Hritika Sharma is a member of the FA’s Young Reporters’ Club and currently studies Football Journalism at the University of Derby.
“Each year when the Youth Cup comes around, it is a different sort of feeling that the players have.”
That’s Trevor Peake, speaking warmly about the FA Youth Cup and not unlike when one would describe its senior counterpart as being special, as his Leicester City side prepare to take on Watford in the quarter-final.
“We got to the semi-final four years ago against Manchester City; it was great to get there,” he added.
“We were disappointed that we couldn’t put up more of a fight in the first leg – we lost 3-0 – and were a little bit disappointed, I have to say, that we didn’t play in the main stadium.”
On Wednesday evening, they can make up for it.
In addition to having the chance to reach the semi-final again, they will play in the main stadium and under the lights, which City's U18 manager believes is bound to add to the occasion.
“To play in the King Power Stadium, where they watch our first team week-in and week-out, I think would be a highlight experience for the scholars who have come through,” he said.
- The FA Youth Cup
- Sixth Round Proper
- 7pm, Wednesday 27 February 2019
- King Power Stadium, Leicester City FC
“Some of them have pushed on and managed to get around the first team now.”
Most recently, “some of them” include Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes, and Hamza Choudhury, who all came through the club’s ranks and were part of the team that reached the aforementioned semi-final. And there have been more before them.
“When I was with the U15s and U16s, there were quite a few players [academy graduates] who were playing for the first team when the club was in League One and the Championship,” he revealed.
“Their [senior] debut is very pleasing for the staff that work with the players; to see them as grown men playing in League football is an achievement in itself. That’s the most important thing for me.”
Peake has seen it often during his time at the club, having joined as an U17 coach in the summer of 2003. He has since worked closely with current academy director and director of football Jon Rudkin in the youth setup.
Together, they have overseen and aided the growth and development of some of the club’s future first team players – Andy King, Liam Moore and Jeffrey Schlupp, who have gone on to have careers away from Leicester for example – as well as the academy system itself into one of the best in the country.
“When the category system [Elite Player Performance Plan] came into effect a few years ago, we wanted to be a Category 1 club,” explained Peake, who took charge of the U18s in 2012.
“With the great backing of the owners in the last few years, we’ve managed to maintain that status and that’s a big thing for what Leicester was 15 years ago, when I first came here.”
And what has changed in all those years?
“There’s a lot more staff!” he says, jokingly, before reflecting on the challenges that lay ahead for them back then.
“We were looking like we were going into administration; there was a lot of financial difficulties. Over the time that me and Jon have been here, Jon has been a leading figure. He was the academy manager when I joined and he’s done great work for this football club.”
While acknowledging the fact that Leicester haven’t won major trophies as an academy, Peake does not downplay the importance of instilling a “winning mentality” in young players.
“At this age group, we try and impress that on the lads, that you should be really disappointed every time you lose and look at it and see what you could have done better,” he revealed.
It is only natural: the former defender was a crucial part of Coventry City’s FA Cup winning team in 1987, which saw them lifting the trophy at Wembley after beating Tottenham Hotspur in one of the most famous Finals in Cup history.
It is, then, a slight surprise when he adds: “Personally, I think that results shouldn’t really matter as much at this stage.”
Peake proceeds to explain that statement in the broader context of the academy’s success and the main objective of producing players for the senior squad.
“We’re in the southern section of the Category 1 league, and every time that we can get results against what we call the ‘top three’ – Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – it is a great feeling,” he said.
“This year, we got thumped by all three of them! So in the end, personally, I believe it’s the players that get through which we’re judged on – the likes of Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes, Hamza Choudhury – and who are the names we’re associated with.”
Maybe the current team can repeat what that 2014-15 side did or perhaps, they can go even further?
For now, Peake says, they’re all focused only on the upcoming fixture.
“When we went down and watched them – myself, the assistant coach and the analyst – in the last round, they played Ipswich at home,” he said.
“They look like a very talented outfit: they’re strong up front, really competitive in midfield and, as you would expect, they’ve got some really good players.
“We’re looking forward to the quarter-final tie.”