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Football Are football academies a thing of the past?

KADEEM SIMMONDS can understand why Huddersfield are closing down their youth teams after growing frustrated with big sides poaching their most-talented players

Huddersfield chair Dean Hoyle has made the somewhat controversial decision to scrap their youth teams and he won’t be the last to do so.

The Premier League new boys believe there is no point in having under-18 teams and would rather use the money — £1.2 million — to better the age groups just below the first team.

Why develop a player from the ages of 11 to 15 only for a bigger team to poach him for pennies, then sell him for millions? You don’t see the rewards of all the resources put into the player, instead you see them trot out for other teams who have nicked the finished product from under your nose.

Take Ryan Bertrand for instance. The Chelsea academy graduate was cherry-picked from Gillingham for £125,000. He spent 10 years working his way through the Blues’ various youth sides before eventually being sold for Southampton for £10m.

Even worse is when they take on a young player only to release them a few years later. In some cases, the player bounces back and is picked up by a lower-league club. While not ideal, it sometimes works out for the team as they pick up a player for free who has been trained by an elite club.

But some struggle to recover and quit, though that’s another problem entirely.

“We need to recruit better players in the older age groups where other clubs cannot come and cherry-pick what they want,” said Hoyle.

“Manchester City have more scouts in Huddersfield than Huddersfield Town have. It’s just a machine that Huddersfield Town and other clubs cannot compete against.”

And that’s what it comes down to. City, Man United, Liverpool and Everton are all in the catchment area and the Terriers are fighting a losing battle — either have them taken at 11 or 18. Either way, they are losing out.

Hoyle did admit that no-one has come through the academy since Jon Stead, who made his debut in 2002, and that was behind the decision as well.

But the truth is, the smaller clubs in Britain can no longer fully develop their best players.

Hereford United, Wycombe Wanderers and Yeovil Town closed their academies at the start of the 2012–13 season when the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) came into effect.

Under EPPP, a category-A academy can buy a player for £3,000 if they are aged nine to 11, or between £12,500-£40,000 if the player is 12 to 16. There are added fees depending on how many senior appearances the player has made and where they are coming from but rarely will a young player cost more than £1m under EPPP.

Brentford did the same thing last year. Trying to compete with teams in London, from QPR and Fulham to Chelsea and Arsenal, was virtually impossible, so they made the drastic decision to close down all academy age groups from under-eights all the way through to under-21s.

“As a London club, there is strong competition for the best young players, and the club’s pathways to first-team football must be sufficiently differentiated to attract the level of talent that can thrive in a team competing towards the top end of the Championship,” Brentford said last year.

“Moreover, the development of young players must make sense from a business perspective. The review has highlighted that, in a football environment where the biggest Premier League clubs seek to sign the best young players before they can graduate through an academy system, the challenge of developing value through that system is extremely difficult.”

The bigger clubs are stockpiling all the talent, always ready to secure the next big thing. In years gone by, teams would wait for players to make their senior debut and, after a few appearances, then snap them up.

United were spectacular at doing that. Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney are the most obvious British talents but Cristiano Ronaldo is probably the best example.

Today, players are barely taking their GCSEs before being signed by clubs, eager to not miss out on the next Ronaldo or Rooney. Because of this, clubs like Huddersfield and Brentford are closing down their academies and you are already seeing clubs swoop in like vultures for their best players.

United are alleged to have looked at six players already from Huddersfield, playing them in a behind-closed-doors friendly.

Ironically, the elite clubs are now losing their most talented players to teams abroad as well as each other.

Players are fed up of being touted as the next big thing when moving from a League One club to a Premier League academy, for example, only to realise that a few months later someone else has been signed and they are being labelled the same thing.

Dominic Solanke left Chelsea in the summer for Liverpool, with the Reds expected to pay around £3m for the striker thanks to a tribunal, but realistically he should have cost at least £20m in today’s market.

Jadon Sancho went back on his word with City and refused to train for the club over the summer — this forced a move to Germany with Borussia Dortmund. Due to the nature of the deal, the Manchester club were compensated with £8m but they know they could have got double that at least.

What’s ironic about that is City took Sancho from Watford two years ago for a minuscule amount of £66,000 and now it is happening to them. It is a vicious circle, something Huddersfield are choosing to take themselves out of.

Huddersfield are thinking long-term and who can blame them? If Hoyle believes that the future of the club lies in focusing all their resources into older players then it’s only right they go that way.

"The way EPPP works, another club can come along and for the compensation — which is minuscule — pick your best assets up and move on,” said Hoyle. “It’s just not right.”

The solution? I for one would like to see teams be capped at the amount of players they have at each age group, to stop teams from hoarding all the best players.

Even better would be to stop the movement of players under a certain age. But there is no way teams would agree to that.


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