The pleasing news of Andrew Omobamidele signing a new contract until the summer of 2026, is yet more evidence of the continued success of the Club’s academy.
Omobamidele is a perfect role model for any City academy player – progressing through the ranks from the Under-16s level to the first team.
Not only is his pathway inspiring, but it’s also a testament to the way he’s developed as a player. He’s always been a good, consistent performer but in the Under-23s, in particular, his development accelerated.
He formed a solid partnership alongside Jon Tomkinson and demonstrated positional intelligence, recovery speed and aerial dominance.
Equally pleasing for the Canaries is the fact there are other central defenders in the Academy who are making excellent progress – all of whom are at different phases of their development.
The first name on our shortlist is Jon Tomkinson. Similar to Omobamidele, he joined as an Under-18 defender in July 2019 and has progressed into an athletic and resilient central defender. The American has had two consistent seasons with the Under-23s, and his continuous positive performances have made him a consistent figure in first-team training.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tomkinson will be playing first-team football next season, but whether he’ll be playing it in Norfolk is another matter. His Norwich career has also had a similar trajectory to Omobamidele’s in terms of progressing through the 18s and then captaining the 23s.
In addition, they have similar traits in how they play the game. Tomkinson is superb at executing passes through to the midfield – pivotal in the modern game. Across the season, his physicality has improved resulting in him winning a high proportion of his battles on the ground and in the air.
Moreover, he is effective at attacking the ball from set-piece situations. He revealed to @norwichyouth that Liam Gibbs is ‘brilliant at finding my head’. Another area of his game that has improved is his ability to read opponents’ attacking situations.
There have been many occasions in which he’s blocked shots that are destined to be on target – imperative for a central defender as a huge part of defending is predicting what opposition attackers will do.
As mentioned above, Tomkinson has captained the Under-23s this season and has done an excellent job. Whether you’re captaining a team at elite level or you’re leading a development team, commanding the respect of your teammates is a necessity, and that’s exactly what Jon is like as a captain.
He is a leader who compliments the good work that the team does while guiding the team through challenging situations.
Throughout his three seasons at the Club, Jon has prepared himself well for first-team football. He’s proved himself a quality leader while showcasing his promising defensive and ball-playing traits.
The challenge for him now is to see how quickly he can adapt to the next level. For example, experienced strikers make a greater number of intelligent runs compared to young strikers still learning their trade.
Tomkinson has the ability to be Christoph Zimmermann’s successor, but it depends on Dean Smith giving him that opportunity.
Another player who is progressing nicely is Jaden Warner. Similar to fellow Under-23s centre-back Lewis Shipley, Jaden is left-footed, which is a blessing for the Canaries.
The Under-23s play a proactive style of football, with defenders, like Jaden, expected to play forward passes through the midfield, a skill that falls within his comfort zone. He’s comfortable playing long diagonal passes while also being adept at executing short-distance passes.
Similar to Tomkinson, Warner is also confident in using his head to clear his lines when crosses come into the box and has shown positional awareness with important blocks and goal-line clearances which helped the Under-23s earn that play-off place. Also, his athleticism helps him to carry the ball up the pitch too, as well as helping him produce recovery runs.
Warner played the second most number of minutes last season within the Under-23s squad and featured in two competitions this season, PL2 Division 2 and the EPL Cup. The 23s accumulated just four clean sheets last season – but all four of them came when Warner was in the team.
With the expansive 4-1-2-1-2 formation, there’s a big onus on the two centre-backs because, with just one defensive midfielder, the midfield can get overstretched when the ball is turned over.
Warner also chipped in with a goal this season, against Reading in December, but unfortunately picked up an injury towards the back end of the season. Pre-season is a realistic timescale for Jaden’s return.
He is contracted until the summer of 2025, meaning he still has plenty of time to continue his development. The length of the contract highlights the faith the club has in him and it’s now up to the player to repay that trust, but he will need to be patient as he is currently behind Tomkinson in the pecking order.
Unsurprisingly, there are also players who are showing potential in the Under-18s setup and one of those is the captain, Brad Hills.
The Under-18s had a tough season in which they’ve lost the majority of their matches, so bouncing back from setbacks has been on top of their agenda. Hills, as captain, is one player that’s had to keep that positive mentality.
He spent the last two seasons with the Under-18s and has played a huge amount of football. He’s also been on the periphery of the Under-23s but the regular partnership of Tomkinson and Warner has limited his opportunities. With the potential of Tomkinson progressing, he may be handed an opportunity to play regularly for the 23s next season.
Similar to Tomkinson, Hills is a fine leader who orchestrates a team well while providing them with plenty of encouragement. He’s a strong, physical and mobile defender who successfully wins a large proportion of his duels. Furthermore, he shows consistent energy levels throughout every game.
Another promising Under-18s centre-back is 16-year-old Waylon Renecke who has represented England at youth level. Like Brad Hills, he too is a confident ball-playing centre-back who’s always looking for the best possible pass while also being content to clear the danger and not overplay.
@norwichyouth compiled an every-touch video of his FA Youth Cup performance against Stoke U18s. If you fancy taking a look, it’s here.
Renecke is definitely one worth monitoring during 2022-23 after emerging on the Under-18 scene after making his 18s debut in September 2021. He made his England Under-16s debut against Scotland in August 2021 and is the only player in the 18s and 23s who has represented England at youth level this season.
He is recognised as an intelligent, talented, and versatile defender who can play at left-back or centre-back. He completed the season by playing 1432 minutes, equivalent to 14 games – a pretty impressive record for a player at such a young age.
In the 2022-23 season, I expect Waylon to continue his development with the 18s and potentially feature in the FA Youth Cup.
So, who of those mentioned above will we see push on next season?