While all eyes are now on 2023-24, in this article, I will be evaluating the performances of every current Under-18s goalkeeper and defender that represented the club last season, as well as looking ahead as to what the new season may bring for them.
Caleb Ansen – Professional Deal – 17 yrs old.
My overriding conclusion is that he should be pleased with his season’s work. During the season we established that he has potential, as well as elements to his game which he needed to improve.
Across the season, Ansen was superb at saving penalties, saving more than he conceded, which is respectable at any level. Zooming out from the penalty saves, to his shot-stopping generally, Caleb saved the team on many occasions, with big saves winning points. Crystal Palace (h) was a great example when Ansen saved a one-on-one opportunity to his left. Also, he made spectacular reflex saves, from close range.
From a distribution perspective, Ansen’s distance on long goal kicks were extremely reliable, which helped the team gain territory up the pitch. As well as that, he executed chipped passes to the fullbacks effectively.
There were also some topics to Caleb’s game that need working on, one of which was his catching, especially at the back post. To expand, opposition teams would tend to float the ball towards the back post, and Ansen would look uncomfortable at making the decision whether to claim the ball, to punch or to leave for the defenders.
In addition, his inconsistency at claiming loose through balls was notable and his judgement of sweeping balls was sometimes muddled, and there were occasions where he was caught high – unsure whether to sweep high or to go back into a more natural position, which resulted in the team getting into desperate defensive positions.
His best game of the season was against Chelsea (a), in which he was unbelievable. Norwich gained a clean sheet during that game due to Ansen’s brilliant shot-stopping, with some remarkable saves. As well as that, Ansen’s distribution was close to faultless, and he took responsibility to help gain a massive result, away from home.
Next season, I’d expect Ansen to play games with the Under-21s side, pushing his way up the ranks, although whether he’ll play the majority of games is questionable, due to the recent signing of Vicente Reyes.
Henry Bullen – Scholarship Contract – 16 yrs old.
Henry had good exposure to Under-18s football last season, which would have prepared him well for the season ahead. For an U16s goalkeeper, he showcased his qualities and applied his attributes well.
There were positive elements in Henry’s four games with the U18s, one of which was his understanding of playing the sweeper-keeper role. Often, Bullen had a tendency to get into high starting positions, which enabled him to collect loose balls, as well as help the defenders to play a high line.
Bar one obvious mistake against Leicester, when he was caught in two minds to collect the ball high, this was genuinely one of his main strengths.
Moreover, Bullen expressed his forward-thinking mentality with the ball across the four games, displaying his willingness to proactively start attacks, with a tendency of playing to the wide flanks, which brought the fullbacks and wide forwards into play.
It’s difficult to be critical of an U16s goalkeeper who is playing a significant level above what he is used to and from watching him across these four games it’s clear to see there is a talented goalkeeper there, who just needs to improve all aspects of his game a little bit more and increase his reliability for the U18s.
Bullen’s best games this season were against West Brom and Arsenal. Against West Brom, he showcased his solidity in goal, avoiding making a major mistake, but I was equally impressed with his performance against Arsenal, where he showed his personality and intent to make an impact. From his very first kick, he looked to be positive on the ball, spraying the ball to the flanks.
I’d envisage Bullen will spend this season, playing for the U18s.
Jaiden Owen – Scholarship Contract – 16 yrs old – Left-back
Over the 2022-23 season, several left-backs were used in the U16s, and Jaiden was one of them. He demonstrated his game in a positive manner across the campaign, despite starting some games slowly with errors – Leicester and Chelsea being examples.
One element of Jaiden’s game that, from a technical perspective, was pleasing was his first touch. There were many scenarios during the season, in which he had to deal with long balls under pressure but he took the ball down with real composure.
Furthermore, his tactical understanding seems strong for an U16s player. He was exceptional at stepping up high, marking the wide players tightly, and winning turnovers in attacking areas.
It takes courage to be aggressive in those scenarios, as you can quite easily get turned, and concede aches of space but he has good success doing this. In addition to that, his positioning and intercepting is of a good standard, which is important for a fullback. He also has good recovery pace, so can be effective in desperate defensive scenarios.
To counteract the positive elements, there are still areas in Owen’s game that need refining, one of which is the success rate, at winning duels aerially. Throughout the season, he showed a reluctance to compete aerially, which was a problem as teams captialised on this, by scoring goals.
In addition, Owen’s back post defending has also been inconsistent, as he’s been caught ball-watching at times, as well as having a lack of awareness of runs towards the back post. Understandably too, he struggled against a few right-wingers, which is expected as the calibre of players is differing from U16s.
