Trotters Talent: Part 54 – 25 Years of Bolton Academy Excellence

After quarter of a century managing Bolton Wanderers in Football Manager 21, a key focus of the save has been on producing players – so-called Trotter Talents – through our youth academy.

25 years since taking the reins at Macron Stadium, players coming through our academy have played for England, been responsible for the club becoming Champions of Europe 4 times, and winning the club’s first-ever and a further 9 Premier League titles. They’ve also been responsible for Bolton going from economic ruin to becoming financially stable and one of the richest clubs in the world.

This article will look back on the best players the academy has produced and reflect on some of the heroes that came through the ranks and where they ended up.

Trotter Talent legends

The club has produced all manner of heroic homegrown talents through the years, heading all the way back to our very first youth intake. Some of the fans’ favourites included:

Nigel Turner: The first academy product prospect to come through the Bolton ranks turned out to be among the most heroic. Nigel Turner came through our very first youth intake in 2021 and went on to make 444 Bolton league appearances as he led the club back to glory. He departed for Sheffield Wednesday when his contract expired in 2032, then had spells with Southend, Brentford and Walsall before returning to the club where he was loved the most for one last season before retiring in 2041.

Jack Salter: One of the most exciting early talents to come through the club was New Zealand centre-back Jack Salter. He came through the 2022 youth intake and became a top quality defender before departing for Derby in 2029. He went on to play for Shakhtar, Hamburg, Bournemouth and Rapid Vienna before retiring in 2043.

Nana Martin: Left-back Martin came through the academy in 2024 and made his debut the following season. He went on to make 375 league appearances for Bolton before joining Rangers in 2036. He finished his career in Scotland, playing for St. Mirren and Livingston before retiring in 2042 and is now an unemployed head of youth development.

David Roberts: Goalkeeper Roberts came through our academy in 2025 and racked up 292 league appearances, only conceding 289 goals. He’s still listed as the goalkeeper in our all-time best 11. He moved to Rangers for £7.5 million in 2036 and is just about to retire after leaving Ibrox.

Solomon Suraka: Attacking midfielder Suraka was possibly the player I was most excited about in the early years of this save. He came through in 2036 and scored 53 goals in 208 league games but never fully followed through on the potential I thought he had. After struggling in the Premier League for three seasons, he moved to Wolves for a huge £32.5 million in 2034 before moves to Middlesbrough, Derby and Brighton. A spell in France at Clermont Foot was followed by a move to Chicago Fire, where he’s still playing aged 33.

Lewis Gordon: Another exciting prospect at that time was midfielder Lewis Gordon, who came through in 2025 and had three seasons in the first-team before joining Birmingham for a huge £23.5 million in 2029. He joined Watford for £22 million three years later then Catania for £17 million in 2038. He came back to West Ham for a year and is now also in MLS with Real Salt Lake aged 35.

Liu Junyan: Another exciting midfield prospect was Chinese player Liu Junyan, who came thruogh the academy in 2027. Like Suraka, he didn’t really deliver on his promise but attracted a huge £20 million bid from Brentford in 2029. He only stayed there for one season when he was sold to Hibernian for £14.5 million, where he made 349 league appearances before retiring in 2043 aged just 32 and, seemingly, randomly changing his name to Natário!

Neal Vickers: One of our more surprising successes was utility man Neal Vickers who, despite not looking that great on paper, scored a hatful of goals for us in 2033 and 2034. He came through the academy in 2027 as an unfancied centre-back but was a bit of a Paul Warhurst as he could also play up front and in midfield. He only made 110 league appearances for us before moving to RB Salzburg for £14 million in 2035 and remains in Austria aged 33. He’s also scored 23 goals in 96 caps for Wales!

Luke Johnson: Midfielder Luke Johnson has been one of the biggest success stories from our academy. He came through in 2031 and helped us win our first league title in 2036 and first Champions League in 2040. He scored 20 goals in 281 league appearances before joining Spurs on a free in 2042 then Bournemouth for £22.5 million, where he remains for now aged 30.

Ray Johnston: Johnston came through in 2030 when we had a mass of good midfielders vying for places. He struggled to hold down a regular first-team place but made 83 league appearances for us before moving to Galatasaray for £21.5 million in 2036. He’s been superb for the Turks, scoring 41 in 284 league games and getting 45 assists in the last three seasons.

Tim Marshall: Another surprise success was goalkeeper Tim Marshall, who largely played second fiddle to Roberts after coming through in 2031. He only made 83 appearances for us before joining Cardiff for £22.5 million in 2039. He then earned three England caps before moves to Burnley and West Ham, where he’s still playing aged 29.

Aidan Main: While not the greatest left-back ever, Main did become our most expensive academy product when we sold him to Aston Villa for a massive £41.5 million in 2044. Now 25, he’s got 23 caps for Scotland and is a decent Premier League player.

Current Trotter Talents

The current first-team squad remains reliant on players that have come through the Bolton academy. The X players in the squad are:

Ildemar Testoni (GK): Testoni continues the academy’s trend of producing top quality goalkeepers. He came through the 2039 youth intake and is now recognised as a commanding goalkeeper and “the next Gordon Banks” with decent Premier League quality and room to grow into a good Premier League player. He’s made 18 league appearances but is nowhere near the standard of the brilliant Darlan.

Jack Barlow (D RL, M C, AM R): Barlow was the first Trotter Talent to earn an England cap and was one of the most exciting talents to come through the academy when he appeared in the 2035 youth intake. In his early days, he played as a right-winger until we moved to a narrow 4-3-1-2, when he settled into his natural right-back position. Now 26, he’s made 219 league appearances for Bolton, got 29 caps for England and is considered a leading Premier League player. However, his recent performances have been a serious concern.

