Billy Wright runs the rule over the next batch of promising youngsters hoping to star in the Fulham academy this season …
Michael is a winger who can play on either wing, but his versatility is likely to see him deployed behind the strikers in a diamond for Steve Wigley’s under 18s this season. He joined Fulham from QPR in the summer of 2018 after learning his trade at the East Soccerbase Academy. Olakigbe has enormous potential and, with the right guidance and coaching could easily become another outstanding academy graduate to follow in the footsteps of Ryan Sessegnon and Marek Rodak from recent times.
The watchable winger, who qualifies for both England or Nigeria, has already drawn comparisons to Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha and the combination of his awesome technical ability and rapid pace leave you in no doubt as to why. Olakigbe scored an outstanding long-range strike against Reading in just his second start at under 18 level last year, demonstrating that he won’t be fazed by what is ahead of him. He’s got the ability to do the unexpected and is highly rated already at Motspur Park.
Xavier, a central defender who is also comfortable at right back or in the heart of the midfield, has been progressing through our the Fulham academy from the tender age of eight. The strong, athletic defender provides a real vocal presence on the pitch and his leadership qualities made him a successful captain of the under 16 side who form the bulk of this season’s scholars. The Puma athlete performed well during his outings for the under 18s pre-lockdown and, having been included in the under-23 squad for a PL2 fixture against Stoke back in February, it is clear that Fulham are impressed by his progress. With Michael Hector providing defensive coaching with the under 18s, Benjamin could pick up some valuable skills and understanding of the game from comfortably the best defender at the club.
Parkes usually operates on the left of a back four but has previously filled in as a left-sided centre half when needed. The full back is very comfortable with the ball at his feet and is also blessed with terrific defensive skills. He’s already widely regarded as one of the most promising prospects in the academy and should shine given the emphasis placed on possession-based football at all levels of the club.
Parkes has represented his country at youth level with distinction on several occasions and was recently named captain of England’s under 15s against Belgium. He joined Fulham’s academy after Brentford scrapped their set-up and has come on impressively during his time at Motspur Park. Blessed with a wand of a left food, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Stefan could follow in the footsteps of Ryan Sessegnon and break into the first team squad at a young age should his development continue at a such a speedy rate.
Imani is a strong, attacking-midfielder who loves to take on players with his brilliant dribbling ability. He’s been with Fulham’s academy since Under 11 age group, having previously being developed at Junior Elite, a programme known worldwide for developing players such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Emile Smith-Rowe.
A quiet individual, Imani tends to let his football do the talking – and he has a knack of both finding the net and creating goals for others. Lanquedoc is another youngster who is versatile, having shown he can operate successfully at right back. An eager tackler, who can break up opposition attacks and get Fulham going forward, means he’s far from a luxury player. Imani’s work ethic means he’ll cover plenty of ground and that industry should stand him in good stead as he looks to make an impact under Steve Wigley this year.
Jaylan is a tall, strong centre forward who joined Fulham’s academy last summer from Burton Albion. He scored a hatful of goals at under 16 level over the past year and he has the ability to be another freescoring member of Steve Wigley’s under 18 set up alongside the likes of Mika Biereth and Oliver Sanderson. Wildbore has already shown tremendous character to overcome the disappointment of being released by Leicester at just 12, channelling his desire into a fantastic spell with Burton Albion, where he had plenty of scouts monitoring his progress. Jaylan’s prodigious finishing ability prompted Fulham to strike a compensation deal with the Brewers to bring him to Motspur Park and the talented talisman will now look to take his under-16 form into the campaign ahead.
Dibley-Dias had a significant injury which saw him miss most of the 2019/20 campaign. Had he not been sidelined, the creative midfielder, who has shades of a young Phillipe Coutinho about him, would certainly have already been involved at under-18 level. Like Stefan Parkes, Matt joined the Fulham’s academy from our near neighbours Brentford. He’s a technically-gifted number ten with a real eye for goal. Fulham have high hopes for Dibley-Dias and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the coming months, with the injury setbacks hopefully behind him now.
Olly, a traditional centre forward, joined Fulham at Under 9 level and has already made a name for himself as a pacey forward, who loves to speed away from defences and score goals. Sanderson has regularly topped the goalscoring charts since signing for Fulham and he offers an outlet in tight games, giving his side the ability to go more direct when needed. Olly is one of the few scholars yet to feature for the under 18s, but that already shows just how much faith Fulham have in the youngster. He’s got a fantastic attitude and I have no doubt that he can flourish under Wigley and the academy coaches this season.