ACADEMY DEBATE: It’s not as simple as some people think, says Ipswich Town chief executive Simon Clegg
DECIDING which level of academy Ipswich Town should go for is not as black and white as some people would like to make out.
So stresses chief executive Simon Clegg as the deadline for a decision fast approaches.
The English academy system will undergo radical changes next season thanks to a Premier League initiative.
Clubs will be graded within four tiers of a new Elite Player Performance Plan. And those that want top level status need to put forward their case by March 31.
With the Blues having a proud record of producing youth team talent over the years, over 5,000 supporters have signed a petition which has called upon the club to push for Category One status.
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Clegg, however, says there is a lot of cost versus benefit assessments that still need to be done.
“What we’re trying to do is fully bottom out the costs involved in each specific category,” said the Blues chief executive.
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“We are one of only six Football League teams who have indicated that they are interested in exploring Category One.
“My understanding is that ultimately there will only be somewhere between 10 and 16 across the country in Category One – including Premier League.
“No-one should make any automatic assumptions that we will go into Category Two if we don’t get Category One. The way that we’re structured at this moment in time we would not get into Category Two.
“Even for Category Two we would have to employ upwards of at least eight additional members of staff on a full-time or part-time basis. In Category Two I need two classrooms that can hold 20 people, with computers for every desk. We don’t have that at the moment.
“I am freezing my season ticket prices and therefore freezing an important source of revenue. Our source of television revenue is reducing and we’ve got increasing costs in other parts of the business. Any additional costs therefore have to be very carefully thought out.
“I’ve even had it suggested to me by a fairly senior source that a club high up in the Premier League will go into Category Three.”
Although there will be financial benefits for those acquiring Category One status – as well as the ability to sign young players from across the country rather than just locally – there are also new compensation rules to consider, which could see top youngsters leave on the cheap.
“It’s fair to say I’ve been incredibly frustrated by the way this process has been rolled out and the lack of information that would allow us to properly make our decision,” said Clegg, who made Town one of 22 Football League clubs to vote against the EPPP last October.
“There are some 270 entry points for the audit tool and they’re not just yes or no answers either. For example there’s a big debate as to whether our 3G pitch counts because it’s at Portman Road rather than the training ground.
“People who are meant to know the answers are just giving me more questions. It’s an incredibly bureaucratic process”
He continued: “I received the Independent Supporters’ Trust petition and, despite speculation that it’s in my bin, I have it here on my desk. With the greatest respect though, a lot of people will have signed this without knowing all the information.”
He added: “Trust me, no-one at this club would like to see a starting eleven made up entirely of players who have come through our academy more than me.
“Not only would it would it be absolutely fantastic for our local community, but it would also be the most fantastic business model for us because we would have saved a huge amount of money in transfer fees.
“The academy has played a very important part in the history of this club and I’m determined it will play a very important part going forwards as well.”