Carlisle United can confirm that academy midfielder Keelan Leslie has been offered a six-month professional contract as the season draws to a close for the current crop of second-year scholars.
Leslie, 18 next month, has captained the under-18 side this season and has become known as a set-piece specialist, with an excellent delivery from dead ball situations.
The attack-minded playmaker joins wide man Lewis Bell in the professional ranks, with Bell having been offered a two-year deal (with an option) earlier this season.
Bell, who turned 18 in September, also completes his scholarship this month and has already made three senior appearances for the club.
Meanwhile the club gives its best wishes to second years Elliott Day, Isaac Robinson, Lewis Rooks, Roan Steele, Ryan Swailes and Adam Walton who will move on to their new challenges at the end of the current campaign.
Director of Football David Holdsworth said: “I think everyone agrees this is one of the toughest days in football at any club.
“The good side of it is when you’re offering a contract, because you know how much it means to these young men.
“Obviously we knew about Lewis Bell, and his two-year deal, and we’ve also now offered Keelan Leslie a short-term deal. We hope that what comes next for those two lads is a really bright future.
“We’re trying to provide a pathway to a successful professional career for these young men and they know that the hard work has to be done by them to achieve that.
“We’ll give them the tools, but it has to come from them having the desire and determination to make it happen.”
“With Keelan, we’ve gone with the six-month deal because we think there’s something there with him,” he added. “It’s wrong for clubs to stock up with players, never use them and leave them thinking that they aren’t getting the support they feel they need.
“We must continue to try to balance that with the objective of bringing players through who will play regularly. I’ve watched Keelan a lot and I do feel there’s something there.
“By his own admission he knows he has more to offer, so we want to give him an opportunity to challenge himself and step up. If he flourishes in the senior domain, fantastic, and we do think he has a chance to do just that.
“The most enjoyable part of the job is seeing local boys come through. The challenge is there for them to face and we’ll be there to advise and assist as they hopefully push on.”
On the players released, he commented: “It’s such a difficult day because we’re talking about lads who have been in our academy for a long time, and who have had their families supporting them every step of the way.
“They do that together in the hope that their son will get through to the next stage. That’s why the lads who have been released will have the full support of everybody at the club, myself included, going forward. If there’s anything we can do to help them as they move on, we will do it.
“Whilst the pathway has been shut off here, due to the decisions the academy has had to make, we still want to support them going forward and I’ve given them my assurance that we will be here for them, whenever they need us.
“I feel we have a duty of care to these players, even after they’ve been released, and I also feel that we should operate in that way with anyone we’ve employed here at the football club.
“These lads have all worked extremely hard over the past 18 months. They’ve shown a fantastic attitude around the building and they’ve been very good to work with.
“They haven’t given us any cause for concern whatsoever and that’s full credit to them and to the way they’ve been brought up and coached.
“That’s why we will help them if they need us. Football is a tough environment and it’s always about developing players of all ages to help you, as a club, achieve your aims.
“Some players here recently have come through and gone on to get opportunities at the highest level, others have left the club to play for teams lower down the pyramid. That’s football, but we want to help every player we deal with, whatever the outcome is for them as individuals.”
Academy manager Eric Kinder said: “Lewis Bell has obviously had his deal for a while and we were all delighted for him. Keelan has been offered a short-term contract, and he has to think about whether that is the right decision for him, so he’ll be given time to consider that.
“For the rest of them it is obviously really bad news. It’s always the worst day of the year, you get used to it, but it doesn’t get any easier. I felt sorry for all of them because the last two years with them has been so enjoyable.
“We were fourth in the league when it finished last season and this year we can only finish as low as fourth, so they’ve given it their all in their two years as a youth team player.
“They’ve had so much joy through it all, then this day comes and the decision is made that the club feels they can’t progress any further, which I completely understand, and they have to move on and start their lives again.”
“It’s been a really strange 12-months for them as well,” he told us. “They’ve had a lot to deal with. Their first year was cut short and their second year didn’t start until September.
“They’ve got on with it, they’ve worked hard and done everything that has been asked of them. When people do that for you and work as hard as these lads have, it’s a really difficult day to tell them that it’s come to an end.
“These decisions have to be made, it is a business and all clubs have been hit hard during the pandemic. That doesn’t make the decisions any easier because they’ve been a credit to themselves and the club. This is probably the hardest one of these days that I’ve had to do.
“All of the lads have been told that everybody here will be there for them if they want any help with anything. I’ll help in any way I can, it doesn’t have to be football, it can be any path they choose to follow. If they feel I can assist them in any way, I’ll be there for them, and they know that.
“Some have dealt with it better than others, and I’ve worked with them all closely for two years so I knew how each one of them would react. They were given a few days off over the weekend to get their heads clear, and now we’ll start talking to them about their next steps.
“It was no good having a serious conversation with any of them just after they’d been told what the decisions were because they wouldn’t have been able to listen. I’ve always found it works best if you leave them for a couple of days before you start talking about their futures.
“What I can say, hand on heart, is that I wish every one of them all the best. They really are a great bunch of young men.”