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The academy graduate

By Alistair Magowan

Alex Pearce is a centre-back at Reading who has come right through the ranks since joining the club's academy as a 12-year-old.

Reading Academy
Eamonn Dolan (right) has made a huge impact at Reading's academy

Now 18, he has recently been rewarded with a two-and-a-half year professional contract.

And the journey was completed last month when he made his debut as a sub in Reading's FA Cup victory over Burnley.

Understandably, Pearce was elated to secure his future with the club and believes it is proof that the system bears fruit.

"I hope to be one of the Reading academy's success stories," he told BBC Sport.

"In our year there's only two of us from the academy who have professional contracts but there are a few other people who will be getting to do the same.

"The Reading academy definitely does work. The whole process is good because it means you bring through home-grown talent - you don't have to go out and spend money.

"I feel valued too, we have some good people at Reading."

In the past, graduates to Reading's first team have been slim, although other clubs have profited from the likes of Nathan Tyson (Nottingham Forest), Darius Henderson (Watford) and Jamie Ashdown (Portsmouth).

It's just not possible for their parents to bring them here every night - it's a huge commitment for a family when a kid is in the academy

Eamonn Dolan
But now, after millions of pounds of investment and the time for it to develop, the youth set-up looks set to produce a healthy crop of talent, coinciding with the recruitment of academy manager Eamonn Dolan.

The former Exeter City boss joined the club in 2004 and says that promotion to the Premiership has meant the academy's success has become even more important.

"Reading is almost a renaissance club and we weren't one of the big hitters when it came to a youth programme," he said.

"But we have made a lot of progress in a few years and we are looking to pay back the investment from the chairman (John Madejski)."

The current crop at under-18 level have had some encouraging results in the FA Youth Cup, beating both Blackburn and Coventry 5-1.

And Dolan's desire to set up a "production line of players" is only hindered by the limits to which he can train his younger players.

The club recruits from the age of nine, but whilst they are in school, players are restricted to three sessions a week and a game.

"Ideally you would want them in five days a week to progress fully," he says.

Alex Pearce
(The academy) is massively important for the club and important for English football

Alex Pearce
"But they have school and it's just not possible for their parents to bring them here every night. It's a huge commitment for a family when a kid is in the academy."

Growing up in Oxfordshire, Pearce's story will be a tantalising carrot for the many parents who spend each week ferrying their kids to and from the training pitch.

And while the potential for financial gains may be great, the benefits to Reading - and the game as a whole - are not lost on the young defender.

"There haven't really been any boys who have broken through from the academy but we're trying to change that," Pearce explained.

"It's massively important for the club and important for English football. Better English players will be better for the English game.

"The number of foreign players in English football has never really bothered me because Reading has not really (recruited many).

"But if I was in the academy at Arsenal, it might be different.

"They have a great set-up, probably the best in the country, but because they set such high standards it is hard to break through - they've got such a good team."

With Reading flying high in the Premiership it seems that Pearce is joining a team which is full of confidence.

And a recent season-ending injury to defender Ibrahima Sonko means there may yet be more chances for Pearce to prove his credentials.

But if he is excited by the opportunity, he is well aware that his graduation is only the first step on the professional ladder.

"I've got a lot to learn," he added, "I'm just trying to learn my trade and keep progressing steadily."



SEE ALSO
Want to be a football pro?
14 Sep 05 |  Get Involved
Life at a football academy
30 Sep 05 |  Get Involved
Dolan to join Reading
27 Sep 04 |  Reading
Reading 3-2 Burnley
09 Jan 07 |  FA Cup
Sonko out for rest of the season
01 Feb 07 |  Reading


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