Dons academy keeping hold of their stars

AFC Wimbledon have never conformed to the expected - their rise from the lower echelons of non-league football to the Football League in nine years is testament to that.

Now that rebellious streak has begun spreading to the teenagers on their books and, in particular, Reece Williams-Bowers Last month, 13-year-old striker, registered at Wimbledon's Centre of Excellence, was offered the chance to move to Premier League big boys Fulham but turned it down.

It was a decision not often seen in football, where young heads are so easily turned by the lure of the top clubs, and was particularly poignant given the recent implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), which favours Premier League clubs in their acquisition of youngsters.

And Jeremy Sauer, manager of the centre of excellence, was delighted with the decision and the boost it gives the Wimbledon set-up.

"It is a success story and allows us to show the rest of the world we are doing good things," he said.

"We were not quite sure which way it was going to go as Reece is a stand out player in that age group but we spoke to him and his family and said we were not going to hold him back, although we would be disappointed as we think highly of him and have a plan for him.

"Thankfully, they came back and committed themselves to us.

"He has been with us for a long time and we make a big deal of that at the club, we are not a recruiting club.

"We try and develop the boys we have in there at the time whereas the bigger clubs are always looking for the next big thing.

"At the end of the day we are all coaching on a grass pitch, with cones and balls - there's no difference between what we do and they do."

EPPP was voted for by Football League clubs in October, with the Premier League threatening to withhold funding for youth development if they did not agree it.

It allows clubs with category one academies to cherry pick youngsters of any age from all over the country while at the same time reducing the level of compensation they would have to pay.

Wimbledon are set to be categorised as category three, meaning category one and category two clubs will have rights over them - not that Sauer is too concerned.

"It is not clear precisely how it will work as the whole thing has been rushed through by the Premier League," he said.

"But, we are a young club and our youth development programme is evolving all the time and we want to look at this as an opportunity to further strengthen our facilities and coaching.

"We want to be positive and say the glass is half full.

"The parents have to make the decision to go to the big clubs, the big clubs cannot make that decision for them and we think we are good and showing the parents what we have to offer."

The Dons are currently on the look out for new players for their U14 squad. Email academy@afcwimbledon.ltd.uk with a full footballing CV.

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