Owen’s best game of the season, hadto be against West Ham (h), in which he made few mistakes, and had clear intent on using the ball positively.
Owen has signed a scholarship contract and will be involved with the U18s again, next season.
Tyler Williams – Scholarship Contract – 16 yr old – Left-back
Williams is another example, of a left-back drafted in from the U16s. This was a testing season for him, not only due to the increase in quality, but because the left-back position was new to him.
There were some promising displays across the season, showcasing his array of attributes. One of those attributes was his distance from long throws. Having this ability will elevate Tyler’s game down the line, as it’s a useful form of gaining territory up the pitch.
Another pleasing element of his game was his efficiency at linking up with fellow teammates on the left flank, always looking to get them involved in the game. Defensively speaking, he is strong in defending his back post under pressure, as well as defending aerially.
Tyler is effective using his head when needing to clear away under pressure, something which he’ll get tested on across the season. Finally, Williams showed good execution at stepping up high from the left-back position, to force turnovers in the opposition half.
There are also some limitations to his game such as his one-on-one defending. Tyler often struggles against direct and quick right-wingers. Tyler isn’t slow by any means, but he seems to struggle against speedy wide players, who test the solidity of his defensive game.
He also showed some clumsiness in the penalty area too, such as the penalty he conceded with a late challenge into the box, and during the early stages of the season, Williams did show some vulnerability, against a switch pass to his side.
He played one exceptional game, at home to Tottenham U18s towards the end of the season and had great success at intercepting the ball and winning the majority of his stand and slide tackles. He also demonstrated good execution with the ball at his feet.
During the 2023-24 campaign, Tyler Williams will play for the U18s, potentially rotating with full-back partner Jaiden Owen.
Charlie Wilson – Professional Deal – 18 yrs – Centre-back
Wilson arrived in the U18s team towards the back end of the season, playing the last five games. He demonstrated real composure to their back line, giving the side a sense of stability upon his arrival.
Across the five games he played, Wilson showcased an array of positive attributes, one of which was his aerial ability in both boxes. He dealt with high balls in the air impeccably, winning loads of headers from defensive set pieces, helping to relieve pressure off his fellow teammates.
In addition, he contributed with an assist away at Crystal Palace, heading back into a dangerous area, for Micheal Reindorf to convert. Moreover, he is a brilliant communicator for the team, giving clarity to his teammates, despite only being here for a short passage of time.
Also, he appears to be gathering an enhanced understanding for a central defender, as he gets in good starting positions to cut off loose through balls and win stand tackles.
On the other hand, there were a few weaknesses to his game, which were exploited in the games he played, one of which was his consistency of stepping up to strikers, to force turnovers – something which he seems cautious to commit to.
This topic also brings in another limitation of Wilson’s game, which is his speed. There have been examples in the matches that Charlie has played, where he’s uncomfortable with direct attackers running at him – especially with no cover to protect him.
His lack of speed could be a justification for why he’s hesitant to push strikers back, as he’s scared of conceding space in behind. Therefore he plays safe and retains a naturally defensive position.
He performed consistently in most of his games towards the back end of the season, but his best performance was against Southampton, as he looked solid across the ninety minutes, without making any major errors.
Charlie Wilson will sign a professional deal with the club and will spend the season with the U21s.
Waylon Renecke – Professional Deal – 17 yrs – Centre-back/Left-back
If you were to ask Waylon about his 2022-23 campaign, he’d probably be grateful for it, due to the number of minutes he had, learning against high-calibre attackers. There’s no hiding the fact that he and the defence have to be questioned, due to the volume of goals the team conceded, but he demonstrated positive elements in his game.
Waylon was predominantly used as a left centre-back, across the season, but he also played some minutes as a left back too, due to the quality of his left foot. With left-footed centre-backs in high demand, Renecke earnt international recognition with England and South Africa.
There were many positive elements to his play across the season, such as his execution of different passing lengths, especially towards the early stages of the season. He was always looking to play the penetrative passes forward, looking to find his left central midfielder, which was either Finley Welch or Hugo Valencia Gomez.
He was also comfortable spraying long diagonal balls forward, which was effective at breaking the team forward, and his long throws were also a useful weapon.
One consistent trend was his understanding of protecting the front post, from crossing situations. There were multiple situations where he guarded the front post well, blocking any fast-paced crosses, or cut-backs that came his way.
Also, his aerial ability was consistent across the whole season. As well as Renecke’s strength of defending corners, he offered a huge threat from attacking set pieces and was often the target, along with his fellow centre-back partner, Alfie Doy, meaning the two had to start their entries into the box from deep.
Renecke scored two goals with his head this season, one of them coming in the FA Youth Cup v Burnley, which shows he can produce a big moment in a big game.
