Two of Aston Villa’s Young FA Cup Heroes are Rewarded With Pro Deals

Aston Villa FA Cup Duo Sign Pro Deals

By Calum Slater

Lamare Bogarde and Ben Chrisene, two of the Villa young guns that frustrated a star-studded Liverpool last Friday in the FA Cup, have been rewarded with professional contracts. The 17-year-old’s are two of the most recent additions to the academy side, and were both signed to meet CEO Christian Purslow’s objective of filling the U-23 side with highly talented teenagers. A policy that is hoped will bare fruit in a few seasons time after recent concentrated investment in the academy. 

With the transfer culture of the Premier League in the modern day, it’s extremely unlikely that the majority of young players that performed so admirably against Mané, Salah and co, will play for the first team again. Whilst the performance will live long in the memory, football is a ruthless industry with a steep learning curve for young players. The recent 8-1 defeat of the Villa U-21’s to Sunderland in the EFL Cup was a more realistic example of the gulf that has to be straddled.

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In recent years, apart from Jack Grealish, Keinan Davis and Jacob Ramsay, very few players coming through the academy ranks have made any real impression on the Villa first team set-up, and the later two still have much to prove. The likes of Callum Robinson, Callum O’Hare, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Daniel Johnson, despite early fan hype have had to continue their careers elsewhere, while others have largely slipped out of sight in the lower leagues.

That being said, obtaining a professional contract at the age of 17 is certainly the first step to success and shows how highly regarded both Bogarde and Chrisene are within the club.

Villa fielded a side with an average age of 18 and an average shirt number of 55, comprising seven U-23 players and four from the U-18’s. Even for an academy side, it was not at full strength – three of the more admired U-23 prospects were unavailable, in the form of midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Carney Chukwuemeka and highly-rated winger Jaden Philogene-Bidace. The attacking threat posed by all three could have potentially caused Liverpool even more problems on the night.

While the odds maybe against the youngsters to ultimately make the grade for Villa in the Premier League, it’s very rare for an entire team of academy players to get such an incredible experience like playing the Premier League champions. Who knows, it may provide them with the kind of encouragement to really fast-track their development. It can’t not help.

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While we have our fingers crossed for Villa’s young chargers, here’s what you need to know about the starting line-up from the recent third round FA Cup tie and where their future may lie:

Ákos Ónodi (19) – Goalkeeper – Hungary

Recruited for the academy in 2018, the young Hungarian was actually rejected by Liverpool after a trial period a year previously. A string of good saves in the game may prove that to be a mistake, with a double save from Fabinho and Mané early in the game being particularly impressive from the 8 made across the 90 minutes.

He’s capped at U-19 level for his country and, in one of the more obscure facts in this piece, has an Olympic gold medal winning aunt, placing first in the gymnastics vault event at Barcelona ‘92. Whilst his reflexes and flexibility may not be up to her standards, he is certainly a keeper that throws himself around to make dynamic saves. His performances across both Villa age groups have not been spectacular, but he delivered in his most important game to date. However, with the senior starting role in safe hands for the next few years at least, it may be a frustrating wait, particularly in a position that any manager is unlikely to gamble with.

Jake Walker (20) – Right-back – England

The full-back, comfortable on either side or as a defensive midfielder, was making only his fourth appearance of the season as he faced up to Sadio Mané, performing admirably considering how little game-time he has had. His time at Villa has been broken up with loan moves to Banbury and Alvechurch, suggesting that his development, when you consider his age, may not be on track for a Premier League introduction.

Dominic Revan © (20) – Centre-back – England

Captain on the night with a performance to match, the centre-back did not look intimidated against such a lethal front line. With 14 clearances, 3 interceptions and a 100% tackle success rate, he managed the responsibility of the armband on debut wonderfully. The defense were obviously going to be very busy but by playing a key role in keeping the score to four. Revan came away with many plaudits and with a hugely boosted reputation. Smith will have an eye on Revan due to his leadership role in the youth set-up and may look to ease him into more experience at senior level if the right opportunity arises.

Could he make the step-up in a year or two, if say for example, Björn Engels moved on?

Mungo Bridge (20) – Centre-back – England

A centre-back comfortable on the ball with good distribution, he would stylistically be a successor to Tyrone Mings if his development were to be perfect. A favorite of Smith’s and with experience training with the first team, he is highly regarded within the club. Performances in the U-18’s drew interest from AC Milan, so expect his name to feature more regularly over the next few years, particularly as Konsa and Hause continue to mature and Smith feels more comfortable using places in his starting line-up as development opportunities for younger players.

