Holmesduane_duane-holmes-watford Courtesy of Huddersfield Town Football Club
Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Duane Holmes Seizes the Moment at Huddersfield

The 18-year-old Georgia native is making a big splash with Huddersfield Town's first team. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke to Holmes about his development, and his dream of playing for the U.S.
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BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 08, 2013
12:11 PM
THE HISTORY OF Huddersfield Town FC is long and complicated. Founded in 1908, the West Yorkshire team rose to prominence in the 1920s and established itself as one of England’s best clubs. It won the FA Cup in 1922 and accumulated three straight league titles from 1924 to 1926.

In the years following World War II, Huddersfield’s stature as a top English club declined and it has not been in the top flight since 1972. Drifting between the lower divisions, the club reached a low point shortly after the millennium when it entered into administration and was mired in the fourth tier of the English pyramid.

Huddersfield came out of administration in 2003 and since then the club’s prospects have gradually improved. It now sits mid-table of the second division Championship and there is now optimism among the supporters of the Terriers, as the club is commonly referred.

American midfielder Duane Holmes, 18, has witnessed the club’s ascendancy first hand as he first donned a Huddersfield jersey 10 years ago to play for the Terrier’s U-9 team. Over the years Holmes progressed through every level of Huddersfield’s academy, and this year he has finally broken through with the first team.

Many teenagers have managed to find minutes in the Championship but Holmes has done so in stunning fashion. He made his debut against Hull City in a Capitol One Cup game on September 24 of this year. While Huddersfield lost 1-0, Holmes was praised in the media, and the Press Association match report proclaimed: “Huddersfield's best player on the night was 18-year-old substitute Duane Holmes, who terrified Hull with his direct running.”

Days later, Holmes made his Championship debut for Huddersfield after coming on as a second half substitute against Blackpool. With the Terriers trailing 1-0, Holmes was dominant in a Man of the Match performance as he brilliantly assisted on the equalizer and set up a penalty which his teammate James Vaughan failed to convert.

Over the weekend, Holmes came on in the second half for Huddersfield in a 2-1 loss to Watford. Despite the defeat, Terriers head coach Mark Robins was quick to praise Holmes, saying he “was positive again, and that has to rub off on everybody.”

“It’s been surreal the past month,” Holmes told American Soccer Now. “I’m trying not to change too much. I’m keeping my feet on the ground and working hard as I can to stay in the manager’s plans. I wasn’t so much nervous but the academy manager came over to me and told it was just like any other game. I’m playing against better players but I have better players beside me. It was unbelievable. It’s what you dream about from when you are a little kid.”

Holmes' sudden impact with Huddersfield’s first team has been a long time coming and is not surprising to the club’s supporters. Last year he was the leading scorer for Huddersfield’s U-18 team. His standout performances earned him a nomination as the Football League’s Apprentice of the Year (he was runner-up). After the season Holmes was awarded his first professional contract by Huddersfield, and at the start of the season he scored three goals in five games for the U-21 team before his promotion to the first team.

Holmes' strong pedigree, combined with his recent success in the Championship, have led to a great deal of media attention. Head coach Mark Robins, however, is doing his best to calm the hype and instead gradually ease Holmes into the first team.

“It was good to see him have such an impact,” Mark Robins told the media after the Blackpool draw. “We have a number of players showing promise in our academy and Under-21 squads, and if they are good enough, we have to give them a chance. But we also have a responsibility to nurture them and manage their development carefully, and we will continue to bring Duane, and others, on at the right pace.”

After a series of strong performances, Holmes has the urge to play as much as possible but he realizes that Robins and the Huddersfield staff have a vision that is in the long-term interests of the club’s younger players.

“I want to play as much as I can but obviously the manager knows what’s best for me as a young professional,” Holmes said. “Obviously it seems to be working with the amount of good young players we have coming through at the U-21s. He knows what he’s doing. When we’re called upon, we’re going to do everything to can.”

While Holmes has progressed through every level of the Huddersfield academy, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride to the top. Standing at just five-foot-six, Holmes has always dealt with issues regarding his size and strength. To this day he realizes that he must continue to get stronger to deal with adult defenders in the English game.

Two years ago, however, his future was a crossroads. A high-ranking member of Huddersfield’s academy at the time (who is no longer with the club) informed Holmes that he did not think the midfielder had a future in the game. It was a dark moment for the player.

“It was someone high in the academy who told me I wasn’t going to be a footballer,” Holmes recalled. “He said: ‘I’m not big enough, I’m not strong enough, and I’m not good enough.’ But things change and people change. I’ve seen him a couple of times since I got my first professional contract and it just makes me happy I didn’t quit. It gives me satisfaction I’ve done it and proved him wrong.”

“I was 16 at the time,” he continued. “I was going through a bad time. To be told that, it put me down. But I also had two coaches who were telling me to carry on and were pushing me. They were telling me I could make it. That’s really what kept me going. They were two coaches who had been with me for a long time and have seen the best and worst in me.”

As Holmes continued to push forward, Huddersfield hired former player Mark Lillis to run the team's academy in December 2011. It proved to be a very important boost to his development.

Lillis was on hand for Holmes’ debut with the first team and insists that the young players are ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

“The manager (Mark Robins) thinks a lot of him and so do I,” Lillis recently told the Huddersfield Examiner. “I don’t think he would have any problem starting with him but we have to go steady and keep his feet on the ground. But when you come on and make an impact and create a goal—like he did against Blackpool on Friday—you put a seed in the manager’s head. You can’t wait until they reach 21. Players can be ready at 17 or 18. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

“Duane’s got all the attributes,” he continued. “He has the skill and pace, great balance, knows a pass, and has an eye for goal. He will need to be stronger upper body-wise because he is not the biggest. But we can work on that. When I joined the academy 18 months ago I spotted him straight away. People were saying he was not big enough and this and that, but if you are good enough you have a chance."

"I told Duane to embrace the challenge. I said be yourself, don’t be fazed and don’t be sad on the bus afterwards with any regrets. He made an impact at Hull, and against Blackpool he lifted the fans and the team, to be truthful. All credit to the gaffer for giving young players a chance."

Holmes' sudden rise within Huddersfield has also earned him fans in the United States. He was born in Columbus, Georgia, to an American father and an English mother. Growing up, he even spent time in Alaska before moving back to England with his mother at the age of four after his parents separated.

He has always considered himself American, and growing up he frequently visited his family in the U.S. Holmes has even taken an interest in following Major League Soccer and appreciates how competitive the league has become. He has tentative plans to travel to Glasgow in November to watch the U.S. national team play Scotland. Despite also being eligible for England, it is his dream to play internationally for the United States and he enjoys conversing on Twitter with his growing number of American followers.

“It’s weird because I didn’t realize how big it was over there,” Holmes said. “People have been tweeting me and tagging Klinsmann and the U.S. team. It’s good because that’s what I want. I want people in America to know who I am, and that I do want to play for the United States and represent where I’m from.”

Brian Sciaretta is a frequent ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

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