By Lewis Michie
*All Photo and video credit to AFC Media*
Aberdeen have found a lot of success in bringing players through from their youth side into the first team – Scott McKenna, Dean Campbell, Scott Wright, Connor McLennan and Bruce Anderson have all found varying degrees of success.
While someone like Scott Wright hasn’t quite made the impact Scott McKenna has – all of these players are making an impact of some sort. At the very least, that’s five places in Aberdeen’s squad filled by players they didn’t have to pay a penny in transfer fees for.
So, who’s next?
I’ve had the chance to watch a decent amount of both the developmental team, as well as the reserve side over this past year. Both have made it to the cup finals of their respective cup competitions – unfortunately those might never be completed – and the Dev side were undefeated in the league up until just a few games ago, when they were beaten by Rangers.
We won’t be touching on players out on loan here – but of course Miko Virtanen and Ethan Ross are two to keep your eyes on going into next season – whenever that might be.
The 17-year-old, originally from Elgin, often doesn’t have much to do – but when he does, he gives enough reason to suggest he has a future in the game. The majority of the games I’ve watched Ritchie in, he was actually 16. You can quickly forget that when watching him play.
There is a maturity in the way the goalkeeper sets out instructions to his team-mates, he’s quick off of his line to meet an attacker through on goal and commands his box well.
At times the distribution can be a bit slow from the keeper, Aberdeen have such pace in wide spaces they can do real damage on the counter, but you’d rather have a safety first type goalkeeper than a erratic one.
Here’s Ritchie making the most of the on-going lockdown:
On another note regarding these videos posted to the AFC Academy Twitter, have a look through them for a range of content focusing on training and development of varying age groups.
I’ve seen Calvin Ramsey play in various positions, mostly right-back and on quite a few occasions he’s played in the centre of midfield, a luxury for this squad that have another couple of versatile full-backs to pick from.
You might remember the name – Ramsey made the match-day squad for some of Aberdeen’s Europa League qualifiers earlier this season and Derek Mcinnes had actually said he’d have had him in earlier, but had to wait for him to turn 16.
While Ramsey more often plays as a full-back, his attributes probably suit playing centrally in the midfield a bit more. He’s a decent size, but probably just a little bit short of being a central defender, has composure on the ball, a good pass and links up well with the likes of Connor Barron.
He’s also proficient with both feet, and has a goal or two in him, as shown here:
He still plays well as a full-back, but if you are to compare him to the likes of Shay Logan, Ronald Hernandez and Greg Leigh – he doesn’t quite have their pace or ability to take on a man. And of course the arrival of Hernandez would probably suggest Ramsey is best of focusing on being a midfielder to try and get some game-time, although that’s a crowded area as well.
I’d suggest Ramsey is more than likely going to end up playing in the midfield next season for the developmental team. Other full-backs will remain eligible for the CAS Under 18 league, but Connor Barron likely won’t be and Max Barry for sure won’t be – the two most commonly used central midfielders this season.
The versatility of the youngster certainly puts him in a good position to try and break in to the first team in the years to come. Playing multiple positions is quality a lot of the main squad have, and it shows in the youth set-up too.
And here is another example of training set by the club during the lockdown:
As is a theme with many of these players – you can watch them forget and just how young they are. Central defender Luke Turner doesn’t turn 18 until next month.
The powerful defender has probably had to grow up pretty quickly – moving over from Ireland in the Summer of 2018.
He’d impressed at Shamrock Rovers – and ever since coming to the Granite City, the big man has made a home at the heart of the Dons defense. His partner can change, but when fit, it’s more than likely he will be playing.
Turner’s size and style of play is quite reminiscent of Scott McKenna. Like McKenna, he is expected to be winning headers, he’s happy to have the ball at his feet but keeps it simple and doesn’t press too far up the pitch to avoid being beaten in a foot-race by a quicker opposition striker.
Turner also turns out quite often for the deserve side – but of course being a year older than many of his team-mates means he will have to make more use of that opportunity next season – as he won’t be with the developmental team – and might be of interest for lower league sides on loan.
The Captain of the side, the player that makes the team tick, and very clearly on the radar of Derek Mcinnes. The future looks bright for Connor Barron.
Barron has been on the bench for the first-team a few times this season: including away at Ibrox.
Barron will turn 18 at the end of August – so under normal circumstances, it’s my understanding that would have meant he could player another season in the dev side.
Of course it’s unlikely the new Under 18 season will kick-off by then – but potentially rules might be relaxed on the basis of the covid-19 pandemic, we will wait and see.
Nonetheless, the Dons might not even want Barron playing in that division anyway.
What would be described as a bit of a deep playmaker, Barron won’t be scoring many goals – other than from the penalty spot – Barron scored a hat-trick of spot kicks against Celtic earlier this season.
Here is another example of training throughout his time with the Dons, but have a look at the end for a fantastic example of Barron’s passing:
The Youth International is constantly in space – too often for it to be coincidence or opposition negligence, and uses it to control the game. The range of passing is often the best on the pitch and Barron has a tough tackling nature too.
Barron plays like you might find a Dylan McGeouch or Funso Ojo doing at Pittodrie now – earlier in the season in a reserve game against Ross County in Peterhead I’d seen Derek Mcinnes come down from the stand to instruct Barron directly. It only took a phase or two of play for Barron to seemingly pick up on what he’d been told and put it into action against a solid County midfield.