At the start of the season, Renecke did show a relative degree of reluctance to be aggressive towards the striker, meaning opponents found it easier to play into the forwards as there was less pressure applied and was clumsy on the ball at times, giving it away in dangerous areas.
He was also guilty of conceding penalties and goals due to his unforced errors but this is part of the risk/reward conundrum as he is equally as capable of creating attacks from the back.
He had many notable performances across the season, but the one against Burnley, in the Youth Cup was particularly impressive. As well as scoring the goal, his defensive play was brilliant too.
I predict Waylon will be involved with the U21s this season, along with some important U18s matches, including the FA Youth Cup campaign.
Gabriel Keita – Scholar Deal – 16 yrs – Centre-back
Due to the lack of depth in the defensive area, Keita was another centre-back who was given an opportunity last season. He often came off the bench in the second half of the season, applying more solidity to a fragile defence.
He is a strong defender, with a good physique for his age meaning he’s a hard defender to get past. This has been evident in his cameo performances as he’s able to catch up with attackers and win stand tackles, with good levels of composure.
Moreover, he demonstrated his extravagant passing range, with progressive long diagonal balls reaching wide areas. Keita demonstrated these types of passes towards the end of matches, meaning that particular trait could be in Norwich’s advantage next season.
A weakness in his game is his indecisiveness when attacking-headed duals. There were numerous occasions during the season, when he let the ball bounce, making it easier for the striker to claim the loose ball, and gain control. He needs to be more demanding in those scenarios, as it could leave the team vulnerable.
Keita performed brilliantly against West Brom (h), providing security in the back line as well as showing confidence to play out the back proactively. Despite the U18s losing in this encounter, Gabriel played in the second half, which was predominantly attack versus defence for large proportions of the game, meaning there was more emphasis on Keita’s ball-playing game.
He signed his two-year scholarship deal, meaning he’ll be a prominent figure in the U18s this season.
Lloyd Ofori-Mantaew – Scholar Contract – 16 yrs old – Centre-back
Similarly to Gabriel, Lloyd got a handful of opportunities off the bench last season. Heis a ball-playing centre-back, who’s developing an intelligent understanding of the requirements of that role.
One of his strengths is his aggressiveness when defending. Ofori intensifies his defending when he’s jockeying his opponents, intercepting passing lanes and quickly coming close to the strikers. This indicates Ofori is prepared to take the risk of attempting to force turnovers high, which he had success at doing, especially on his U18 Premier League debut.
During his five league appearances, Ofori was persistently making important blocks for the team, which was important as the defence needed to be solid, as an U16s goalkeeper was starting during that period.
The more pleasing element of this is the fact that Lloyd gets himself in great starting positions to make blocks.
Moreover, Lloyd showed exceptional bravery with his passing through the lines, aiming to find the deep-lying playmaker at all times.
There were a few occasions in which he got exposed. One area, in particular, was his ineffectiveness of holding up attackers, concluding in a lack of strength. One game in particular which demonstrated this was a 7-1 home defeat to Chelsea, in which he struggled to contain the speed and physique of the opposition attackers. He would get himself in good base positions to intercept, but he then struggled to protect the ball well.
Ofori-Mantaew put in an amazing performance on his U18 Premier League debut, in which he kept a clean sheet against Southampton, with the final score ending 2-0 to the visitors. It was so impressive, I’d put it up there as one of the best solo performances of the season. He was equal to everything across the game, whether that be his reliability of intercepting the ball, showing controlled aggression or playing into midfield accurately.
His positional play was outstanding, which gave him a solid foundation to read the game intelligently, and win a high volume of stand tackles. That performance should give him confidence heading into the 2023-24 season, as he’s more than capable of finding a high level of performance.
The only challenge for him is that he’ll have to navigate his way into the team, with Alfie Doy and Gabriel Keita looking to be the preferred starting candidates.
Ofori-Mantaew signed a scholarship contract, which will see him with the U18s this season.
Alfie Doy – 2nd Year Scholar – 17 yrs old – Centre-back
Linking back to the educational point, around Renecke’s season, this can be applied to Alfie Doy’s season too, as he had to do a huge proportion of defensive work. He showed consistency in his performances, which resulted in him gaining the captain’s armband. In addition, he had to play as the left-sided centre back for a few games, and performed to a good standard, showcasing his reliability to play on both sides.
Doy showed many positive attributes across the season, one of which was his recovery pace from desperate scenarios. During the season, the U18s often got caught overplaying, or holding an inaccurate high line, resulting in the opposition having golden opportunities but Doy was known for saving the team on many occasions, with a range of goal saving tackles and interventions.
