One look at Louie Sibley’s 2019/20 campaign, and you’d struggle to believe that he is still just 18 years of age. For this particular youngster, 2020 will be a year he’ll never forget.
Having been a part of the Derby County Academy since the age of eight, last season saw him successfully make the step up to the first team - and he did it in style, too, with a Man of the Match performance against Manchester United, a stunning long-range goal on his first start and a first-ever senior hat-trick on only his second league start.
Sibley was the 2017/18 Academy Player of the Year, signed his first professional contract as a second-year scholar and was a part of the U18 Derby side that were crowned National Champions. His rise up the ladder at Derby is something he is proud of, and as a Derby County fan playing for your boyhood club, who wouldn’t be?
"I joined the academy when I was an Under 8 player,” Sibley said, speaking at the 2020/21 EFL Season Launch.
"I knew when I turned up to Derby that my pathway to first team football was always going to be here, so I’ve just been working hard to achieve that. I knew the academy staff were fantastic here and I’ve just worked hard throughout; from the Under-8 side, to the Under-23’s and now being in and out of the first team, it’s all paid off for me.”
Sibley is one of many Rams academy products to have recently made the headlines. Max Bird, Lee Buchanan and new Sheffield United signings Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe also came through the ranks at the Midlands club, and developing home grown talent is something the club prides itself on.
“I’ve always said that the work the academy staff do here is amazing and it’s starting to pay off for them as well as the young players keep coming through,” the youngster continued.
"Obviously the players get a lot of credit, but the work that the coaches put in is really good. It’s always been a culture here that the club want good players, that’s important, but most importantly they want players with the right attitude and the right people about the place.
"They want to work with good young lads that want to work hard and achieve big things."
His fine form at Academy level saw him knocking on the first-team door and after coming off the bench towards the end of 2019, a handful of FA Cup outings followed, including a Man of the Match performance against Manchester United in March 2020.
He impressed enough for manager Phillip Cocu grant the youngster a first league a few days later, and he marked it with a stunning long-range strike - which was later awarded the club’s Goal of the Season - as Derby defeated Blackburn Rovers. A memorable day for the teenager. But he didn’t stop there.
If scoring a goal of that quality wasn’t enough, Sibley followed up his impressive full first-team debut with an outstanding hat-trick against Millwall, as football resumed behind closed doors, following a three month break.
From then, he became a regular for Cocu’s side in the closing weeks of the season.
"Even today, I still can’t believe that I scored that hat-trick on my second-ever start for the club,” he said, reflecting on the game against Millwall.
"I knew how much it meant to me to even be in and out the first team a little bit. I knew I had to be patient for my opportunity, I got my chance in some of the cup games, but I think after that I just made sure that when I did get a chance, I took it. I got my first Championship start and I think I did quite well and from there I just wanted to kick on really, that’s what it was about.
"Then when I got a chance for my second start, to get a hat-trick for my boyhood club, it’s just amazing. I don’t think it’ll ever sink in actually. My family always keep me grounded and I am literally just a normal lad, enjoying the game, playing for the club I supported growing up.”
On the pitch, it’s been a pretty perfect year for Sibley. For someone of such a young age, his movement, competitiveness and composure on the ball is something to admire. His desire to learn is also a trait that serves him well in his quest to succeed.
And who better to learn from than England’s all-time leading goalscorer? Wayne Rooney’s arrival to Pride Park had nothing but a positive effect on the side last season, and it proved on the pitch too as Derby began their rise up the league table, winning more points than any other Championship side before football was postponed.
The effect of having someone like Rooney as a teammate undoubtedly acts as a psychological boost.
"It’s a surreal feeling really and it’s an amazing team to be a part of at the moment. Obviously when Wayne Rooney signed it was just amazing, especially for a young player like me.
"You learn so much from him every single day in training and he’s a top guy as well which makes him even better to have around. To be part of a dressing room with him in it, to keep pushing myself and working hard and to be in such an exciting team, there’s not a lot more I can ask for.
"Obviously last year we almost made the Play-Offs but narrowly missed out, but I think this season it’s got to be an aim. The team spirit is high and training has been good, so if we keep working hard and train to the high standards that we’ve set ourselves hopefully we can make the Play-Offs this season.
“We’ve got a young and exciting team, and now we know the standards that the gaffer expects of us every day. This season we’re all really excited, we’re prepared and we want to succeed.
"So for me now, even though last season was absolutely fantastic to be a part of, I just want to keep going, hopefully keep playing in the team, get in the starting XI and keep proving to people what I can do."