I personally think this is a vital ingredient in Newcastle’s progression and a big reason why clubs like Man Utd and Arsenal dominated in Premier League years gone by. Proven acquisitons are needed for immediate improvement but a strong and prosperous youth set-up is what gives you real strength in depth.
There has been a lot of talk from Newcastle in the past couple of years about their desire to search high and low for promising youth talent, both at home and in Europe, so we can develop our stars of tomorrow from within and not always be forced to spend inflated prices on players in order to maintain a strong squad.
The most recent and well known acquisition who falls into this category would obviously be Mehdi Abeid. All in sundry have been impressed by what they have seen from him so far and he looks like he has all the potential to be a top player for Newcastle in the future, but there is another recent acquisition which interested me.
A homegrown talent, unknown to the masses before introducing himself in style with a hat-trick on his debut against Chelsea for the under 18’s. JJ Hooper seems to have taken to the step up from Sevenoaks Town FC extremely well, with 8 goals in 14 appearances this season and good all round performances besides.
As well as that, despite his age and relative inexperience, he has already made the step up to playing in the reserves on three occasions, coming on as a sub for his reserve debut to partner Peter Lovenkrands, and in doing so was unlucky not to bag himself a goal in the process.
Aside from catching my attention with his keen eye for goal, similar to Vuckic did when he first arrived, something which immediately stood out to me about Hooper was his physical stature for such a young lad. It is something a lot of academy players lack and, in my opinion, a big reason why some struggle to make the step up.
The English game is tough, especially at the higher level, and as well as the obvious technical ability required to make it, you have to have a presence on a pitch. I think Hooper has a good blend of both, and I was very interested in finding out more about the 18 year old Londoner.
With that in mind, and the fact most Newcastle fans know very little about him, I contacted JJ to see if he would be interested in answering some questions for an article.
Fair play to him, JJ was more than happy to help and will hopefully give Newcastle supporters an insight into life at the academy these days, as well as let them get to know a bit about the latest promising striker to come into the ranks at St. James’ Park. So without further adieu… JJ Hooper….
Are you enjoying your time on Tyneside so far? How has your life changed over the past year or so?
Yes I am enjoying my life up North alot so far, can’t complain, started off on the correct foot and have carried on in the same vein ever since! My life has changed so much in the last year. From being at school every day to playing at a Premier League club is an amazing turn around! I’m so lucky I have been offered this opportunity and don’t want it to stop.
Did any family or friends move up with you? If not, who are you close to at NUFC?
No I came up here by myself and live in accommodation that the club have provided, and I’m cool with the whole team, all the boys are nice and I get along with everyone.
Not many will have experienced a trial at such a big club. Describe briefly how you thought the trial went.
I thought my trial went really well actually, I went in confidently and with a goal that I wanted to achieve. I scored a couple goals and gave the team a different aspect of attacking play.
Hat-trick on your debut, 8 goals in 14 games, you seem to have hit the ground running at NUFC, but how do you think you’ve performed since signing?
Yeah hat-trick on my debut, it couldn’t get much better really could it! That kind of set a benchmark for me to perform at. My performances since have been okay, some good, some not so good but that’s to be expected. It’s just about trying to keep your average performances high!
Which player would you say you’re similar to in style at NUFC? or in the Premier League in general?
If I was to say one player I see myself as in the 1st team It would have to be Demba Ba, but apart from that in the Premier League I would say Drogba, Adebayor, someone of that stature.
What is your biggest asset on a pitch? What aspect of your game do you think needs most improvement?
My biggest asset on the pitch in my eyes would be my finishing, I would like to say I have an eye for the goal and know where it is. I think all of my game can be improved but if I would single something out it would be my aggression in the air.
What are your ambitions for the rest of this season and next? What do hope to achieve in your career?
My ambition for the rest of the year is to get in and around the reserves squad, and hopefully secure a professional contract at Newcastle. In my career I would like to achieve alot! Not going to say what but if you want to know your going to have to watch me to find out!
Do you think it will be beneficial to play academy & reserve games for the immediate future or would you possibly like to go on loan over the next season?
No definitely don’t want to go out on loan for now. Hopefully I would like to be starting games reserves and under 18s, all the players at Newcastle are of a high level. I have learnt a lot here and want to learn even more.
Do you think you have improved as a player in your time at NUFC? If so, how?
Yeah I feel as if I have improved a lot since I’ve been here. I think my confidence, my ability and mentally have improved drastically in my period of time at Newcastle.
You’re in an academy said to be brimming with talent. If you had to name one, who has the potential to be a big player in years to come?
I don’t think I could name one person! Every single boy at this club is very talented and all of them have a bright future, even if it’s not at Newcastle.
Finally, just on the NUFC 1st team. What you think of the season so far? Where can they finish?
Obviously I’m an Arsenal supporter and this year Newcastle are one of our closet rivals but they have had a brilliant season so far! Some big wins like the 3-0 against Man Utd gave them confidence to push on for a top 6 finish. At the end of the season I hope Newcastle are top 6!
As you can probably tell from his answers, JJ seems very confident in his own ability and has aspirations to play at the highest level. When you compare your playing style to players like Drogba, Adebayor or our adopted Geordie Demba Ba, that is a bold statement of intent to say the least.
It’s something I personally like to be honest. That deeply ingrained bed of confidence to get you through tough patches is something that is key, especially for young strikers. In saying that it also has to be balanced with work ethic and desire to improve.
It was actually what was most pleasing to see from JJ’s answers. Although confident, he seems very focused and driven. He seems to set clear goals for himself and very motivated towards achieving those goals. Most importantly though, he is aware of the need to be constantly improving aspects of his game. and smart enough to identify what exactly needs the most improvement.
As well as that he does not take for granted the opportunity he has at Newcastle. The question I asked about going on loan was one not designed to trip him up, rather get an insight into his character, and I really liked the response.
Although he is doing very well for his first season at a club of this stature and could easily have ideas above his station, he doesn’t. He feels he is improving all the time playing with the academy and reserves and regards it as hugely beneficial to keep on doing so.
It also says a lot for the improvement in Newcastle’s academy, that players are looking to develop their game internally, within our development structure and not looking elsewhere. As JJ said, there are a lot of genuinely talented lads at this club, with very bright futures ahead of them, hopefully in a Newcastle shirt.
We seem to be recruiting top quality youngsters who are raising the standard across the board for anyone looking to make the step up from academy level, a challenge which JJ seems to have reaped rewards from, admittedly improving ‘drastically’ in his time here.
The technical ability, character and application is there. If he keeps up his performances, attitude and level of dedication I personally think he has every chance of making it in years to come and is one to definitely keep an eye on whether it be for the academy or reserves in the closing months of the season and beyond.
I would just like to thank JJ for taking the time out to answer some questions. He seems like a genuine lad and wish him all the best for the future.
Hopefully we will see him pushing on in the academy and reserves over the next season, in-turn following in the footsteps of promising youngsters such as Haris Vuckic, Shane Ferguson, Sammy Ameobi and Mehdi Abeid who are breaking into our first team set-up now.
Exciting times for youth talent at Newcastle United and long may it continue.