Head Of Football Science & Performance, Kevin Gibbins, says the Integration Squad is priceless in terms the experience it gives to young players.
Dale were 2-1 winners over Sheffield Wednesday Under-23s in a behind-closed-doors game on Tuesday.
Gibbins says it was a fantastic exercise for those players involved.
“The Integration Squad is a massive part of our vision for where we are taking the Club, in terms of developing those younger players,” he said.
“It was a real mix of players that played on Tuesday afternoon. It was a fantastic exercise for everyone involved and in terms of a performance, there were kids as young as Under-16 that were involved.
“There were senior professionals like Jimmy Ryan and Ryan McLaughlin. Tolaji Bola got his first minutes under his belt in terms of getting used to our processes and the way we want to play. Our young pro’s that have kicked on from last season were involved.
“The way we see it, players like Fabio Tavares has graduated, so to speak, from the Integration environment, and are now making a big impact in the first team environment, but still have a responsibility to guide the younger pro’s, such as Ethan Brierley, in terms of their development and accelerating that.
“All round it was a really good day and enjoyable for everyone involved. It was good to see everyone supporting the process and buying into that vision in terms of us developing those players and us getting that performance from the Integration aspect of things. So, a massive thank you to everyone behind-the-scenes who got it organised.”
He continued: “In terms of Brian’s vision and where we want to take the Football Club, where we want to progress our players, the environment is very much a development aspect, but it is driven by first team demands.
“The expectations are there for players of all ages to meet the first team expectations, but with a big focus on development. The Integration Squad is priceless in terms of the experience.
“Two Under-16 players came on the pitch [on Tuesday] in Anesio Jesus and Max Sutton, which if this kind of programme isn’t facilitated, I don’t know where those players get these kinds of experiences from.
“It’s invaluable for their development. In terms of senior pro’s getting minutes under their belt and getting match rhythm, it’s integral for them too. We also bring back players who are out on loan, so the likes of Lewis Bradley, who is on loan at Bradford Park Avenue, can come back and play in those games.
“It keeps them intertwined with what it is that we expect and the demands and processes that we go through. In terms of our vision for player development, it’s a crucial aspect.
“The sole focus of the Integration Squad is giving players different experiences, playing on first-team pitches, playing with first team players.
“The Central League Cup, in terms of the competitive element and satisfying those processes that ultimately lead to learning to win within that first team environment. That competitive environment is also crucial for them to develop and their game understanding is where we can take their development to the next level.
“It’s crucial that they get used to our constants and are able to deliver those constants, and understand every aspect of that. If they can’t deliver it then it is up to those players that are supporting the Integration process, like Fabio Tavares and Harrison Hopper, who excel in EFL Trophy games, then come back down and maintain those standards and set the example to the younger players who are hopefully the next generation that we’ll be seeing in EFL Trophy games.”
One example of the importance of the Integration Squad is Fabio Tavares, who featured in the majority of their games last season, and has now progressed to featuring on a regular basis for the first team.
“Fabio is in a much stronger position for the experience that he’s had through Integration and through first team involvement last year. It is time for him to pass the baton on in terms of who is our next one to make that impact on the first team environment.
“Whether it be an Ethan Brierley, Kacper Mialkowski or Joe Dunne, it is important that those players now grab the baton and the likes of Fabio can lead the way and hopefully the next level of player comes from underneath him, so it’s a constant feed into that system.
“Ethan and Kacper have been supporting the first team environment since we came back post-lockdown. It’s difficult for those kinds of players to be thrust into a first team environment without having the exposure of playing in the Integration Squad alongside senior pro’s.
“We have two Under-16s the other day who were exposed to those experiences and hopefully in a year’s time they are in a similar position to the likes of what Ethan and Kacper are in now.”
Watch the full interview with Gibbins on iFollow HERE.