Why Ipswich Town are spending £750,000 on their academy

Lee O'Neill, the assistant manager at Ipswich Town's academy, at the training ground where the club

Lee O'Neill, the assistant manager at Ipswich Town's academy, at the training ground where the club is building a new 3g pitch. - Credit: Su Anderson

Ipswich Town are digging deep for success.

Tommy Smith is an academy product of Ipswich Town

Tommy Smith is an academy product of Ipswich Town - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

The Blues are spending over £750,000 to stay in line with some of the country’s most effective youth academies and, in roughly 13 weeks time, will have a shiny, new 3G (Third Generation) football pitch to boast at their Playford Road training ground.

The FIFA-recommended pitch will help the club’s players – predominantly from the under-21s downwards – practice in the most testing of conditions.

It will also allow the club’s coaches to delve deeper into the tactical and technical side of the game, because of the quality of the surface.

In addition to the 3G pitch, a new surface will also be laid inside the training ground’s air dome as part of the improvements.

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None of the alterations will guarantee success or the Category One academy status Town applied for, albeit unsuccessfully 2014, as part of the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), but will give them a better chance of maintaining their reputation as a club that gives their best youngsters first-team opportunities.

It will also help the Blues keep hold of the likes of Teddy Bishop and Andre Dozzell – two youngsters that have come through the club’s academy system and were courting the attention of top-flight clubs before they made their Football League bows.

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Town currently boast Category Two Academy status and academy assistant manager, Lee O’Neill said: “We’re looking to enhance and develop the facilities we have and bring them in line with the future.

“We are developing surfaces at the training ground which will allow us to train for longer periods of time, throughout the course of the year, when it gets a bit wet and windy, and the new 3G pitch is full size, will be going outdoors and is a state-of-the-art facility.

“Our pitch will be FIFA 2 standard. There is FIFA 1 and 2 standard and the difference between the two is the shock absorbers beneath the surface and the difference between how the ball bounces and rolls. FIFA 2 is the better of the two.

“It enables us to do a lot more.”

While the new facility will help the current crop of academy youngsters improve their game, the bigger picture involves the long-term aims of the club.

Town currently hold Category Two status and while Category One may just be a number, it would bring the benefits of being able to recruit world-wide, allow the club’s youth teams to test themselves against far better opposition, and safeguard the club’s best players from other Category One clubs.

“It’s important for us as a club that we are striving to move forward and that involves improving our facilities and providing something that we don’t have here,” explained O’Neill, who says the club still have realistic aims to have half the Blues squad be made up of homegrown players by the start of the 2017-18 season – a goal set when the Blues were preparing their application for Category One status.

“The ambition is always to go to Category One, we want to be amongst the best academies within the whole country, and that is part of the plan to strive towards that.

“We are now going through two audits, which we will have for a three-year period, but at any time we can choose to apply for an audit for Category One status.

“Having these facilities on site help us towards our goal.”

Town fell 0.3% short of the 75% mark that was required in July 2014 to reach Category One status.

“In some areas we meet the minimum requirement. If you look across the country there are various different investments in academies and some of them are significant when you look at staffing structures etc,” said O’Neill.

“But we really feel at the moment, at the level we are currently at, that it’s helping us develop players and produce them for the first team.

“We always try and recruit locally and bring players through our system that way.”

Would that change dramatically if the club received Category One status?

“(Recruiting locally) is something we have always been passionate about, some of the players that have come through in the past have lived in Ipswich or on the outskirts,” O’Neill added.

“That’s worked for us and we work hard to try and have the best players in and around the area available to us.”

He added: “We look at our past track-record and that speaks for itself.

“Yes we are trying to stay in line with other academies, but our reputation for bringing players through and that opportunity for them to play in the first team is a positive.

“Sometimes it’s better to be in a situation like ours, where you can see the pathway to the first team, as opposed to having several senior pros stood in your way.”

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