A crucial part of Coventry City’s business model is the hugely-successful youth system that has been producing home grown stars for years.
But then the club always has championed local lads, from Bobby Gould in the 1960s to Gary McSheffrey in the late ‘90s.
Gould, who went on to manage the club twice, made his debut for City while still an apprentice at the age of 16, and went on to score 40 goals in 82 league games to help them win the Second Division title in 1966–67 and gain promotion to the top flight before being sold to Arsenal for £90,000.
McSheffrey made his first-team debut against local rivals Aston Villa at the age of 16 years and 198 days on February 27, 1999, a game that Coventry won 4–1 at Villa Park.
He became the youngest player ever to play for Coventry at the time and youngest to feature in the Premier League – a record that lasted for over four years until Aaron Lennon made his Leeds United debut.
In more recent times, of course, there have been some notable names to come through the Academy ranks, all of whom were sold on for large profit, from Gael Bigirimana (Newcastle United), Ben Stevenson (Wolverhampton Wanderers) and Charlie McCann (Manchester United) to the club’s most successful exports to date including Callum Wilson (Bournemouth), Cyrus Christie (Derby County) and James Maddison (Norwich City).
But it’s not all about developing players to sell, and Coventry have produced a stack of talented youngsters who have broken into the first team and given good service to the club before moving on – players like George Thomas, Jordan Willis, and Lee Burge who helped Mark Robins ’s men to Checkatrade Trophy success at Wembley, with the latter two going on to play their part in the Sky Blues promotion push back to League One.
So who’s next off the conveyor belt?
Here we look at four up and coming talents to keep an eye on next season.
How’s he doing?
Barely out of his Bishop Ullathorne school uniform, Bapaga was the surprise package at Coventry City last summer.
Included in Mark Robins’s first team squad for pre-season training, the 16-year-old made the plane for the club’s tour to Spain and never looked back as he was involved in several warm-up games and named on the bench for the Sky Blues’ opening match of the season.
Although an unused substitute in the 1-0 win over Southend United, he was handed his senior debut just a week later when he went on for Zain Westbrooke in the goalless draw with Bolton Wanderers.
As far as Coventry’s record books go, Bapaga became the fifth youngest player to make his senior debut for the club, aged 16 and 280 days, after Jonson Clarke-Harris, Ben Mackey, Gary McSheffrey and Brian Hill.
The teenager has made good progress this year. Although he’s understandably slipped out of the first team picture due to Robins having such a strong squad, the general feeling is that he’s developing nicely and continues to catch the eye in the Under-23s.
He’s tall and slim and works really hard. He’s good in one v one situations and can beat defenders quite easily whether from a standing start or on the move.
He’s pretty mobile and he’s got a real eye for goal.
A talented enough player who is able to play in a number of forward roles but looks particularly impressive out wide on the left and cutting in onto his right foot.
He’s right footed and he has proved extremely effective in that wide role. He can play on the right as well and is a quick player who likes taking players on.
Has all the ingredients to make it to the top and is arguably City’s next big thing.
How’s he doing?
The young forward caught the eye last season, so much so that Manchester United were understood to be monitoring his progress.
He earned his senior debut in the EFL Trophy against Cheltenham Town in November 2018 but he’s arguably had a bit of a plateau year this term, not always making the Under-23s this season.
He looked at one stage like he was going to be the next big thing and hopes are high that he will kick on again next season.
At 18, Jonny is still very young and possesses lots of impressive attributes – he’s quick, solid looking, skilful and technically very good so, like Bapaga, got all the ingredients to do well.
If he was playing in the current box midfield he’d probably be in the advanced positions, similar to the roles played by Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke, but can also play as a No.10.
Again, has all the makings of a player who will make it and with plenty of hard work and determination will surely succeed.
How’s he doing?
A versatile young player with a great attitude and loves his football, Jack can play in several positions, making him a real team player.
He has two senior appearances to his name, both as substitutes in the EFL Trophy last year and this season, and was trusted enough to be included on the bench earlier in the season by the manager.
He’s broken into the Scotland Under-19s squad, having made good progress this season, and seems to be improving steadily every year.
The 19-year-old is a good size, quick and direct with two good feet. He works his socks off and is a real box-to-box midfielder who is exciting when driving forward.
Jack has developed into a proper utility player, having played in a host of positions from wing-back to anywhere across the middle of the park.
His preferred position is a more central attacking role but he’s been used on the right by City to utilise his pace, and Scotland have done the same.
More recently, however, he has been deployed in a more central midfield role for both club and country.
He’s a mainstay of the Under-23s and if he keeps progressing in the way he has done so far then he has every chance of being handed his opportunity to break into the first team.
How’s he doing?
The midfielder is probably the closest to establishing himself in Mark Robins’s first team and he continues to develop nicely in the Under-23s.
The 19-year-old already has 11 senior appearances to his name, including a League One start against Rochdale earlier this season.
He’s highly-rated by Robins but missing out at the moment due to such a strong squad.
Great attitude and work ethic, Eccles is a model young professional with the drive to succeed. Strong on the ball and gutsy in the tackle, Eccles has a good engine and good range of passing.
Eccles is a central midfielder more in the holding mould.
Having already had a decent taste of first team football under Robins, the teenager is just waiting patiently for his chance to break through on a more regular basis.
Expect to see a lot more of him next season.