Landmark passed by the Club
After an independent audit held towards the end of 2012, the FA has now confirmed the Huddersfield Town Academy’s Category 2 status in the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
In October 2011 clubs accepted the EPPP; a long-term strategy designed to advance youth development.
Led by the Premier League’s Director of Youth Ged Ruddy, the EPPP has six fundamental principles; increase the number and quality of Home Grown Players gaining professional contracts in the clubs and playing first-team football at the highest level, create more time for players to play and be coached, improve coaching provision, implement a system of effective measurement and quality assurance, positively influence strategic investment into the Academy System and seek to implement significant gains in every aspect of player development.
It plans to do this by focusing on four main areas; coaching, classification, compensation and education.
In the past year, Academies have been independently audited and given a Category status of 1 to 4, with 1 being the most elite. Up to 10 different factors were considered in the grading, including productivity rates; training facilities; and coaching, education and welfare provisions.
The higher a club's Category the more funding will be available to it, as the ‘footballing family’ invests more income than ever before in youth development programmes across the country under the new guidelines.
Player development is divided into four phases; Senior Professional Development (18-21), Professional Development (16-18), Youth Development (12-16) and Foundation Development (Under-11s).
From the first day of the EPPP being implemented, the Club made a strategic decision to aim for this category, as Town’s Head of Football Operations Ross Wilson explained:
“First and foremost this categorisation is a significant achievement for the Club.
“Category 2 has many areas of its criteria that make that level really attractive to us as a football club. For example this category allows our Academy to recruit and coach players from a younger age (category 4 clubs can only coach in the Professional Development phase – no ages below 16).
“We want to recruit players that we can develop to play at least at Championship standard. This becomes significantly more difficult if we can only recruit at older age groups when many of our competitors in this region and at this level will have been recruiting and developing since the Foundation phase. Finding players at those stages is then a real tall order. Academy coaching staff will then have a longer period to coach, and develop these young players.
“When talking about recruiting at the youngest possible Academy phase, it’s important to say that recruitment does continue throughout the Academy journey. As a Club we will seek to recruit the best players that we possibly can at the top end of the Academy and at First Team level. That is illustrated in our recent Academy additions in the Professional Development Phase (16-18s). Our plan is not intended to go purely down a route of developing and playing young players that have been part of the Club since the age of 9; it's about that forming part of a bigger picture.
“Furthermore we want our young players to face the highest quality of opposition that they can – EPPP operates on a principle of best vs. best and category 2 clubs play other Category 2 clubs throughout the development programme.
“We also want to be able to demonstrate accurately and honestly that our Academy structure is at the very least as good as, if not better, than our competitors. Category 2 status will allow us to confidently talk to players and parents about the level and quality of structure that we are now building here.
“Compensation for players that move club is also determined by which category you are in, but it is absolutely not in our plan to trade Academy players unless our hand is forced.”
In line with the regulations needed to achieve category 2 status, a huge transition has gone on behind the scenes at the Club. On the coaching front, the full time staff at the Academy has increased from four to 18, with the additional appointment of Steve Eyre as Senior Professional Development Coach to work with a new formal Under-21 group with its own games programme.
The facilities at Canalside Sports Complex also continue to be dramatically upgraded; six full size pitches have been totally refurbished, whereas construction of a fully floodlit 3G pitch is on-going and expected to be completed shortly. This is on top of the huge expansion of the changing facilities, team meeting rooms, football analysis suite and classrooms.
All this has been undertaken with the aim of producing better quality Home Grown players at the Club, as Wilson explained:
“Ultimately we want the Academy to produce the best players that it possibly can, given the investment and commitment that we have made to that strand of the Club. By joining up the standards, processes and coaching programmes throughout the development phases we believe that we can really affect the quality within our ranks.
“We want the Academy to produce more players, more regularly and help to increase our quality on the pitch and the value of our total First Team squad.”
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