Barron is on the smaller side in comparison to his team-mates, but this break is surely giving plenty of time for a growth spurt – and it’s not like it has held him back to this point.
A loan might be the next option if Barron can’t play in the CAS Under 18’s next season – but any manager taking the gamble will need to be convinced he won’t be bullied in League One or Two.
When the head of the academy is asked at a supporters dinner who they see as the next big thing to come out of the club’s youth system, and they say you, that certainly says something.
It therefore doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Neil Simpson spends many games up at Cormack Park standing by the side of the pitch Hanratty is on and giving him praise/a few instructions.
Part of that is because you could describe the tricky winger as a bit of a hot-head. He’s the player in these games you’ll see most often involved in a scrap or two with the opposition, you can see him getting visibly frustrated at times.
What makes Hanratty different is the fact he then picks up the ball and more often than not takes his frustration out by flying by a full-back, or nutmegging an opposition player, or scoring.
He’s got bags of pace, the quickest feet on the pitch, a lanky frame and certainly is stronger than he looks, can shoot, can cross – he’s got everything you’d want in a winger.
What’s impressive about Hanratty is he has quick feet like Ryan Hedges – but he’s also got the pace of a Connor McLennan, and the ability to cross a ball or pull it back like Niall McGinn.
On top of all of that: He’s only just turned 17.
This video is obviously from a little while ago, but it shows exactly what Hanratty is about:
As does this one:
So Hanratty could spend another season in the Dev league, likely being on of the best players – and I could see that happening, but his pace alone might tempt a few lower league clubs with a loan, especially when they realise he isn’t as light-weight as you might expect a 17-year-old winger to be.
I keep referring to him as winger, he can certainly play that role just like he can play as more of an inside forward, or as a 10 – the first time I’d seen him play he was an out-and-out striker, he didn’t have a great match that day, but he’s grown physically since then. I could even see him operating as an emergency central midfielder too.
Watch this space.
It might feel like this name has been around for a while, that’s probably because Michael’s brother David is also with the club. He’s been out on loan this season with Stranraer.
The striker will turn 17 at the end of this month, so another season with the dev squad looks likely, but all season this guy has been bullying defenders – so much so that if a club like Peterhead came in for him next season, I think he would make the step up physically – and he’s got a good chance of bringing the goals too.
In a similar vain to Sam Cosgrove, you cannot afford as a defender to think you’ll just have a physical battle all day with Dangana. Otherwise he can turn you and be off in an instant, he’s not your stereotypical not all that mobile target man.
The comparison to Cosgrove you’d imagine will help Dangana in the future, he’d fit into the style of play Aberdeen often want their strikers to fulfill.
And again, you can’t get bogged down in looking at how physically good this player is – because he’s got quick feet too, as well as a tidy finish.
He just has a knack of effecting games. Almost every game I’ve seen him in he’s had an impact, be it a goal – or on a few occasions, winning a penalty.
He’s one of those strikers that can have a ‘Quiet day’ and walk away with two goals after 90 minutes, those two goals will be the two things you remember him doing – but pay closer attention and his battle with the defenders and constant off the ball runs have made things easier for his team-mates.
There were two clips of Dangana I wanted to include but could find either. So let me try my best to describe them – both of which came in the same game.
A Youth-Cup Quarter-Final at Balmoral Stadium on a cold week day night. Despite a lot of possession for the Dons and a few close calls, St Johnstone had taken the lead early in the second half and going into the last 15 minutes it looked like it might just be one of those days.
Dangana had been crowded out in and around the box for most of the day, so he drops deep, flicks the ball on with a lovely back heel into the path of Lyall Booth who crosses for Hanratty to lash home.
The second comes in extra-time of that game. Dangana this time pulls to the edge of the box, gathers the ball and curls in into the top corner – he changed that game, and without him, Aberdeen likely would have dropped out the tournament.
It’s a crowded area right now being a striker at Aberdeen. Sam Cosgrove, Curtis Main and Bruce Anderson are all in the first team – plus you’ve got Michael’s brother David to return to the club and of course there is Michael Ruth who signed last summer from Queen’s Park. I could have included him in this list, he’s one of the brightest talents at Cormack Park, as is Mark Gallagher who signed from Ross County in January – but I’ve not seen either often enough to give you as much detail on them.
This summer will be interesting – or whenever contracts end up actually being sorted.
Barron and Turner as well as the likes of forwards Lewis Duncan and Kieran Shanks defender Kyle Dalling, midfielder Max Barry and of course Gallagher and Ruth will all be above the age for the CAS Under 18’s.
This means they join guys like Seb Ross, Jack Mackenzie and Lloyd Robertson in that group of too old for the youth side, but likely unable to break into the first team.
Players like Miko Virtanen and Ethan Ross will return from loan as well.
So there will likely be four groups these guys will be sorted in to: On the fringe of the first-team/regular in the reserves, regular in the reserves, offered out on loan, released.
In addition to this, the lads leaving the Under 18’s will be needing replaced. The likes of Ryan Duncan (Brother of Lewis) and Finn Yates have started coming into the side as of late. They’ve both been involved internationally.
Names such as theirs, Lyall Booth, Tyler Mytaka and of course those still around for another year are the ones to look out for this time next year.