O'Neill: Academy to Remain Category Two
Tuesday, 14th May 2019 12:01
Town general manager of football operations and academy manager Lee O’Neill has reiterated that the club’s youth set-up will remain at category two despite the club’s relegation to League One and the loss of a number of talented young players to big Premier League clubs.
Town are looking to cut costs due to demotion to the third tier for the first time in 62 years but O’Neill says the Playford Road academy’s status won’t change due to that or the loss of several youngsters to big Premier League clubs in recent seasons.
While the likes of Andre Dozzell, Jack Lankester, Tristan Nydam, Flynn Downes, Idris El Mizouni, Josh Emmanuel, Myles Kenlock, Ben Morris and Ben Folami have progressed through to the first team, the Blues have been powerless to stop some of their more talented academy prospects from moving on, with owner Marcus Evans having hit out at the compensation rules.
Ahead of 2018/19 the Blues lost England U17 international Ben Knight, 16, to Manchester City with Canada-born Mexican U16 international Marcelo Flores, 15, subsequently moving on to Arsenal.
“Frustrating, that’s probably the word,” O’Neill said when asked about those exits. “I can confirm our plan is category two, that’s not going to change and if anything our aspirations are still as tight as ever and still as focused as ever on trying to achieve category one.
“I’ve been involved with the Premier League side of things in looking at how the new audit framework is going to be put in place, so I can put the club in the best possible position to be able to understand what the requirements are to meet category one needs going forward.
“I think with those players that you’ve mentioned, I think whether they’re an academy player or even a first-team player, when an exceptionally big club comes in for you, it’s very hard not to have your head turned, both from the financial side of things and the opportunity that they can offer.
“For us it’s been great that we’ve had some younger players go through the academy and make their debuts, a different pathway and a different experience.
“It’s always a concern for us because we want to keep our best talent so they can play in our first team, but there may be situations as you go through that process where other clubs identify talented players in our pathway and they may look to recruit them.
“It’s not our intention to sell a player, at the same time we want players that want to be here and want to be part of our programme and if they don’t want to be part of that programme and they want to go somewhere else, then you have to look at the business side of the club.
“But we’re not a selling club for that purpose, we’re not setting our academy up to sell players. Some other clubs do that and that’s the model that they work towards.
“The reason behind our academy is to try and develop players that can play in our first team.”
Knight, from Reach in Cambridgeshire, is understood to have moved on for just over £1 million with further payments due as his career progresses, although O’Neill wasn’t able to confirm that figure, while Flores is likely to have moved for a lower initial sum but with similar milestones going forward.
“You have the compensation rules that are in place that are something that the Premier League are looking at because that hasn’t changed over a number of years but if you look at the value of players and the specific [recent] transfer windows that has changed, so the two probably need to marry up,” O’Neill added.
“The process if you want [is that] you go into negotiations with the club and look at how things happen over a time and sometimes it is on incentives and playing in their first team and sometimes it is on contracts and things like that, how well they do. So, every case is individual.”
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