Could Norwich City’s academy start snapping up Suffolk’s schoolboy talent?

Ipswich Town Academy Director Bryan Klug and U18s Coach Gerard Nash watch on

Ipswich Town Academy Director Bryan Klug and U18s Coach Gerard Nash watch on - Credit: James Ager

Ipswich Town academy director Bryan Klug fears the club would start seeing the region’s best young players head to bitter rivals Norwich City if Category One status is not achieved next summer.

The Blues had their application for top academy status rejected last week, independent auditors ruling that the Blues had fallen 0.3% short of the required 75% pass mark.

And already the Canaries – who have been granted top academy status – are moving over the border in pursuit of snapping up the best schoolboy talent from under their rival’s noses. Next month the Norfolk club is opening three new Player Development Centres in Suffolk – at Bury St Edmunds, Whitton and Stradbroke.

Asked if he felt the club’s academy set-back would see young players departing this season, Klug replied: “No, but I think if it was more long-term then we would lose a few players because if I was a parent of a 10/11 year old I would want to get them into a Category One programme.

“Short-term I think we’ll be alright though. I think the parents can see what we’re trying to do here.”

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The benefits of top tier academy status include a significant grant from the Premier League, the ability to recruit young players from nationwide and a games programme against the elite teams from your region.

“It doesn’t really matter to us if we can recruit from the north or not because we’re not going to do that,” said Klug.

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“We want to get good players from this area and have them playing against the best players of their age. Occasionally we’ll bring in a boy from Ireland or wherever, but we’re not about that.

“We want to make this academy as attractive as possible for young players because we don’t want them going down the road to Norwich or West Ham.”

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Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans has finally realised how big a role the academy plays in the culture and history of his club.

So says academy director Bryan Klug, the man who has been charged with getting the Playford Road production line rolling again.

It was Klug who helped develop a clutch of homegrown talent

throughout the 90s and early 00s, from the likes of Kieron Dyer, Richard Wright, Titus Bramble, James Scowcroft and Darren Bent to Jordan Rhodes, Connor Wickham, Tommy Smith and Luke Hyam.

He was sacked by the club in 2010 though and was quickly snapped up by Tottenham. Two years later, however, he was persuaded to return to his beloved Blues following a barren spell of youth production which ultimately proved the club’s undoing in their recent failed bid for Category One academy status.

“For five years we haven’t produced in the way we used to,” admits Klug. “That’s no criticism of the people who were in charge while I was at Tottenham, because Tony Humes is now doing a fantastic job at Colchester, but the focus of the club had gone away from youth development because Marcus (Evans) wanted that quick fix.

“We had two or three years where we didn’t take a single scholar on as a pro, but those days are gone now. We’ve got some real quality players again.”

With the likes of Jack Marriott, Matt Clarke and Teddy Bishop getting game time in the first team this pre-season, and some excitement surrounding the crop of Under-15s coming through, Klug said: “I don’t think the tap’s turned on full yet, but there are little drops starting to come through again. I think the manager (Mick McCarthy) is now starting to see that some of them are the kind of player he wants.

“I know, for a fact, that in another two or three years time we’ll be where we want to be in that respect, but it takes time.

“I keep telling Marcus that sometimes it takes a while to get to where you want to be and he’s buying into that.

“He’s a businessman and keeps saying ‘this is costing me £750,000 a year’. I’m no businessman, but I look at some of the transfer fees this club has got from academy players over the years and think it more than pays for itself in the long run.

“I can understand that since he’s been here though he’s not seen too may players come through, but I do think the owner now understands how important the academy is to this club.”

Asked whether he was happy with Evans’ level of investment in the academy, Klug said: “I’ve worked at Tottenham and the Premier League clubs are banging a lot of money into it. Brighton have just got Category One and they’ve spent £23million on a new training ground.

“We don’t throw lots of money at it like that or do things in an extravagant manner; we do what we have to do. Ultimately we have to do what we think is best for Ipswich Town Football Club as a whole. The priority here is Mick’s team, it’s as simple as that.”

He added: “Without a shadow of a doubt, the improvements here (at the academy) have been vast. You can’t recognise the place from a few years ago.

“The auditors recognised that too. They can see that even in 18 months the standard of the team and the standard of the players in the schoolboy section had come a long way. We’re heading in the right direction.”

– Ipswich Town’s pre-season continues at League Two side Southend United tonight (7.45pm). Follow @Stuart_Watson on Twitter for live match updates.

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