Academy dilemma facing the Blues

THIS is the dilemma facing Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans.

Invest around �2.3m into making the academy ‘category one’ standard and the club will at least stand a chance of producing another Connor Wickham, Darren Bent or Kieron Dyer.

However, with the Premier League vultures now able to come in and snap up the best under 17 player at relatively little cost (compensation now set to a maximum of �134,000) – would it make business sense?

With a heavy heart, the answer may well turn out to be no.

Football League clubs across the length and breadth of the country were effectively forced into becoming the turkeys that voted for Christmas last month when accepting the Elite Player Performance Plan – a new set of rules that first started being discussed as a result of England’s failure at the 2010 World Cup.

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“Eighteen months ago the Football League agreed to accept some money, solidarity payments from the Premier League, on the understanding that they would be involved in a review of academies,” explains Ipswich’s academy manager Sammy Morgan, a former Northern Ireland international striker.

“They made their own review and then brought in the Football League further down the line.”

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The aforementioned review suggested that the current tribunal-based compensation system, which sets transfer fees for young players switching clubs, be scrapped and replaced by a basic formula-based system.

Instead of the potential quality of a player being taken into account, Championship clubs will instead receive �3,000 per year for the training they’ve put in between Under-9 and U11 level and �25,000 a year between the ages of U12 to U16.

It’s a system which quite clearly will not benefit the Football League’s most prolific academies – their top young players now going for a maximum of �134,000 rather than millions – but the powerful Premier League were able to play their ace card.

They said that the youth development funding grant that they currently give Football League clubs would be withdrawn if the new system was not voted in. If it was accepted, however, they would increase that grant significantly.

That was enough to persuade a majority of the 72 second, third and fourth tier clubs to vote ‘yes’ at a meeting in Walsall at the end of last month, with the 22 ‘no’ votes – which included Ipswich – overruled.

“I have to say I wasn’t supportive,” said Ipswich chief executive Simon Clegg. “I don’t think the level of compensation is appropriate for the level of investment that clubs like ourselves are making.

“I think it’s clubs like Ipswich Town, who have a good track record of developing youth season after season, that potentially will be one of the losers in this.

“The good news is we will get additional funding over and above the �180,000 a year that we get at the moment – we’ll get about another �300,000 a year.

“What is unclear at the moment is the additional cost that we will have to bear to secure that additional funding. The devil is in the detail and the detail is yet to be shared with us fully.”

Under the new EPPP system, clubs must decide whether they will become a category one, two, three or four academy.

With the previous 90 minute travel rule now lifted, young players will be able to take their pick of which academies to join across the country. And inevitably the best will head to those that fall under ‘category one’ grading.

“What happens if someone like Norwich go category one and we don’t?” said Morgan. “Someone like Connor Wickham would have gone to them under that system rather than us without a doubt.

“There’s talk that maybe only about 14 or 15 clubs are actually going for category one though because it’s going to cost a lot of money.

“And if your best players end up constantly getting taken away anyway then the owner is going to wonder why he’s spending millions on running an academy. It just wouldn’t make business sense.”

He added: “We are going to see big clubs hoovering up the best talent from smaller clubs and then just spitting them out.

“Football League clubs might find themselves in a position where, rather than producing their own kids, they will just wait and sweep up the ones that have been rejected at a higher level.”

Blues boss Paul Jewell certainly seems to think there might be a benefit to the above scenario, claiming that rejected players might drop down the ladder with a renewed desire to succeed.

He said: “I’m not 100% sure that academies always work because I sometimes think they make it a little bit comfortable for players. We want to give them the best facilities to develop but also keep that hunger in them.”

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