half. He got plaudits and interest from the scouts watching and we were thinking in the back of our minds about people possibly knocking on our door.
“Ajani then also had the opportunity to play for the first team, that was fantastic and raised his profile again and prompted interest for other clubs.
“We had a number of enquiries from established clubs, and again we sat down with the parents – already having that offer on the table here for Ajani to move forward from a scholarship into a professional contract. The same story unfolded, the parents being keen for him to explore what they saw as a high-level programme.
“Aston Villa came in for him and we looked at the most appropriate pathway for the player and the club. I have to recognise the financial support AFC Bournemouth gives our academy and at some point there needs to be a benefit for the club and the player.
“We felt that the offer we were going to receive from Villa was an appropriate one, with extended offers beyond his scholarship, they dealt with the process extremely well and were respectful with their offer.
“We felt it was the best for Ajani’s development and was a return in investment to support the academy moving forwards and the next group of players.
“We need to have a business plan, and now we’re looking at highlighting players further down our age groups and trying to accelerate their progression to try and get them into our under-18s a little bit earlier.
“That benefits us with the exposure to the under-18s but we’re also aware that there are teams already looking at our younger players. Most clubs would have a business plan around that model, Chelsea being one of the most recognised ones.”
The success in bringing high-quality players from Bermuda to Bournemouth has strengthened the connection, with Roach and his staff now looking to make a return to the island.
“We’ve got a good relationship with Bermuda, certainly through Andy’s connection. They’re keen for us to go across again, not just to look at the players on the island but trying to offer some support and collaboration with the clubs and doing due diligence on players there.
“They have UK passports which makes the transition easier, and we have plans for holiday programmes to give that exposure to the players out there.
“Remi and Ajani have been well recognised so we’ve put our footprint in the sand in Bermuda and hopefully we’ll be able to get across this season and see what unfolds in the future.”