Former academy manager Thomas delighted hard work at Orient paid off
PUBLISHED: 14:30 20 August 2019
PA Archive/PA Images
The experienced coach talked Josh Koroma, Dan Happe, leaving for Notts County and Justin Edinburgh
Ex-Leyton Orient academy manager Richard Thomas is back working with several people with links to O's at new club Watford.
The former Notts County assistant was appointed academy manager by the Hornets in May and has enjoyed being involved with developing the next crop of budding young footballers at the Hertfordshire club.
During a seven-year spell at Brisbane Road, Thomas was a key figure in bringing a number of teenagers through the youth system at Orient and into the first team.
He succeeded despite some of the chaos taking place off the pitch and is joined at his new club by Omer Riza, who managed O's towards the end of the 2016/17 campaign.
Former fitness coach Michael Amoah is also at Vicarage Road and so is Sam Dalby, who made the move from Leeds United in the summer.
Thomas admitted: "It's good to be connected with Omer again, after working with him closely at Orient with the under-18s.
"And when the option of Sam came up, it was a very straightforward decision. We wanted to recruit a centre forward anyway, so it's good to see him and all the other boys progressing and doing well all over."
Dalby has already showed his class during the summer with a hat-trick in one match and more goals in others.
After struggling for chances in his second season at Leeds, the prospect of working with Thomas again was too good to turn down.
In terms of Orient's former academy boss, he admitted it was difficult to part ways in January 2017 prior to a match at Mansfield Town, which is where O's are playing this evening in League Two.
With the club onto a third manager of the season at that point and matters off the pitch under the old ownership in a sorry state of affairs, Thomas resigned and linked up with old colleague Nolan.
He spent 18 months at Notts County, as assistant manager, and helped them to avoid relegation and then reach the League Two play-offs.
But Thomas added: "Leyton Orient was a club I never wanted to leave. I could see it was pure chaos and when not a lot is going your way, it made it an easier decision to go Notts and work with Kev in the first-team.
"We all know now it was kamikaze at Orient, but it was hard to leave the kids and the families because you develop relationships.
"It's nice to see all them progress and do well because it was seven years of hard work and I'm proud of lots of the lads coming through and all the staff because we had a really good group and it was a group effort.
"We had a really good culture and environment and that was key and is where the success comes from, so that's what I'll try to do at Watford."
The level of success Thomas, alongside former academy director Andy Edwards, had at Orient with the under-18s was unprecedented for the club.
A large number of the players they worked with at Brisbane Road have made a mark in the Football League or earned a move to Championship or Premier League teams like Michael Obafemi at Southampton.
"It's a team effort with a lot of people involved right from the recruitment when some of them were 10 or 11 to every coach who has been part of the journey at different times, so I just got lucky to collect them all at once when they were 16 to 18 and lots of lads from that group have kicked on," Thomas added.
"You've Steven Alzate at Brighton and it was brilliant to see Josh Koroma do well at Orient before he got his move, so that was really good.
"There are so many others like Toby Stevenson and Charles Clayden both at Charlton, Teddy Perkins up at Burnley and there are kids even younger than that.
"When I came into Watford's academy, they told me they signed an Orient player a few months before I arrived. Obviously it was not great for Orient to lose a lot of players because of the situation they were in at the time, but it's understandable."
Although delighted to see so many involved in professional football, Thomas was extremely happy to watch on from afar as Koroma and Dan Happe excelled still at the club last season and helped them achieve National League success.
Myles Judd also played a role and Sam Sargeant and Arthur Janata pushed first choice goalkeeper Dean Brill throughout the campaign.
Thomas added: "We always had high hopes for Dan and a big bulk of the group we thought would go on and do well.
"Dan and Myles are there and Arthur is still around, so there are lots of lads progressing and Ruel Sotiriou is up front and there are many others who have gone and done good things in other places.
"Tristan Abrahams is an example of that, he spent time at Norwich and now he is at Newport so they are getting opportunities and it's about who will break in and be a consistent first-team performer.
"Hopefully Josh will get a chance at Huddersfield, with them getting relegated and hopefully Dan can sustain it at Orient and there's no doubt he can progress higher than League Two.
"I'm hoping it can be with Orient through promotion and it's not unheard of it to go and do that and it would be particularly brilliant for the young lads to do it with them."
Had things worked out differently this summer, O's may have harboured some hope of battling for the play-offs this season back in League Two after two years away.
The death of Justin Edinburgh at the beginning of June shocked everyone who knew the great manager and player.
Orient are still coming to terms with his passing and Thomas revealed he enjoyed a conversation with the late head coach just before he took over at Brisbane Road.
Furthermore he added a character like Danny Webb will be extremely important to keep up morale amongst the squad and staff.
Thomas and Webb worked together in the youth set-up before the former left, but he praised the current O's interim assistant boss.
"After the devastating news with Justin, Danny is the sort of person you absolutely will lean on in times like this," Thomas said.
"He is such a good character with his charisma and will keep everyone smiling at the place in addition to the great work he does. I thought it was great for the club when he went back and of course good for him as getting with Justin was a great opportunity.
"I spoke to both of them prior to them going together because I don't think they knew each other too well and I told them both they would get on like a house on fire.
"They are the same person and I knew they would be great and Justin phoned me only about Josh Koroma because he wanted to know what he was all about and I said he'd absolutely love him.
"Within weeks I was seeing pictures of them hugging and the relationship quickly developed, but I knew Josh was a good kid and Justin an absolutely top bloke, so I figured Justin would get that atmosphere in the group and what a sad situation and sad loss."
Several youngsters at Orient will hope to try and continue Edinburgh's legacy and in the process they will make Thomas and many others proud.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ilford Recorder. Click the link in the orange box below for details.