Ashley Nathaniel-George has become the first player to sign for a professional club out of the Jamie Vardy V9 Academy this year.
Vardy, who played Non-League football for Stocksbridge Park Steels, FC Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town, has dipped into his own pocket to ensure the second year of the five-day training camp would follow-up last season’s success – and it’s already paying off.
In all, 42 players from Non-League, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were selected for the Academy which was held at Manchester City’s Etihad Campus last week.
Over 150 invited scouts attended along with several managers, including Southend United boss Chris Powell and Morecambe chief Jim Bentley.
Hendon winger Nathaniel-George has landed the first move, stepping up three divisions to sign for Harry Kewell’s Crawley Town on a two-year deal in League Two.
He told The NLP: “I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed for this opportunity and I can’t wait to get started.
“It was my goal from a kid to play as high as I can. Hopefully one day I can make the Premier League but everyone has to start somewhere. I’ve just tried to work hard because you never know what might happen. Life changes quick and football can too.
“I’m looking forward to getting started at Crawley. I remember watching him (Harry Kewell) for Liverpool when I was younger. He’s been there and done it. He’s won the Champions League and been to World Cups. He played in a similar position as well, hopefully I can learn a lot from him.”
The 23-year-old began his career at Arsenal but was released when he was 14 and went on to Watford and Wycombe.
Nathaniel-George joined Stanmore College, who have a scholarship programme with Wealdstone, but a two-year injury set him back after he graduated.
Potters Bar Town gave him a chance and then Gary McCann signed him at Hendon, where he made his mark, scoring 17 goals in 59 appearances as they lost in the Bostik Premier play-off final to Dulwich Hamlet.
In its first season, the Academy saw four players earn Football League deals and one a move to the Scottish Premier League. Vardy was in attendance last Friday, just hours after playing for England at Elland Road, to cast his eye over the latest recruits.
“After my injury it was about finding my feet again. It was about playing regularly and getting back,” added Nathaniel-George, who attracted interest from scouts throughout the season.
“I did well at Potters Bar under Steve Ringrose and James Duncan. I went to Hendon and it was good there. All my teammates and staff were good to me. I was happy to be there. Gary helped me a lot, he believed in me and I’m thankful for what he did.
“The Academy was really good, I’m glad I did it. It was an insight as to how professional footballers at the top level train.
“Everyone tried their best and it was good to be around people who are trying to make it at the top like me. Jamie Vardy told us to try our best and that it was our opportunity to show what we could do. He’s been there and done it so he knows what it’s like.”
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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