Town Opt for Category Two
Friday, 30th Mar 2012 06:01
Chief executive Simon Clegg has confirmed that the Blues will not be applying for Academy Category One status for next season. Town have opted for Category Two in the Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP) reorganisation of youth football which comes into effect this summer, but as reported by TWTD earlier in the month, could look to upgrade after promotion to the Premier League.
Clegg is aware that the news that the Blues won't be applying for Category One before the end of the month deadline won’t be universally welcomed, but feels it’s the right decision for the club at this point in time: “It is a very emotive subject, I recognise that, but I think the most important thing is that we do the right thing for this football club and that has driven the entire process.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on this, it has been right at the top of my agenda for the last three or four months and we’ve employed another full-time member of staff and a part-time consultant to lead on this area.
“The manager is fully in the loop and is fully supportive of what we’re doing and where we’re going, as are the Academy staff.
“We believe that this is the right decision for this football club and I’m confident that through this process what we’re delivering can only be enhanced."
He admits that Category One would be the ideal but says it’s beyond Town at present at £2.35 million per annum - including a Premier League grant of £750,000 - and rising by £50,000 a season. Category Two costs at least £960,000 per season, including a grant of £480,000.
“Of course we would aspire to Category One but it’s just not viable at this moment in time,” he said. “I think we will also need to see what happens through the process of those clubs who are applying for Category One; how many get it, particularly how many clubs – if indeed any – from outside the Premier League.
“It’ll also be interesting to see how many Premier League clubs are not applying for Category One status.
“But all of that is a bit of a distraction because the entire process here has been driven by what is right for this football club and I’m convinced that going for Category Two at this moment in time is the right thing to do."
Clegg says that although spending on the club's Academy is outside the new Financial Fair Play rules, it still has an impact on Town's overall expenditure: “Marcus Evans is an incredibly generous individual in terms of the way that he supports this club, but he hasn’t got bottomless pockets.
“What we had to do was make the right decision for this football club and balance up the money that is available in terms of how we want to spend it and where youth development fits within the rest of the club and particularly where it fits against first team expenditure.”
Clegg says that Town, who voted against the EPPP reorganisation in October, can reassess their position and would consider doing so if they are promoted to the Premier League, although not necessarily in the first season: “If you want to apply for recategorisation, you can.
“But be very clear, we don’t have anywhere near some of the residential facilities that would be required for Category One. That would require massive extra additional investment on the part of the club.
“But if we got to the Premier League and thought we could justify an application, then we can make an application and clubs can be recategorised, both upwards and downwards.”
The chief executive says that even though the Blues will be applying for Category Two – that deadline is the end of next month - more money will be spent on the Academy than is the case at the moment with the Premier League minimum figures unrealistic: “Net, [the current annual cost is] about £900,000. I think there will be an increase in expenditure on a like-for-like basis, which is significantly more than [the figures quoted above].
“The additional staffing element is the first thing, but we’re still working that through because one of the frustrating things is that the goalposts have been changing through this entire process, which is why it’s taken us so long to get to a position where we’re announcing what we’re doing.
“Even the games programme isn’t sorted. It won’t be sorted until Thursday when there’s a meeting of the Premier League clubs to decide what it will be.”
The number of extra staff isn’t yet set but Clegg gave a rough idea: “I don’t want to split them down between full-time and part-time at the moment, but somewhere between six and eight. The current total of full-time staff is nine or 10.”
He says it’s not been decided whether current Academy manager Sammy Morgan will be in a similar position in the new set-up: “We’re still working through the entire staffing structure of the Academy. The staff are aware that we’re going to have a structure there that is right to support Category Two.
“People are excited about the opportunities and expecting people to move over into new positions, but it will be a new structure that will be in place and we’re yet to see where we’re going to get to on that.”
One of the major expenses and the challenge over the summer will be to get Playford Road up to Category Two standard, currently it's at Category Three level: “We are going to need another two classrooms up at the training ground. We’ll need additional offices to accommodate the additional staff.
“We’ll certainly need an analysts’ suite, we’ll need two analysts for working through all the video technology. We’ll require a head of sports science, a team meeting room and additional changing rooms as well.
“We will look to be as creative as we can, but the bottom line is that we are going to have to have additional facilities.”
With Norwich City and various London clubs having announced that they’re opting for Category One, there are fears that youngsters could decide to join those higher status set-ups rather than Town’s.
Clegg says he doesn’t feel this will be a problem with those based locally: “I’m sure that those players who come from our natural catchment area are still going to gravitate towards Ipswich Town.
“It would be a massive decision for any young aspiring footballer to effectively up sticks, lock, stock and barrel and move up to the North-East or the North-West or wherever.
“I think that we will continue to attract and compete for overseas players and I’m absolutely convinced that the wonderful set-up that we’ve got here at the training ground, coupled with the way that we can demonstrate our track record in developing talent and giving people first team football opportunities, will entice the right players to this club.”
Over the years, Town's Academy has brought in players from slightly further afield – Darren Bent, for example, was from Cambridge – who are a similar distance from other clubs and Clegg admits that the Blues might now be at a disadvantage in attracting players in that position: “If we find individuals on the cusp, who could be pulled in two directions, we’re going to have to work even harder to demonstrate why the set-up and the people that we’ve got at Ipswich and our track record gives their young son the best chance of making it as a professional footballer.”
Category One clubs are able to poach players from Category Two and below, which the former British Olympic Association chief says is a concern, although intimating that similar situations are not unknown under the current system anyway: “That’s always a danger.
“Obviously they can’t do that at the moment and part of the this new youth development system is that Category One clubs will be able to scout and potentially poach on a nationwide basis and those developing clubs will get lower levels of compensation than they are entitled to currently.
“But at the moment, let’s just say that it’s not been unknown for things to happen unofficially that involve players moving from one place to another.”
Those players who could potentially be poached are those who are yet to sign a full-time scholarship. Therefore someone such as 16-year-old Byron Lawrence, who has already put pen to paper to commit to spending the next two seasons at Playford Road, would not be subject to the somewhat less than generous new compensation scheme if wanted by a Category One club.
Despite being frustrated by changes which appear designed purely to benefit established Premier League clubs, the gradual drip feeding of information over the last six months, the hammer-to-crack-a-nut nature of the auditing tool and the process of writing a performance plan which will be more than 200 pages long by the time it's finished, Clegg is confident that there are good times ahead for the Blues’ youth set-up: “I’m very excited about the future for the Academy.
"I think this process is going to take us forward because through it we’re going to have to make an even greater investment in youth development.
“I remain convinced that the excellent track record that we’ve got of developing young footballers, and in particular giving them first team opportunities at a very early stage - we had Connor Wickham playing first team football a couple of years ago at 16 years and 11 days and we’ve got other people coming through the pipeline at the moment - will only be further enhanced by the additional investment that we’re going to have to make.“
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