O'Neill: Proud to See Youngsters' Progress and Academy Status to Be Unchanged If Relegated
Monday, 18th Mar 2019 12:55
General manager of football operations and academy manager Lee O’Neill was proud to see six Blues youngsters in the first-team squad at Bristol City last week and says the academy's status will not be affected if Town are relegated to League One.
Josh Emmanuel, Andre Dozzell and Myles Kenlock started at Ashton Gate, while Teddy Bishop, debut-maker Idris El Mizouni and Harry Wright were on the bench.
O’Neill talked to BBC Radio Suffolk’s Life’s a Pitch (from 26mins) after speaking to 500 season ticket holders at a special thank-you event in the FanZone on Saturday.
“I just got asked that question, ‘Do I sit in the stand and feel like a proud father?’,” O’Neill said reflecting on the number of academy players in the squad which drew 1-1 with the Robins.
“I do, along with a number of other staff. It’s great when you see that, I think we all agree.
“The supporters see you’ve developed a player over a certain period of time, a number of years in some cases, and they go through and make their debut and play out in front of a packed crowd and perform well.
“And they did perform well the other night. I think it’s important for them to get consistency in their performances, it’s not just about making their debut and then sneaking off after two games and not seeing them again.
“For us it’s about giving them the opportunity. The manager knows how to protect those younger players, because it’s a hard journey for them when they get into that situation, and making sure the senior players around them can help with that journey.
“When we talk about the spine of the team the experience needs to be there to help them. The young players can’t do it all themselves, they’re going to need that support around them.
“From my point of view, yes, it’s great, I love it when I see them, as do a number of other staff who work incredibly hard to get them there.”
With Town all but certain to be in League One next season there will inevitably be cuts over the summer but O’Neill, a youth player at Playford Road in the early 2000s, says the academy will remain at the heart of the club’s plans going forward.
“There are rules and regulations around what you need to operate for certain positions at the academy anyway,” he said.
After it was pointed out that those wouldn’t be the same if the club were to drop from Category Two to Category Three when in League One, O’Neill indicated that that wouldn’t happen.
“One of our key focuses is the academy, we’ve explained that before, that’s not going to change [if we’re relegated],” he said. “Our focus is still to work incredible hard on our youth set-up with our category status.
“If anything, we’re always pushing to try and make that a better process for the players coming through.
“But it has to run alongside the club’s business plans, so from my point of view we are working hard with the Category Two status.”
While the academy looks set to be less affected by the financial impact of relegation, the senior squad will face pay cuts, although O’Neill wouldn’t go into detail on the level of those reductions.
“I’m not going to go through things like that,” he said. “I think we have to look at the business side of the club as well as the footballing side of things. Obviously it does take a hit if we go down.”
He added: “It’s a different financial model, those players who have been involved in that process fully understand that when they go through and sign their contracts that this could happen and this is part of what they agreed to, so they’re sticking by it and we stick by it.”
Among the reductions in income will be a drop of around £7 million from media money with gate receipts, sponsorship and commercial revenue also likely to be hit.
“The exact figures I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head,” O’Neill continued.
“But there is a significant number that is attached to that and that will affect the structure of the financial side of things so we have to make sure that’s plausible for the club to go forward and make sure we don’t get in a financial situation that doesn’t help the club going forward.”
He added: “I think at the end of the day we’ll have to look at the whole club when that financial decision [is made].
“No one intends to want to cut anything at the end of the day, no one wants that, it’s a reality where situations can occur.
“At this moment in time, specific areas for that we haven’t gone through and what that might look like.”
Season ticket prices for next season are expected to be announced before the end of the month but with the precise timing not yet confirmed.
“We haven’t set a specific date just yet but we are obviously in that consultation process. I’m hoping it will be very soon,” O’Neill continued.
“It’s difficult at the moment because we’re planning for two scenarios. As soon as we’re in a position to say what the plan is for the season tickets we will do.
“As you know, we’ve gone through quite a lengthy consultation process and we’re looking at a number of issues around that, but as soon as we’ve made the decision we’ll come out with it as quickly as we can.”
Regarding skipper Luke Chambers’s new two-year contract, which he signed on Friday evening, O’Neill said: “Very pleasing for a number of people to see that the captain wants to be part of that process, regardless of whether stay in the Championship or whether we go to League One.
“He’s committed his future here for the next couple of seasons, which is a good way to help build that spine of the team.”
Chambers has said he’ll be upset to be the captain of the Town team relegated to League One after 62 years in the top tier but equally wants to be the man wearing the armband as they return to the Championship.
“From conversations I’ve had with Luke I don’t think he’s had that in his career,” O’Neill said.
“That’s one thing that he didn’t want to have or go through but at the same time he’s flipped it around saying he wants to be the person to bring the club back up if that does occur.”
He says Saturday’s event with season ticket holders, where he was joined by manager Paul Lambert, as well as Blues legends Terry Butcher, John Wark, Mick Stockwell and host Bryan Hamilton, went well.
“There were a lot of people in there, which is great and I think it was an opportunity to give something back to season ticket holders at a bit of an exclusive event with the manager and other key people at the club and have a chat with them.”
What did boss Lambert say? “I think he was just honest with them really, saying what things he’s had to face in the role since he’s come in, and obviously the plans of how we’re trying to make things better off the pitch as well as on the pitch.”
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