Luca Hoole: How Bristol Rovers starlet dealt with rejection to become ‘flagship’ player under Joey Barton

Since the turn of the year Luca Hoole has been one of Bristol Rovers’ most crucial players playing 10 out of the 11 games played in 2022. But how has the 19 year-old homegrown talent got to this point?

Hoole was born in Newport and attended Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw a Welsh language school in Pontypool. This is where we expect he would have played most of his football and found his real love for the game.

At the age of nine, the youngster from the Gwent valleys, had a trial at Rovers but then being a striker he didn’t get in and in his own words he said the reason for that was ‘not scoring many goals’.

Luckily for Hoole, two years later at the age of 11 he was invited back for another trial. This time coming as a right-back which led to him getting signed up after impressing academy coaches, he made so much progress by the time he was 15 he was playing for the U18s in a competitive league.

The right-back would travel over from Wales every day with his parents which shows how dedicated he was at such a young age. At 16 he earned himself a scholarship which means he would stay at the club for another two years until he’s 18.

After the two years, it’s a make or break point for many young footballers as they either get a professional contract or get released.

In 2019 Hoole signed his professional contract making him eligible for the first-team, this was a big moment in his career as it allowed him to really push on and develop. Hoole was part of the 19/20 first-team pre-season tour to Ireland, then Rovers manager Graham Coughlan played the young right-back for a half in the 7-0 win against Irish side St Mochtas.

Also, in that season Hoole made his Rovers debut at the age of 17 coming on with 30 minutes against Plymouth in the EFL Trophy. After helping Rovers U18s progress into the 3rd of the FA Youth Cup Hoole received a Wales U19 call up, he made his debut in a 3-0 win against Poland U19s and since then has only played one other game.

Luca Hoole is a key contender for Young Player of the Season for Bristol Rovers. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Fast forward to pre-season in the summer of 2021 and after a squad clearout, a chance was given to one of Rovers’ academy youngsters.

He was given a good run of games and then was thrown in to their first-game of the season, suffering a narrow defeat to Mansfield Town.

Despite the loss, the youngster was upbeat, he said: “It was a dream come true to put on the Rovers shirt’.

After the turn of the year Hoole has really cemented his spot into the starting 11 and has forced manager Joey Barton to change formation, and from the 10 games he has played this year Rovers have kept six clean sheets.

At the start of February, Hoole was rewarded for his fine form signing a two-year contract extension keeping him at Rovers until 2024. Hoole was delighted and said "I am absolutely buzzing to sign this extension with the club I have been at since I was 11.

“I’ve always wanted to play at The Mem and, hopefully, now I can keep progressing and play a lot more games for the club.”

It would be some turnaround for Hoole, as on the opening day of the season he suffered defeat to Mansfield on his debut, but just a few months later he was committing his future to Rovers on the day before the game.

“Hooley’s been the real young player that has taken the opportunity out of the academy,” Barton said when Hoole delivered a man-of-the-match performance under the watchful eye of the Wales Under-21 boss Paul Bodin.

“He’s 19, he’s got a huge future ahead of him, everything he wants out of the game he can get, if he plays well for Bristol Rovers and he keeps improving on a day-to-day basis.”

A week later came his first senior goal. A corner kick had come in and out of everybody, he got on to the end of the cross and scored against Exeter City in a big game at the Memorial Stadium.

Ironically in a pre-match interview with the club earlier in the week, when he was discussing his rise, he said the only thing to clock off was a goal, not realising it would come days after.

As well as his own delight, he had some of the highest praise when the owner of the club, Wael al-Qadi gave him the biggest blessing.

“I’m so proud of and so happy for Luca, on his first senior goal for Rovers,” posted the Rovers chief. “I always knew he would make it when watching him play for the academy when he was 13-years-old. Keep it going Luca!”

His performance wouldn’t go amiss in the footballing world either and he was named in the League Two Team of the Week for the first time in his career.

Hoole’s form has coincided in a drastic change in form for the club also and at the time of writing, they sit just two points off of the play-offs and five away from the automatics.

It is why Hoole’s first real season in senior football could be a memorable one for the club because there is still so much to play for. It would mean so much for his career if he were to follow in the footsteps of players like Chris Lines and fellow Welshman Tom Lockyer have achieved promotion having come through the academy system.

Achieving all he has already at the age of 19, just shows us how exciting Hoole’s career could be and how he will definitely be one to watch.