Ipswich Town academy director Bryan Klug on 'special' talent, Category One latest, competing with Norwich and being sacked by Roy Keane
PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 March 2015 | UPDATED: 13:21 30 March 2015
Teddy Bishop, Matt Clarke and Kundai Benyu... Ipswich Town's youth set-up is beginning to produce again.
Stuart Watson spoke to academy director Bryan Klug about the next generation of ‘special’ talent, Category One latest, competing with Norwich and being sacked by Roy Keane.
Ipswich Town academy director Bryan Klug believes the club has a number of ‘special players’ emerging from the youth set-up – none more so than Andre Dozzell.
The Blues’ academy regularly trained up local talent for the first team during the 90s – the likes of Kieron Dyer, Richard Wright and Titus Bramble to name just three – but the production line has slowed down rapidly over the last decade or so.
Klug, sacked by former Blues boss Roy Keane in 2010 but lured back to the club from Tottenham in 2012, has got things going again at Playford Road though and is very much excited about the future.
“I think, almost three years on from me returning, I can say to you that we’re starting to get close to regularly producing academy players ready for the first team again,” said Klug, a former Town apprentice himself.
“We’ve had Teddy Bishop and Matt Clarke involved this season, Kundai (Benyu) is threatening to break in now (an unused sub of late) and I’m confident that we have got a whole host of players behind them that could also make it. The staff have worked incredibly hard and we’re right back on it at all age groups. I really do feel as though we’ve got a few special players coming through.”
Talented midfielder Dozzell, the 15-year-old son of former Town player Jason, is certainly creating a great deal of hype. He’s already captained England at Under-16 level and represented Town at U18 level.
“I never like to single anyone out, but what he’s doing speaks for itself,” said Klug.
“When you look at the England squads there aren’t too many from outside of the big clubs, but Andre has gone in there and broken that mould.
“If the bigger clubs have lists of young players they’d like to nick then he’d definitely be at the top of most of their lists.
“Jason is obviously an Ipswich man though so he is going to keep him here. He’s really talented, has got big potential and he’s a grounded young man – and that’s the way he’s got to be because he’s still got a long way to go.”
Achieving Category One academy status is only going to get harder for Ipswich Town, but talented young local footballers are still choosing the Blues ahead of East Anglian rivals Norwich City.
That’s according to Town academy director Bryan Klug, the esteemed youth coach very much excited about the future generations of players that are coming through the ranks at Playford Road.
Town fell an agonising – and frankly ridiculous – 0.3% short of the 75% mark that was required to attain top level Category One academy status last July. Of the 5,000 marks that they were judged on, they missed out by just 17.
Norfolk rivals Norwich were one of a handful of clubs to pass the stringent Category One audit and now it’s beginning to look increasingly like a closed shop as the Premier League led Elite Player Performance Plan continues to move the goalposts required.
“Our indications are that the bar is getting higher and the expectation is that you have to be really heavily investing,” said Klug. “Rightly or wrongly, that’s the way it’s going. It’s kind of getting more difficult for us to obtain Category One, in my opinion.
“We’re waiting for the full conditions to come out. The bar is being raised all the time in terms of what’s needed regarding staff and facilities, so we’re just waiting to see what the criteria is this time around and then we’ll make a decision as to whether to go for it or not.
“That’s a decision the owner will make in the next week or two.
“It’s getting more difficult, that’s for sure. For me, and this is my opinion, the judgement seems to be made on the amount of money you spend on it rather than the quality of what you do and the amount of players you’re getting through.
“Either way we’ll carry on doing what we’re doing. I’m happy we’re doing a good job with the kids and that’s all that matters to me.
“At the end of the day I know we’ve got good players and I know we’ve got some of the best members of staff in the country. That’s not just me saying that; other people tell me that.”
With Norwich being a Category One club, has Klug noticed a talent drain up the A140?
