Aberdeen’s returning loan stars will be given the chance to push for a first team slot during pre-season, confirmed boss Jim Goodwin.
A number of rising Pittodrie teens enjoyed successful loan spells in the Scottish lower leagues in the recently finished season.
Goodwin confirmed they will be part of the first team squad during pre-season.
The Reds gaffer will assess the returning loan stars to see if they can follow in the footsteps of Connor Barron into the first team.
Teenager Barron, 19, had a successful loan spell at Kelty Hearts in the first half of the season.
The midfielder was recalled to Pittodrie in January this year and became a regular first team starter under Goodwin.
Goodwin said: “We have some very good players who have been out on loan and had great development this season. They will come back and be part of the squad during pre-season.
“We will assess them then and see how they cope in terms of being around that first team environment.
“It is going to be a very competitive squad and we need to make the right decision on those younger lads.
“Do they stay here with us and train with the first team? Or do they go back out on loan again – maybe go out at a higher level?”
Title-winning success for Ngwenya
Teenage left-back Kieran Ngwenya secured a League Two title winner’s medal during a season-long loan spell at Kelty Hearts.
The 19-year-old started 24 games for Kelty, with another three appearances off the bench, in the title-winning season.
Ngwenya has already been capped at senior international level.
The teen defender has made two substitute appearances for Aberdeen.
He made his debut in a 2-0 defeat of Ross County on December 12, 2020.
Ngwenya signed a contract extension in September 2021 tying him to Aberdeen until summer 2024.
Development Player of the Year Duncan
A groin injury hampered Duncan during the first half of the season.
He made a comeback in December and became a regular first team starter for the Blue Toon.
Scotland Under-19 international Duncan penned a contract extension in December last year until summer 2024.
Duncan was called into the Scotland U19 squad for the Euro qualifiers with Turkey, Hungary and Israel between March 23 and 29.
The 18-year-old made his first team debut for the Dons in a 4-0 defeat against Rangers at Ibrox in November 2020.
Duncan was named Aberdeen’s Development Player of the Year at the club’s annual awards ceremony earlier this month.
Teens lighting up lower leagues
Left-sided defender Evan Towler, 17, spent the second half of the season on loan at League Two side Elgin City.
Left-sided centre-back Mason Hancock, meanwhile, spent the second half of the season on loan at League Two Stirling Albion.
Hancock, 19, made 13 starts with one further appearance off the bench.
The defender, who was part of the Fulham Academy, joined the Dons in August 2020 having impressed on trial.
He captained the Aberdeen B side in the Challenge Cup this season in wins over Brora Rangers and Arbroath.
Hancock, who penned a one-year contract extension in January this year, has been on the bench for the Aberdeen first team.
Goodwin said: “The guys within the Youth Academy are doing a great job and you can see the investment in it.
“There are some talented players there and it is my job as manager to show the pathways are there.
“It is important for any manager to develop young players from within.
“That has got to be the model of any successful football club.”
Barron an example of pathway
Teenagers Barron and right-back Calvin Ramsay are both shining lights of the possibilities open to young talent at Pittodrie.
Ramsay, 18, made his debut in March 2021 and has become a first team regular and Scotland U21 international.
The teen right-back was named Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year.
That fee could rise to as high as £6m with achievable add-ons.
Barron was recalled from his season-long loan at Kelty Hearts in January.
Within days of returning to Pittodrie, he penned a contract extension.
The following week he made his Aberdeen debut as a substitute in the 3-0 Scottish Cup defeat of Edinburgh City.
Barron made his first start in the 2-1 Scottish Cup loss at Motherwell, the final match of former manager Stephen Glass’ tenure.
The teen retained his starting slot under Goodwin following his appointment in February.
Barron’s meteoric rise saw him also break into the Scotland U21 squad, earning two caps.
He is in the U21 squad for the Euro qualifiers with Belgium and Denmark next month.
Barron was short-listed for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, along with Pittodrie team-mate Ramsay.
Barron and Pittodrie team-mate Ngwenya both played a key role in Kelty’s title winning season.
Goodwin said: “The boys did very well and contributed massive to Kelty’s success this year.
“To have had two players involved at that level winning something is great for us.
“It is very early in their careers to say they have already won a medal and won a promotion already.
“It’s great for Kieran and a really good platform for him to show how good he is.”