Colchester: U’s fail in quest for Category 2 status for their youth academy

Colchesters Ryan Dickson loses his footing with Port Vales Gavin Tomlin and Richard Duffy.

Colchesters Ryan Dickson loses his footing with Port Vales Gavin Tomlin and Richard Duffy. Colchester United won 1-0 against Port Vale on Saturday, 10 August. - Credit: Archant

Colchester United have failed in their quest to achieve EPPP Category 2 status for their youth academy.

The League One club fell an agonising 3% short of reaching the 65% score necessary, leaving owner and chairman, Robbie Cowling, with the predicament of when next to apply for this prestigious status.

The EPPP, which stands for the Elite Player Performance Plan, is a youth development scheme initiated by the Premier League to establish a hierarchy of football academies.

All of them are independently audited and given a category status between one and four.

Despite the club’s failure to achieve their targeted Category 2 status, this time around, manager Joe Dunne remains excited about the long-term future goals of the club, to nurture young talent through to the first team so that they eventually make up the bulk of the senior squad.

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“We’ve had the disappointment of not getting Category 2, which was a very close-run thing,” said Dunne following Saturday’s 1-0 home win over Port Vale.

“But nothing changes. We will still be doing the same things, still going with the same philosophy, and still having the same staff. It makes us even more determined to make sure we get them through.

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“It’s a long-term ambition, and I know that it will pay dividends.”

Ironically, it was the deficiencies of the U’s in past years, to bring through players from their youth team set-up into the senior squad, which has ultimately led to their failure to achieve Category 2 status at the first attempt.

This has been particularly frustrating for chairman Cowling, and Dunne, not least because the U’s first-team squad is now beginning to reap the rewards of a recently-improved academy, based at the club’s new training headquarters at Florence Park, Tiptree.

Academy products Alex Gilbey and Drey Wright have both consolidated their positions in the senior squad, for the start of this season, with a wealth of even younger talent waiting in the wings.

Writing in Saturday’s Colchester United match-day programme, for the visit of Port Vale, Cowling referred to the reasons why the U’s had been disappointed this time.

He said: “The area that we scored lowest in was productivity, which is the section with the second highest number of points available, and is based on the 12 years from 1999 to 2011. We only scored 98 out of the possible 750 points available in this section, and the productivity score is only recalculated every three years.

“Therefore, to achieve Category 2 status, we would need to achieve Category 1 equivalent grading in all the other sections to overcome our sins of the past. It does seem harsh to be judged so heavily on the past, and there is nothing we can do to improve on our score in that section if we go for a re-audit this season, which we are currently considering.

“The club was completely in the dark for its first audit and at least we are now working with a system we understand. We know that we need to gain an additional 150 points to get to the 65% required, and the audit also identified a couple of other areas where the club can gain extra points.”

As for the immediate future, Cowling added: “I have to consider a number of issues before I decide when to go for Category 2 again.

“But as our audit demonstrated, our academy is Cat 1 quality in most areas and we are not going to allow that to slip. We have a tremendous academy and it is already producing the goods.”

U’s v Port Vale reports – 62&63

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