LEE Herron firmly believes the Reading FC Academy is producing the best young players in the club's history.

Herron left his role as Academy manager in January to join Premier League Arsenal.

He was officially confirmed as head of academy football operations by the Gunners last week.

And Herron feels the time is right to reflect on his 20-year association with the Royals and the people who helped him reach the top of his profession.

In a letter sent to the Chronicle, he writes: "After twenty years at Reading Football Club it is time to say goodbye and take on a new challenge with Arsenal FC.

"I have been privileged to play a small part in establishing the Royals as a club that can now compete with the very best, yet still retains the values of being a family club that was always so important to Sir John Madejski.

"However it is being part of developing young players that has been the part of my job that has been the most rewarding.

"At Reading the work of everyone in the Academy and indeed the club , on and off the pitch, has meant that pound-for-pound, the club are now a match for anyone at Academy level.

"Seeing so many young Royals achieve so much in their careers, whilst still remembering the values of hard work and decency that the fantastic Royals fan-base demand, has been so rewarding and so thoroughly enjoyable.

"Our Academy has enjoyed a lot of success, with so many great people working so hard together."

Herron joined Reading in 2001 and worked his way up until he became Academy boss in 2016 following the untimely death of Eamonn Dolan.

He helped nurture some of the brightest players to emerge from Royals Academy in a generation including Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

He adds: "There have been so many highs, some lows but it’s always been enjoyable and often emotional.

"I’ve been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work my way through the football club, from a young, part-time coach through to leading the Academy.

"Of course, you can’t have the level of success that we achieved without working and building a tremendous team of people on and off the pitch – this was our real strength.

"It is always a pleasure to see so many players now playing the game professionally who came through our Academy, but it is also important to mention the players who have gone on to be successful in other areas of life and this is really what good academies are all about.

"At this club we have tried to produce not only good players, but good people.

"There have been many highlights, the well documented number of graduates we saw come through the Academy, achieving and maintaining Category 1 status and working with such a great Academy development team to mention just a few."

Herron also pays tribute to those who he worked alongside during the past two decades, including late Academy chief, Eamonn Dolan, who died from cancer in June 2016.

Reading Chronicle: Eamonn Dolan has been taking training in the wake of Brian McDermott's departure. Pic by Chris Forsey.

The late Eamonn Dolan.

"There are many people to whom I owe a lot," he continues. "I’d specifically like to thank Sir John Madejski, Brian McDermott, Nigel Gibbs, Nigel Howe and Nick Hammond for their endless guidance and support .

"I think of the magical times they produced that got the club to Wembley and the Premier League.

"Also special thanks to Sue Hewett and Brian Tevreden for their support through an incredibly difficult time following the loss of our friend and inspiration, the very special Eamonn Dolan.

"To David Dodds, Ed Franklin, Lewis Goater and all of the staff past and present for their endless energy, expert advice and guidance - a constant at the Academy.

"I’d also like to thank the players and parents for their tremendous support over the years and, of course, all the incredible supporters, who truly embraced the Academy."

He goes on: "This is a new exciting period for the club and I know that Dai Yonnge and Dai Xiu Li, Ron Gourlay and Paul Clement will all work together to bring further success to the Madejski Stadium. I would like to thank them all and wish them much future success.

"Finally, like all our supporters, I miss my good friend, Eamonn Dolan, who nurtured me for many years and was our leader. He was a true gentleman and represented everything that Reading FC Academy came to stand for.

"I know his values will always speak loudly at Reading FC. I am sad to leave the club, but very excited by my new challenge and very proud to know that the young Royals coming through are the best young players the club has ever produced.

"Good luck and thank you, Lee."