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Club News

Club Update: Youth Development

11 August 2020

Club News

Club Update: Youth Development

11 August 2020

On Friday 7th August 2020 we published an update regarding some of the key issues facing the club.

Within that article we went on to confirm that we would continue to update our supporters on other matters of interest as and when we could.

One of the issues that has recently raised its head, partly due to the publicity attracted by two of our ex Academy scholars that have moved elsewhere, that we believe we should address, is the strategy of our youth development structure and the absence of an Under 23 team.

Youth development within English football clubs is rarely talked about but is in genuine need of being revisited.

The current academy system has four categories, Category One, essentially Premier League clubs, Category Two mainly ex Premier League clubs and some Championship clubs with the odd exception outside of these divisions, Category Three and Category Four.

All categories have mandatory spend requirements and at Category One and Two they must have U8s to U18s and an U23 team. Category Three clubs have U8s to U18s and Category Four just have an U18 team with none of the younger age groups, we are in Category Three.

We have taken a strategic decision not to attempt to move from Category Three to Category Two for two reasons. From a cost point of view the increased mandatory spend level including the cost of an Under 23 team is not insignificant and would merely reduce the amount that we have to spend on the first team.

In addition, it is our view that 'Under 23' league football is far removed from the challenges that 'men's football' brings with it and we would much prefer to see those U18s that we think stand a chance, going either straight into our first team squad or going out on loan to lower league clubs. Ben Davies is a good example who spent time at York City, Newport County and Fleetwood Town before playing on a regular basis in our first team. Josh Earl has similarly enjoyed loan spells at Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town before re-joining the first team squad this summer to fight for his place.

The instructions to Nick Harrison, who heads up our Academy, is one of quality not quantity. We already have Ben Davies, Josh Earl, Mathew Hudson, Adam O'Reilly, Jack Baxter and Ethan Walker who came through our Academy system and have full professional contracts.

The challenge that we face is to ensure that the players who are not competing for a place in the first team match day squad today, get the right experience in men's competitive football before returning to the club. This in itself is difficult as there are only some lower league clubs who recognise the opportunity that this gives them in increasing their squad quality threshold on a cost effective basis.

We are proud of the work that our youth development professionals undertake and the players that they bring through against highly competitive geographic competition.

When you read that players have been let go to find their career pathway elsewhere this is not a failure on our part but is a natural result of the sheer numbers who enter our academy system.

Sometimes our selection process will be right and sometimes we might get it wrong. Sometimes it's a matter of timing and our structure may miss the odd late developer. If that happens far from letting them down, letting them go is the right thing to do.

In the last few years, we have not been embarrassed by our selection process and we will continue to do what we think is right for the good of the club and for the individuals.

For those who make it with us the investment has been worth every penny and for those we let go, we sincerely hope that the experience of having been through our system gives them the platform to thrive elsewhere.

The emotion that is generated by those who sadly move on is understandable but sometimes it has to be put into the big picture to appreciate the context.

Peter Ridsdale
Owner's Representative

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