It’s not often a gem from the Bradford City academy makes it to the first-team without being snapped up by a higher-league club, but Reece Staunton is one star that could break into the senior side next season.
There haven’t been many academy graduates consolidate their place in Bradford City’s first-team in recent years, but the academy setup has certainly improved of late.
Former Bantams bosses Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars, who previously worked within the academy, really helped to nurture and coach the youngsters coming through the ranks at Valley Parade.
With Trueman remaining as part of the coaching staff under Mark Hughes, this will certainly help to bridge the gap between the academy and first-team, allowing players like Staunton to begin to flourish.
The 20-year-old has been in and around the first-team picture for a number of years already, making his professional debut aged 15 years and 332 days in November 2017.
However, it wasn’t until the 2020/21 season that Staunton first had a real run in the first-team. Stuart McCall trusted the youngster on the left side of a back three, and his faith proved to be well-placed as he impressed in a struggling defence.
He then scored his first professional goal against Exeter City in November 2020.
Following Staunton’s breakthrough season, Derek Adams was appointed manager of the club. Adams likes a particular type of player, and usually relies on players who already have first-team experience. This meant a number of the younger members of the squad were loan-listed, including Staunton, who signed on loan for city-neighbours Bradford Park Avenue.
Park Avenue manager Mark Bower was impressed with Staunton’s quality, and with how he had become more physical since his first loan spell at the club during the 2019/20 season.
Now aged 20, and with a coach of the calibre and experience of Hughes in charge, Staunton will be hoping to cement his place in and around the first-team picture.
While this may mean not starting every game, Staunton’s versatility could prove vital in the upcoming campaign. Bradford City fans have already seen Hughes switch between a back four and a back three mid-game, which may see Staunton used as a left-sided centre-back at times.
Hughes’ style of play is much more possession-based compared to Adams, which again will suit Staunton, who has proved in previous appearances to be very comfortable on the ball.
With uncertainty around the future of captain Paudie O’Connor and a shortage of central defenders, this year could be the year that Staunton finally has the chance to fulfil his potential and cement a place in the first-team.