Callum Rowe (21) – Left-back – England

Ancient by the standards of his teammates as he, depressingly, was the only player on the Villa team sheet born in the 90’s. Christian Purslow has outlined his aim for the future of the academy, with highly talented 18 and 19-years-old populating the U-23’s and Rowe does not fit this model. However, with a fantastic through-ball for the goal he has created a special memory in a Villa shirt, regardless of where his future may lie. A performance like that after recently returning from a knee injury, in addition to his comfort in many positions across the pitch, makes him a useful player in the U-23 set up for the moment.

Kaine Kesler (Hayden) (17) – Right-back/ Right-midfield – England

Usually playing at right-back, he was included on the first-team bench for the game against Everton at the end of last season and has frequently trained with the senior squad. The recent success of the first-team with a very set starting lineup may not work to the favour of academy prospects, but he is seen as one of the brighter stars of the U-23 side by Smith.

Arjan Raikhy (18) – Centre-midfield – England

Three goals and one assist in eight U18 games is a good return for the promising midfielder, especially when a looping 35-yard volley is amongst them. It was always going to be a frustrating chase against a strong Liverpool midfield, but as with everyone else on the pitch, Raikhy represented himself and the club excellently.

Mamadou Dialla Sylla (18) – Defensive midfielder – Spain/ Guinea

A solid defensive midfielder, Barcelona-born and of Guinean heritage, he has already progressed from the U-18 side to make more frequent appearances in the U-23 team. Spain have reportedly been interested in bringing Sylla into their national youth set-up, high praise indeed considering the quality of academies in the country. Whilst he has not had experience at any of the more established Spanish youth club sides, his progress at Villa has been enough to warrant such interest.

Lamare Bogarde (17) – Centre-back/ Defensive midfielder – Netherlands

Positionally similar to Sylla and the second player on the team sheet to come from a famous sporting family, the nephew of ex-Chelsea player Winston signed from Feyenoord in the summer. He fits the Purslow ideal of a teenager with enough quality to play in the PL2 and is an indicator of the longer term changes being made in the academy. He is a player with a very good reputation and the management in the youth set-up will expect him to progress to be a permanent member of the U-23’s soon with hopes for successful longer-term development. The new contract is a sign of faith in his ability – the coaching staff will be optimistic that he can repay this.

Ben Chrisene (17) – Centre-midfield/ Left-midfield – England

Chrisene, the youngest player on the team sheet, joined Villa from Exeter (the same academy that produced Ollie Watkins) last summer despite interest from Liverpool and Chelsea. Despite his age, the few senior appearances he made at his former club suggest that he was more acclimatised to men’s football than many others on the pitch in claret and blue. As one of the more high-profile academy captures, big things are expected and by all accounts he’s started to show signs of real potential as a controlling midfield operator that is very comfortable on the ball. With a professional contract awarded after such a short time at the club, it’s evident that his ability for his age exceeds that of many of his peers. Expect him to be fast-tracked through the academy sides. 

Louie Barry (17) – Striker – England

The star of the side. All fans want to see one of their own come through the ranks, a local lad playing in front of the crowd that he was a part of when growing up – Louie Barry fits this perfectly and, whilst you shouldn’t have a favorite child, is the one we’re most keen to see develop.

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Starting at West Brom before a high profile move to Barcelona (becoming the first Englishman to be in La Masia academy), Barry signed for his boyhood club in January 2020. He played for West Brom’s U-23 side at 15, Barca’s U-19 side at 16, and has represented both England and the Republic of Ireland at youth level – for the Three Lions, he has 7 goals in 10 games for the U-16’s and 4 in 7 for the U-17’s. The move to Barca and interest from PSG show how highly rated he is and it is rather fortunate that he is a Villa fan – this may have allowed us to snap up one of the best English talents of his age group.

His goal was the highlight of the game, intelligently running across the defender before a clinical and confident finish. Klopp described him as a “little Jamie Vardy” and the comparison is a fair one based on that moment. There have been cries to bring him into the first team fold as support for Watkins, although upon first glance it seems that he is a different type of player, acting as more of a poacher on the shoulder of a defender than having the physicality and stamina at the moment to be the focal point linking up play.

His talent is evident – as soon as he was through on goal, you knew he’d score. Dean Smith may look to include him in the senior set-up as a different attacking option but will only do so if he feels there is benefit to the player and to the team.

Whilst he may have to be patient for his second Villa start, there is a strong argument to say that in one game he has made more of an impression of being a natural goal scorer than Keinan Davis has.

Fans will be keen to see him included in the first team with greater frequency and if his development is managed properly, there is no reason that Barry couldn’t become a big part of the future of the club.

Currently there is no rush to unnecessarily fast-track him to Premier League football; by allowing him to naturally develop, and continuing a policy of bringing in quality youth players to star alongside him, hopefully Villa will be blessed with a generation of good players, as opposed to just a one-off hope.