One notable situation was against Chelsea, when Alfie sprinted back to his own goal from the halfway line, making a goal saving intervention, to deny a one-on-one opportunity. This topic also leads on to another strength of his, which is his ability to make important blocks. He gets himself into sensible starting positions, which gives him the opportunity to pull off impressive blocks.
Moreover, Doy has shown signs of a blossoming understanding of the centre back role, both defensively and offensively. One topic which epitomises it from a defensive perspective is his knowledge to delay attackers, when a fast paced attacking transition is upon him. He is satisfied to chase the ball and man, in certain scenarios where he has cover, resulting in him having opportunities to apply pressure to the attacker, as well as delaying progress.
From an offensive perspective he is more than comfortable in stepping out of defence, and looking for a pass into midfield. He was extremely ambitious and progressive with the ball in 2022-23, which has helped the team build from the back confidently, especially during the early stages of the campaign.
Furthermore, he has won the majority of his headed duels across the season, demonstrating his authority. He isn’t the tallest of centre backs (approximately 6ft), so him winning the duels is doubly impressive, and he is one of those defenders, who likes to get close to the opposition players around him.
However, their were some weaknesses in his game, which he’ll need to rectify across the new campaign – one of which is unforced errors. Similarly to Renecke, Doy likes to express his dynamic passing variations across a game, but there are circumstances in which he’s been exposed overplaying, or showing a lack of care on the ball.
Another weak area to Doy’s game is his positional play, when it comes to aerial crosses into the box. There were numerous instances where a striker would get in between him and his other central defensive partner. He could do more in these situations, such as improving his reliability of winning headers on the front post, or either taking a few steps back naturally, to get into a good starting position to win a header.
His game of the season was against Chelsea (a), in which he came on to replace Waylon Renecke, during the first half, on his weaker side of central defence. He was monumental, finding the central midfielders accurately, delaying fast paced attacks, winning ground and aerial duels, as well as making a goal saving tackle, in order to keep a clean sheet.
Alfie has a real opportunity to kick on this season, with the U18s. He’ll be eying up an opportunity with the U21s at some stage, while striving towards his first professional deal.
Alfie Pinyoun – Scholar Contract – 17 yrs old – Right-back/Centre-mid
Alfie gained experience of U18s football in the 2021-22 season, playing in central midfield, meaning he had a general understanding of the level he was heading into but last season felt different for him, due to the fact he was often deployed at right-back due to a lack of fit right backs.
One of his outstanding qualities is his crossing ability. During the second half of the season, Pinyoun ventured forward much more, which was the polar opposite to the start of the season, when he showed a huge reluctance.
He has huge talent, crossing the ball from wide areas, and it almost felt like he was crying out for an orthodox target man, to head the chances goalbound, due to the quality of his delivery. Unfortunately the stats don’t justify his quality from wide areas, as he’s only got two assits this season.
One of those assists came against Crystal Palace (h) with a delicious ball into the box, for Aboh to head home. Alfie also showed tendencies to whip crosses into the box early and from deep, backing his ability to find a dangerous area into the box.
He also prides himself on being an aggressive full back, lunging into tackles at any given opportunity. His aggressiveness brings out the tenacious side of his game too, which is effective at regaining possession in deep areas. He understands the correct time to press high too, and is effective at following out team presses, in which he often gets tight to the opposition left winger.
Another strength to Pinyoun’s game is his engine, and his ability to maintain his fierce intensity across ninety minutes. A game that demonstrated this was against Crystal Palace, towards the end of the season, in which the match went on for up to 100 minutes.
Another strength to his game is his long throw, adding another dimension to Norwich in possession.
However, there were some vulnerabilities to Pinyoun’s game, one of which was his ineffectiveness at defending one-on-one duels. A reason for this was his lack of pace, against high agility wingers. Pinyoun, often got beaten for pace to the byline, meaning he struggled to contain the wingers as well as stop crosses. His lack of recovery pace got him into trouble at times.
In the first half of the season, Pinyoun was less willing to move forward on the ball, and although his play was largely tidy, he was too simplistic on the ball, offering no threat from the wide right.
Especially, with Pinyoun’s quality of cross, this was a lost opportunity, as he could have added another dynamic to Norwich’s attack.
Pinyoun’s best game of the season was against Crystal Palace (h), in which he offered security at the back, as well as quality in attack. Speaking of the latter, Pinyoun registered an eye-catching assist, whipping a ball in from deep, and finding Aboh’s head.
Pinyoun, will be heading into his second and final year as a scholar meaning his performance levels will need to be strong. Pinyoun will be starting the season as an U18s player.
Benjy McCabe will be included in Part 2.