Academy chief Stuart Jones believes there are reasons to be excited about the next phase of the Rovers production line.

Ten Academy graduates featured for Rovers in 2020/21, the most of any Championship side, which will see them earn a cash boost from the EFL.

Joe Rankin-Costello, Scott Wharton and John Buckley have all agreed long-term deals in recent months, as Rovers continue to put their faith in their homegrown talent.

And head of Academy Jones believes there’s even more to come from the Brockhall production line, with a host of promising youngsters in both the Under-23s and Under-18s set-ups.

“We’re really excited for the future,” he said.

“We think we’ve got some really talented young players, in terms of the Under-23s, the Under-18s and some schoolboys that we feel have got a real chance to progress.

“I think our programme allows them to do that.”


Rovers topped the Championship for the most prolific use of Academy talent and Jones believes the importance of that is only going to grow stronger.

As clubs look to cut their cloth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many have turned to their Academy ranks to boost the options available to them.

For Rovers, particularly in recent times, that’s always been the case, closing in on 550 consecutive matches with at least one Academy graduate present, while the win over QPR in November featured an all-Academy back four.

There was success for both the Under-23s and Under-18s in 2020/21, Billy Barr’s side eventually finishing fourth in Premier League 2, the top tier of Academy football, while Mike Sheron’s scholars lost just once in 2021, having reached the FA Youth Cup last four the previous year.

Contracts have been a big issue previously, Rovers losing Connor Mahoney and Callum Wright, now with Millwall and Leicester City respectively, before they flourished on the first-team scene.

The club have focused hard on that, securing 18-year-old prospect Jake Garrett on an extended deal earlier this month, with several more having committed their futures to the club.

“It’s something that we’ve spoken about as staff within the Academy,” Jones explained.

“There is a bigger emphasis on a lot of Academies now to work hard to produce their own. It’s something that we’ve used within the Academy to drive staff on and they understand the importance of the work we’re doing.

“And the positive news that has been highlighted by the EFL is real recognition for the staff and the value to the work that goes on within the Academy across all departments.

“What we’ve got to do now is we can’t just stand still, we’ve got to continue to evolve. I’m sure the owners will continue to invest and we’ve got to make sure we continue to progress players not just for our first team, but top Premier League quality players that hopefully will play in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers.

“That’s our aim and we’ll continue to strive to do that.”

The success of the Under-23s and Under-18s sides, development of players such as Joe Rankin-Costello and Dan Pike, and with more to come from Dan Butterworth and Jack Vale, there are plenty of reasons to be excited by the future.

“It’s pleasing in what has been a challenging year, in terms of the programme and all of the restrictions,” Jones added.

“For us to do really well in both leagues, the Under-18s and the Under-23s, it’s fantastic for us. The football club want to tie our best young assets down long-term and that’s really important, because it allows us to continue that development work with those players that we know are going to be at the club for a long period of time.

“So it’s really exciting as we move forward. We’ve got a lot of players now who have signed new contracts and we’re really looking forward to the coming years.”

As well as those looking to push onto the first-team, Rovers already have several players established in Tony Mowbray’s side who have progressed through the ranks.

Jones believes Mowbray’s willingness to include young players in his side is a key reason behind the productivity of the Academy, with a graduate in Darragh Lenihan captain of the team.

The Irishman has passed 200 first-team appearances, Ryan Nyambe over 150 and Lewis Travis more than 100, while John Buckley was included in all but one matchday squad.

And Jones says the step into the first-team from the Academy sides will always be the most important, but difficult.

“In terms of the amount of work that goes into the development side of the individual player. It’s then about getting an opportunity at first team level and we’re very fortunate that we’ve got staff that are willing and want to give young players opportunities,” he said.

“Then within the team itself, we’ve got those experienced Academy graduates who have played a lot of games that I’m sure will help those young players as they progress into that environment.”

Jones is always quick to thank the club, and owners, for their commitment to the Category One Academy which allows them to provide the best possible programme available, as well as compete for players.

While Rankin-Costello and Butterworth were picked up along the way, there remains a host of graduates who have already clocked up over a decade of service, Buckley going all the way up from Under-9s to first-team an indication of that.

The EFL Futures provides clubs with an incentive to include young players in their ranks, Rovers coming out on top in the Championship, with Jones keen to share the accolade with the staff, past and present.

“It’s fantastic for us and it’s recognition for everyone connected with the club.

“We’ve got some outstanding people in the building with vast knowledge and expertise in player development, so it’s also a reward for them.

“We’ve got a first team manager who is willing to give young players opportunities, which is vitally important, the coaching staff who work with the young players, the board and the owners, in terms of theircontinued investment into the Category One, which is crucial, so I’ve got to say a huge thank you to them, and the parents, who play a key role in supporting their young sons moving through the age groups in their journey towards the first team.”