Martin Preston (D C): Centre-back Martin Preston came through the 2038 youth intake but pretty much appeared out of nowhere as a world-class talent. The Radcliffe-born Bolton supporter is now 23 and has 83 league appearances for his boyhood club. He has also established himself as England’s first-choice centre-back, winning 18 caps and scoring once. He’s an excellent defender who could be a captain candidate when Lasse Hermansen departs the club.

Jack Bickley (M/AM C , ST C): Bickley is the third of our academy talents to play for England after becoming the first Trotter Talent to win the Best Under 21 Men’s Player award. The game considers him a forward but he’s very much a midfielder for us, playing in the Mezzala Attack role. Bickley came through the 2037 youth intake and has racked up 23 goals in 173 league appearances and 1 England caps. But, like Barlow, he struggled a little in the season just gone compared to some of his midfield rivals.

Adam Nolan (M C, ST C): Midfielder Nolan has been the headline grabbing product of our academy so far. The Manchester-born Bolton supporter appeared as a sensational looking 15-year-old in 2040 but it’s probably fair to say he’s struggled to find his role in the team. We tried him out as a makeshift striker for a season but he’s settled in to being our box-to-box midfielder over the last year or so. Still only 20, he has 24 goals in 145 league games but certainly needs to add more consistency to his game.

Brandon Fava (M/AM C): Fava is one of the victims of us havng such riches in the midfield department. On paper, he’s a decent Premier League player with room to grow but, now 22, he’s likely to become the latest academy product to boost our bank balance this summer.

Next generation of Trotter Talents

The Bolton youth production line continues to produce talents, albeit potentially not with the same frequency as we’ve seen in the past. Players in the ranks who are worth keeping an eye on include:

Rob Irwin (AM RL, ST C): Irwin came through our 2042 youth intake and is still suspected to have 5-star potential three years later. He scored his first Bolton goal last season before having a solid loan spell at Swansea, where he scored 10 goals.

Luke Dickens (GK): Dickens continues our tradition of producing great young goalkeepers and is also already being touted as “the next Gordon Banks.” He’s just been promoted to the first-team as our second backup keeper and, strangely for a lad from Torquay, is a Bolton supporter!

Zain Carey (M/AM C): Carey is a player that’s flirted with promotion to the first-team but definitely has potential to become a top quality midfielder. Still just 18, he has great mental attributes, has played nine league games and is already worth £19 million.

David Sherlock (M RL): Sherlock is a product of this year’s youth intake and looks a really exciting prospect. We need to adjust his position in some way, probably into a centre midfielder, but my coaches rate him as having 4.5-star potential which, at this club, is very much world-class.

Ivan Bone (AM RL, ST C): Another product of this year’s intake, Bone looks better than Sherlock and is already seeing improvements. The American striker is currently competing at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup at the age of 16 and should be a good prospect.

Matthew Harkin (D RLC): Also from this year’s intake is promising centre-back Harkin, who’s showing improvement and I hope will see some sort of Preston-esque surge in quality at some point.

Football World in 2045

We’ve not had much of a look around other leagues in previous reflection posts, even though we’ve seen some unusual clubs pop up in European competitions.

In Italy, not much has changed with Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus winning 20 of the 25 titles so far. Inter have won three and AC Milan two. However, the likes of Catania, Pisa, Chievo and SPAL have disrupted the elite and find themselves among European qualification positions. Interestingly, Lazio are down in Serie B after being relegated in 2043, Fiorentina just got promoted from Serie B, while Sassuolo are in Serie C.

Barcelona have dominated Spain with 13 titles along with seven for Real Madrid and five for Atletico. However, unusual teams have split the elite here too, with Cádiz finishing third this season and the likes of Gimnástic, Cartegena and Marbella reaching the Champions League in recent seasons. In fact, La Liga is fairly unrecognisable with the likes of Lugo, Andorra and Hércules also in the top tier. That’s thanks to some significant casualties with Valencia and Real Sociedad down in the second tier and Sevilla just getting relegated to the third tier, where they’ll compete alongside their reserve team!

Bayern won the first seven Bundesliga titles but have only won six of the following 18. Our bogey side Hertha BSC have become a real force, winning nine titles alongside Dortmund’s three.

Unsurprisingly, PSG, still managed by Thomas Tuchel, have won every title during this save – except for the first one, which Lyon won. Lille have become the dominant second power, finishing runners-up 10 years in a row, and Angers have finished third a few times. Clermont Foot finished second in 2035 and were relegated five years later, while Montpellier have been relegated three times but just finished third in the season just gone.

Porto have won every single title during this save in Portugal, where the only real surprise in quarter of a decade is Chaves finishing second this season. And Ajax have won all but three titles in Holland, where a shock winner saw SC Cambuur lift their first and only Eredevisie in 2039 only to drop straight back into mid-table and nearly get relegated in 2043.

Looking at the World profile page, Bolton are the most reputable club in the world and our former player Dragan Andric is considered the most reputable player. Our left-back Marco Brunori is, strangely, the only one of our players on that top list of players, despite Martial Diaby and Onur Kocaaslan being one and two in the Ballon d’Or! Also on the list are a host of PSG players, including the fantastic Baye Sagna, centre-back Ahmed Abdel Salam and legendary striker Ozughan Topcu. Other world-leading players are Barca’s Leonard Fru and Juve midfielder Leonard Francois.

Join us next time as we move past 25 years in the job and look to steer Bolton Wanderers to even greater levels of dominance at home and in Europe.

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