“They get all their players out of London,” he said. “If people are from this area and they have to choose then they choose to come here. Norwich spend a lot of money, and they’re doing it very well, but when their Under-16s play us at Portman Road in the Hospital Cup next month you’ll see that they have a lot of London boys and we have more local lads.”
So young players in East Anglia are choosing Ipswich over Norwich?
“I think so,” said Klug. “It’s about reputation and opportunity. Most weeks we now have four or five homegrown players in the first team squad. I think young players and parents realise that there’s a clear pathway here, more so than the majority of other clubs.
“That’s our strong point. It always has been. We get people like Teddy (Bishop) in at eight or nine and see them all the way through. That’s how I want to do it.”
In hindsight, being sacked by Roy Keane worked out nicely for Bryan Klug.
The Ipswich Town academy director – who brought through the likes of Kieron Dyer, Richard Wright and Titus Brambles in the 90s – was controversially told he was surplus to requirements by Blues boss Keane in 2010.
He spent almost three years working at Tottenham Hotspur and was then persuaded to return to Playford Road by Mick McCarthy and former chief executive Simon Clegg. Almost three years later and he has got the Town youth team production line working once more.
“I left because Roy suggested it might be a good idea!” laughed Klug. “It turned out to be okay though, I had some great experiences at Tottenham and was able to come back here eventually.
“You get better as a coach through experience. You’re always learning and improving. I’ve seen most things happen in this industry now. You can’t see the future, but it helps you react to certain situations.
“Going to Tottenham opened my eyes because I got to work some real top, top quality players. The lads that are coming through there now were in the youth team or were schoolboys when I was there.
“I worked with some coaches who are absolutely among the top coaches in Europe; John McDermott, Alex Inglethorpe, who is now up at Liverpool, Chris Ramsey who is obviously now QPR manager.”
Klug has forged a great working relationship with Town boss McCarthy, the latter having introduced academy graduates Teddy Bishop, Matt Clarke and Kundai Benyu to the first team set-up this season.
“He’s a proper manager that is interested in everything that goes on at the football club,” said Klug. “He talks regularly with me and all my staff and keeps close tabs on what we’re doing. He’s top notch.
“I think he’s just glad that we’re now close to producing players that he can use. He doesn’t need to ask me whether players are ready, he’s got his own eyes. He watches the Under-21s all the time and makes his own mind up.”
He added: “The worst job in football is telling young players they are not going to be kept on. Those decision are being made as we speak.
“The manager deals with that himself, which you don’t get at every football club. He sits down with them all and talks to them about why the decision has been made and what their options are.”
Ipswich Town may be recruiting a handful of academy players from abroad, but their focus remains very much local.
There are four Irishmen, a New Zealander and a Dane in the current Under-18 set-up, while another is due to arrive from Australia in the coming weeks.
The vast majority are from East Anglia though – many from Ipswich itself – something that academy director Klug and head of recruitment Steve McGavin are very much proud of.
“If we get an opportunity to bring the odd boy in from further afield we will,” said Klug. “We have Victor (Gulbrandsen) this year, who is a Danish youth international, but he approached us to come here and it wasn’t going to cost us a penny. We weren’t going to say not to that.
“We have a few Irish lads too, Steve McGavin works really hard over there, and if they add something that’s great. The focus is very much on local though.”
He continued: “We’ve got Fabrice Muamba’s brother coming in next week, Daniel, we’ve got a boy coming over from Australia who we think is really talented, we’ve actually got Richard Wright’s boy joining us next season (also a keeper) and he’s been at Manchester City.
“I’m picking out three or four there, but I think the eight or nine lads I’ve got coming in are really good. The standard is much higher than it was two or three years ago and that’s testament to the work that’s done here by Liam Manning and the rest of the coaches.
“They’re top-notch. They work so hard and are so dedicated. Most of them have been associated with this club for years, a number of them played in my youth teams, so they all know what this club is about and that’s rubbing off on the young players.
“It’s got to help that we’re all Ipswich Town people. They’ve all been through it; they’ve experienced the highs and lows, they understand the emotion, they understand the technical and the physical side of it.”