Should the Bible be Banned?
Academies, Player Development and the infamous Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) are a constant topic of conversation in modern football. Indeed, the strength of the Academy or Youth set up is now widely regarded as a key measure of the standard of any football club and is viewed as pivotal in any ‘plan’ or ‘project’ worth its salt.
That being the case, it may seem somewhat bizarre that two of the most forward-thinking clubs in English football, Brentford & Huddersfield, have chosen to scrap their entire youth system from the U16 downwards. Why would they do that and what does it have to do with Derby County?
In both cases, the theory was that the numbers didn’t add up or the ends didn’t justify the means. Huddersfield said that Peter Billing (parachuted in from Denmark aged 15) was the only player they had produced for the first team in recent history, despite spending over £2m per year running the usual plethora of youth teams from U-7 to U-16 and associated support staff.
Brentford took a similar view siting the same cost versus output, but more the EPPP rules as the killer. With many of the biggest clubs in Europe, never mind England, in their back-garden competition to sign players of quality was nigh on impossible and even if they did, then EPPP means their nasty neighbours can just poach them back for a relative nominal fee & thank them kindly for the 8 years of development.
Huddersfield have chosen to simply retain an U-18 and U-23 team but have voluntarily dropped their academy status, suggesting producing players is more important that winning games at this level.
Brentford have gone one stage further creating a B team totally outside the Academy structure playing friendlies against everyone from Luton Reserves to Bayern Munich. Once a month they also arrange 3 games in a week to ready the players for a Championship style schedule. The squad is made up of Elite club cast offs and nominal fee signings, thus completely turning the tables on the EPPP baddies and letting them do the Development and then enjoying the fruits of the top club’s wastefulness. There’s also a suggestion that a 3-year player development plan is easier to navigate than a 10 year one. No shit.
But why are we discussing all of this on a Derby County page? Our Academy is awesome, everyone knows that. Well let’s consider how many Premier league standard players we’ve produced in the last 15 years. Tom Huddlestone in 2002, then you have to fast forward to last season with Lee Grant’s cameo at Stoke and Jeff Hendrick (like Billing, parachuted in aged 15) at Burnley. I would love to include Will Hughes in this list but I don’t think we can as yet, although in fairness, there is no question he is as good an Academy product as you will ever get.
Outside of the Premier league measure you are hard pressed to think of anyone who has even made a solid career probably again going back to almost John Gregory days to look at people like Kozluk, Nyatanga, Mark Stallard, Lee Holmes and Ian Evatt.
Let’s also not forget that not 3 years ago, someone at DCFC decided the U-23 team was so poor, Chris Evans signed 7 new players to fill it. Not surprisingly none remain at the club.
If you really want to start getting upset, start thinking about what Forest have produced in a similar period – Dawson, Jenas, Lascelles, Darlow, Morgan and Burke. You can maybe also include Bamford as their Will Hughes. I nearly called this piece “Forest are winning” but thought that was too much.
I watch Derby U-23s regularly and have really enjoyed the raise in status in the last few years, gaining promotion to the Premier league and staying there which is a great achievement by everyone concerned. However, the object of an Academy is to produce first team players and Derby really need to get a lot better at that in the coming years.
I dread to think how much we spend on our Academy each year. Hendrick and Hughes transfers will have massively reduced the net spend for sure, but it is still a major expense for the club.
Amongst the chaos and turmoil of the last few years we have constantly been told that the Academy is “ring-fenced” and “protected” from the constant flux that the rest of the club has endured. With the club now seemingly prepared to let Rowett have a proper go at building something, I believe we should now review our Academy structure and set up.
Rowett clearly said at the start of the season, when discussing the first team, that if something isn’t working, not changing it and expecting a different result is madness.
Derby like to promote themselves as a progressive club and in many areas they definitely are. On that basis, I would really like to see DCFC review the current management, structure and output from our Academy and do something different.
Come on you Rams!