Young Dons are mixing humility with a desire succeed
MK Dons Academy Manager Ben Smith spoke to the Citizen about the club's latest youngsters to hit the spotlight
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This season, Joel Anker, Phoenix Scholtz, Callum Tripp and Charlie Waller have all pulled on the shirt for the senior side at Stadium MK, having penned professional contracts in the summer.
While their talent on the field has earned them the right to represent the first-team on the pitch, their grounding, humility and professionalism off it has made them role models for the next generation.
“It's all down to them,” said Smith. “The hard work they've put in on and off the pitch. It's about the way they carry themselves, the way they behave, the way they interact with their peers.
“We have three principles that we work toward: be humble, be on time and be prepared, and that runs from the bottom to the top. It's a really big part of our identity is how we're seen and identified.
“They can't forget that it's their team-mates that help project them to that level as well as all the staff who have supported them along the way too - the youth and support coaches who have helped them along the way.
“We all have that pride in seeing them making those appearances and getting the contracts.”
Thrust into the senior dressing room, Smith admitted, could overawe some young players when they make the step up, but seeing the likes of Scholtz - who has recently been called up to the Northern Ireland U19s squad - and Tripp returning to the U18s fold regularly shows there is a viable pathway from the academy to the first-team.
Smith, who has also worked in academies at Crystal Palace and Luton, continued: “I've seen in other places that, after being in the first-team environment, academy players go back and have an 'I'm too good for this' attitude but these lads don't have that.
“We did a sports day last month, and all of the scholars ran it, but from the U9s to the U16s were all desperate to go and see Phoenix. He went in goal for the penalty shoot-out, was throwing himself about to a point when I was thinking 'you're training with the first team tomorrow!' and he was head to toe in mud!
“But that's Phoenix, that's Callum, that's Charlie, that's all of them. It inspires the younger players who have those aspirations.
“They're creating that environment, which allows them to still be a 16, 17-year-old, but transition to being a grown-up in a very competitive environment.”