ROBBIE Cowling says Colchester United are starting to reap the benefits of their investment in youth.

The U’s chairman believes the departure of talented academy products Sammie Szmodics and Frankie Kent this summer shows the strength of the club’s youth set-up.

Cowling has invested heavily in Colchester’s academy over recent years, ensuring that there is a direct pathway from the club’s youth sides to their first team.

And after seeing two of their most talented home-grown players in recent years depart, the U’s supremo told the U’s website: “Introducing young players is now a part of our DNA and making brave selection decisions is vital if we are going to continue to exploit the talent we are producing.

“Our investment in youth is starting to pay off and the departures of Sammie and Frankie will inevitably be followed by other academy products leaving our club to progress their careers too.

“It's never easy to replace players of such quality but we received decent transfer fees for both players and all football clubs in today's highly competitive professional leagues need a financial model that will allow them to not just survive but thrive without relying on an owner's financial support.

“We still have some way to go to reach that point and I'm happy to provide the financial support and make the investments the club needs to fulfil my long term aim to make Colchester United financially independent.”

Szmodics recently left Colchester after 16 years at the club to join Championship side Bristol City while defender Kent joined Peterborough United last month.

Both players left for an undisclosed fee.

“I've really enjoyed watching their progress from boys to men, from academy starlets to first team role models,” said Cowling.

“Both of these young men have been a credit to our club and I look forward to seeing them progress even further in the game.

“We begin most games with 5 or 6 academy products in the starting line-up, many who have now played over 100 games.

“Their progress benefits massively from those early experiences, but it has obviously taken some very brave selection decisions from our managers over the last 6 years and not every player introduced into our first team will go on to play 100 games for us, become a club legend and then go on into the Championship.”

Colchester are looking to make several key appointments, following the departure of under-23 boss Kevin Horlock, under-18 head coach Chris Llewellyn, head physio Tony Flynn and goalkeeper coach Rene Gilmartin over recent weeks.

They also need to recruit a new academy manager, after Jon De Souza left the role to take over as the club’s new Director of Performance.

Cowling added: “These are all big characters who will be missed but I wish them all well in their new roles.

“With so many leaving at once it would be easy to conclude that there is some kind of problem at the club that has forced this to suddenly happen, but it really is not the case.

“The problem we do face, however, is replacing them (and Jon De Souza who has become Director of Performance) because they were all exceptionally good at their jobs.

“However, I have a motto that there's an opportunity in every problem and we have some exciting replacements about to embrace those opportunities.”