Matt Wonnacott, Goalkeeper of Torquay United u18s during the South West Counties u18s League, Gary Else Memorial League Cup Final match between Bridgwater United u18s and Torquay United u18s at Fairfax Park on 22 April 2022. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Torquay United working on ways to bridge gap between under-18 level and first team

Dave Thomas

Torquay United are working on ways to stop bigger clubs raiding their youth academy, as Championship side Wigan Athletic have just done with promising goalkeeper Matt Wonnacott.

The Gulls stand to earn nothing from the departure of 16-year-old Wonnacott, one of the stars of their treble-winning under-18 side, after he turned down a two-year deal at Plainmoor to join the Latics.

As a National League club, United receive none of the £300,000-a-year Premier League funding which EFL clubs get to help run their academies.

So they want to increase the chances of keeping their best youngsters, possibly in conjunction with South Devon College, where they already have a close link to its Pro:Direct Academy.

United are also working on better ways to bridge the gap between under-18 level and their first team.

They are poised to offer pro contracts to at least two more of their youth team in the near future, and manager Gary Johnson has also retained striker Olaf Koszela and midfielder Alex Moyse, both academy graduates, to his senior squad.

Head of youth Chris Todd stressed: “Matty and his family have been very committed to Torquay, and I know they would have jumped at signing here normally.

“But when a club like Wigan comes along, it’s obviously a big pull. It’s disappointing but we wish him all the best.”

Todd – he’s just completed his UEFA ‘A’ coaching licence alongside ex-Premier League stars Yaya Toure (Man City) and Gael Clichy (Arsenal) among others – added: “It’s wrong but at the moment there’s nothing to stop higher teams taking young under-18 lads from clubs like us.

“When the boys turn 16, we should be able to give them a club registration, and then you have some say in their future.”

Wonnacott is the second young Torquay goalie to join Wigan in recent years – Dan Lavercombe, now with FC United of Manchester, cost the Latics £30,000 in January 2016, but he was 19 at the time.