Hatters boss wants to restart the conveyor belt of young talent coming through at Kenilworth Road

Luton boss Nathan JonesLuton boss Nathan Jones
Luton boss Nathan Jones
Town chief eyes a stronger academy at Luton

Hatters boss Nathan Jones is hoping to restart the conveyor belt of talent, that the club were once renowned for, coming through the ranks at Kenilworth Road again.

The Luton chief’s coaching career was steeped in youth development during its early days, as after a spell as player coach at Yeovil Town, he went to Charlton Athletic as U21 professional development coach in 2012, before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion a year later.

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It was at the Valley he worked with someone who was soon to become his footballing mentor, Paul Hart, the former Blackpool and Leeds defender doing wonders when back at Elland Road as academy director in the 1990s, winning the FA Youth Cup twice and bringing through players such as Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith and Harry Kewell.

He had similar success with Nottingham Forest, as David Prutton and Jermaine Jenas were both products of his efforts with the academy, something Jones is keen for him to do having been named in the same role for the Hatters back in April.

Jones himself has handed 15 debuts to homegrown talents during his two spells in charge of Luton, with Sam Beckwith, Jake Peck, Josh Neufville, Jack James, Arthur Read, Freddie Hinds, Jack Snelus, Kavan Cotter, Craig King, Connor Tomlinson, Alex Atkinson, Akin Famewo, Tyreeq Bakinson, James Justin and Freddie Musonda all getting an opportunity.

He has only used four of them, Justin, Famewo, Bakinson and Musonda in a league match though, with the stand-out success story clearly Justin, sold to Premier League Leicester City in 2019 for a club record fee that could rise to £8m, the defender now a full England international as well.

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Fellow graduate Famewo has played once in the top flight, racking up over 100 senior appearances for St Mirren, Grimsby and most recently Charlton, ahead of his move to Sheffield Wednesday this summer, as has Bakinson, who finished the season on loan at Ipswich Town from Bristol City, with Musonda a full Zambian international and snapped up by Ayr United following his release by Raith Rovers.

The others have had less success, although Neufville remains at Kenilworth Road and has been loaned to League Two Sutton United to gain some valuable Football League experience this term.

With Luton having such a rich tapestry of brining their own players through in the past, with the likes of Curtis Davies, Kevin Foley, Kelvin Davis, Matthew Upson, Matthew Taylor and Leon Barnett all starting out in Bedfordshire, although remaining realistic with the Hatters now a Championship side and almost reaching the Premier League last term, it’s something Jones would like to see become a more regular occurrence again.

He said: “We had been going away from the academy, with the greatest of respect, because of how the first team had developed.

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“So, it was very difficult for the academy to keep pace, not because there was bad work being done, but because it was very difficult.

“Now, we believe we’ve given it a catalyst that can get it closer to what we do and be aligned.

"We believe that it won’t happen overnight but, in time, we want to produce, not just a conveyor belt of talent but a conveyor belt of players that can have careers for Luton.

“If not Luton then others and that’s what we want to be associated.

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“Luton’s had a real good track record of producing talent, so now we think we’re stronger.

"We’ve employed coaches that we feel are aligned to how we go about doing things.

“I want there to be a real golden thread that goes right throughout.

"Myself and Gary (Sweet, chief executive), for example, and the people at the top end of the football club, the work ethic that we have, the values that we hold and are dear to us, come out in the DNA of the football club and I want the academy to mirror that.”